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Old 03-05-10, 06:22 PM   #1
martin ewen
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Default My First American day, A Clown Embeds.

My first American gig was a lesson, hospitality,opulence, poverty, celebrity, celebration.

All in one tangled, multi-faceted dollop.

I was sought out and confronted by American persons unknown who wanted to know whether I had any experience with large budget event parties?
I replied that performing at retired Japanese starlets 21st parties was not unknown to me and that I had done 'party' work in the largest indoor nightclubs in Europe,
[I had spent an entire season on Ibiza.]

I was in London while this little email adventure/misadventure played out.
They replied that they could tell me very little other than they sought to employ me for a private party, that James Brown and Aretha Franklyn and a 300 strong choir would be there, that it was to be held in an old ballroom Truman Capote had had built and would I please sent them a contract and a rider.


I knew what a contract was, I believe I had sold my soul to the Catholic faith at around twelve, and had a great many contracts since then, always delivered to be scrutinised and signed, usually with a sigh of feigned indifference at the latitude taken.
OK sure you own my image and can use it commercially any way you see fit,and yes I know as well as providing celebrations of art you also sell laxatives.

But This? I was as a matter of course being empowered by these Americans, They wanted me to formulate an outline of business with them, very quaint from my perspective.

A rider?
Obviously a term in some sort of 'buzzspeak' I was uneducated in.
This was in the late nineties, the Internet was new.
I pregoogled and found out that a 'Rider' is a luxury certain artists employ, wherein they request a shopping list of pre performance requirements provided for them backstage as a basic requirement in providing a level of comfort inside which said artist can best, 'do their shit'

So I replied; As to the contract, I will be satisfied with a gentleman's agreement in which you agree to pay me X for services provided Y.

As to the Rider, I have two, the first primitive, the second less so.
The primitive is a dressing area containing something I can sit on while getting my stilts on, quantities of ice water and or softdrink
and the second involves four cheerleaders, a therapist and a puppy.
I hit 'send'

The next day I received a brief reply, "What kind of puppy do you need?"
I liked that these Americans were playful.
I ran with it.
Explaining that as a clown I had studied this and found that the funniest puppy was the Irish Wolfhound given it's paws were about half it's body weight.
Then got to business.
They would fly me, put me up, feed me and pay me then return me for X In return I would provide them with 3 hours of my services and whatever other times I needed to inspect the venue.

They agreed outright, stating that I would be flying United as their employer, whose party this was, owned a great deal of the company.

I decided at this point a hissy fit was called for, I only charged them X? What is it with me and catholic residue? I could have charged them XX, This guy owns airlines! I could have charged XXX!

But then I calmed. I was going to America, James Brown would be playing at a private party, I was being paid to attend and be disdainful, it was all good.

The seat was first class, it was in the economy section but I was very impressed with it, it had a window and a perfectly weighted sense of humility. Which suited me as I was deliberately penniless. I had decided to live the dream, to arrive in America without a cent to my name, achieve great wealth and one day buy the very plane I was now traveling in as a recursive indulgent memento.

To this day I wonder about these dreams I have, whether they're in fact the bow of a vehicle that leaves a wake of unrealised potential. It is only after a few years that most people remove themselves from the bow to have a look at their entire vessel, check the rudder, gaze at their wake.
Sometimes that's all it takes to see that for example you had been sailing in circles for years.
I arrived in Chicago.

Customs was a breeze, 4 days, return ticket, invited to a party, have fun Sir, Welcome to America.
I use a brooks brothers suit and shirt I bought for $2 now when traveling but in Chicago I was employing my fail-safe 'shoes and sunglasses' social signifier gambit. My sunglasses cost $500, my Italian boots just slightly less. You only need to signify you have the means to spend discriminately and without reserve to glide through any number of social layers. I was looking forward to paddling briefly in America.

I was met by an extremely tall black American holding my name on a card. He wasn't just tall, he was rock and roll tall, freakish, suited up impeccably and he either had feline grace or a piece of shrapnel stuck in him somewhere.

He led me outside, not to the carpark but to a nearby area where his stretched black Limo sat.
This was classic stuff, I was loving this.
I explained to my driver that he needed to know straight up that I couldn't tip him. I had no money at all. I apologised. He gracefully informed me that everything had already been taken care of.
So I got in and started drinking, the back of this limo was salted with hidden compartments and baskets filled with impulsive treats, Champagne, Chocolate, Beer, Cognac, fresh fruit, while outside the highways seemed filled with lesser vehicles. Poor non stretched limousines.

We eventually swished into some huge downtown multinational hotel, I thanked my driver and went to introduce myself to the staff, I shrugged off the bellboys, "I'm penniless, I'll get back to you."
I informed the front desk that I had no credit card to give them however if they were to allow me one local phone call I would arrange a suitable deposit to be made. They humored me, I again fought off the bellboys advances and went up to my room, it had an on-suite and large windows and most importantly a telephone.

I lined my couple of bottles of limo-swag up to drown my sorrows if this didn't work and picked up the phone.
I rang my employer, got one of his secretary's , explained that I was checking in with them and could they arrange a trip to the venue the next day, the day prior to the gig so that I could look at it and additionally could they please immediately advance me 20% of my fee and have that be a deposit on my hotel account so that I might eat. I had travelled a long way and needed to eat and was reliant upon them in this.

She told me she'd ring me back in moments and sure enough, within five minutes rang back to tell me that it was all taken care of and that I was free to use the services the hotel offered at my leisure.

Roomservice and I got on famously. I would give them $20 tips and they would bring me whatever I asked for. I asked for a typewriter, they brought one, I hadn't planned on using it but I just liked the look of it, I typed a couple of hundred words so it looked all latent and creative then ignored it. I asked for copious amounts of food and drink, I'd sign for these and write $20 in the tip portion.

My room was fun, I had my costume and props scattered about artfully, 100 year old baby doll here, 3 pairs of stilt trousers draped thus, triangle, flyswat, Swedish tank-helmet. Outside Chicago looked grey, I was looking down from a high floor and myself in a forest of skyscrapers. I planned to walk it the next day but my day of arrival was all about gorging in my new habitat, fueling up for a party in 48 hours. I handled about two hours of American TV before discarding it. Hard, it's quite hypnotic. I found it's cartoon pace seductive and insulting, the adverts clumsy hallucinations.
I read a book, "The Box Man" by Kobo Abe, with some of my own selection of music playing, while drinking and gazing at the typewriter for it's Feng Shui.
I read and drank until I could no longer focus.
America was not so different.

...cont, pt 2

Last edited by martin ewen; 03-16-10 at 04:31 PM. Reason: life is imperfect
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Old 03-16-10, 03:48 AM   #2
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Lurk My Second American Day, A Clown embeds.

cont from pt 1

My first morning in America found me full of Vim and Vigor .
I ate a stupefyingly large breakfast in bed worked it off by
dancing round naked for a bit, answered the phone,
I was to be picked up mid afternoon to visit the venue and there was something downstairs for me to pick up from reception.

I showered then grabbed the morning paper and did the sociological thing I always do where I look to see how sex is framed.

Every large newspaper contains sex and how it is framed illustrates the character of the society it represents.

Some societies NZ and Australia have pages devoted to the sex industry in the major papers, others hide behind euphemisms like 'escort' or 'massage' and yet others are further disguised under 'counselling services'.
Personally I don't avail myself of sexual services, I've lived with partners who dabbled in providing them but to me the transaction is too transparently humiliating to be worth papering over the cracks of your own inability to achieve intimacy by using simply cash. [scares the shit out of me.]

In most things I've noted that the purchaser risks more than the provider. To define a need is a form of nakedness no amount of money can obscure.

I settle for the overview, perhaps I'm a coward. Some large missing inner asshole or something.

The Chicago newspaper was neutered, how strange. The yellow pages in my hotel room screamed sex with an inch or more of escort services but the daily reality was scrubbed clean.

I formed a judgement,
the society was in arrested adolescence with a strong and overtly repressed sexual Calvinism that was dour and depressing overlay-ed with a plastic American coating of free will and limitless choices which grated like an exposed nerve on the social subtext that had at it's foundation that God had already chosen his friends on earth and that most of us were hellbound by statistical probability and just needed to be steered away from the depravity that is our natural state by the good folk who happened to own newspapers.
This was confirmed by the hotel porn which was littered with obscuring post production lampshades and 'objects de-mask-the-genitals'.

So with a surplice of inner bacon and eggs and a deficit of sexual confidence I ventured downstairs to flirt as best I could with America.
Reception greeted me warmly and passed me an envelope full of money. My fee in full. So I was off the hook for room-service, sweet!
It was in the thousands rather than hundreds so for day one I felt I was settling in well.
And where does a newly rich Clown shop while in America? Why the first Dollar shop he comes to, of course.

One large bag of industrial bi-product metallic tinsel and a handful of cheap plastic props later and I was briefly back at my hotel room, decorating.

Out again, observing, lot's of power dressers, pinstripes, wannabe Titans clutching their brittle slavery and attempting to project it, in a breathtaking attempt at style over substance, as confidence.

Oh well, from what I'd been led to believe the whole country was constantly hallucinating it's existence, I was just here to temporarily trip with them.

Down town was all business. The buildings were muscular and neo-Gothic, the only shopping mall I found might as well have been in Tokyo, London, Barcelona, France. Same stuff, same prices.

The only interesting distinction was the high exposure corporate branding on clothing. Amusing to train a population to pay to wear cloth sandwidge-boards.
Loyalty cannot be bought, but selling it seems to be another matter.

The underclass shone shoes on the sidewalk, I saw no one playing any instrument, no individual expression not off the peg of some retailer. Go Ford Go! How about those Zerox's!

Given time I could have found some soul and later I did. I have, my natural optimism aside, a weakness for being overwhelmed with despair. Creating my own entertainment is my antidote. I left Chicagos grim steroid-taut inner city rendition of itself and circled back to the hotel to get my ride to the venue.

A simple taxi arrived, a heavily fortified gentleman seemingly locked in a tiny cell with a steering wheel sped off with me in the padded holding cell behind him. He knew where he was going. All I knew was that Al Capone was involved and that where I was going was the Aragon Ballroom.

The Aragon Ballroom cost 2 million dollars to make in 1926. Get your head around that.
A ballroom that today would cost 40 million dollars but with 1920's tech.

It was designed to replicate a Spanish palace courtyard with its crystal chandeliers, mosaic tiles, garishly painted plaster, terra-cotta ceiling and beautiful arches. The shiny bent wood floor was created for dancing and rests on a cushion of cork, felt and springs. It appears to be a palace of illusions, where artificial stars twinkle overhead and projectors beam clouds scudding across the domed roof some 60 feet above the dance floor...

...Opened in July, 1926 more than 8,000 people jammed the Aragon to enjoy its unprecedented beauty. It was dubbed the most beautiful ballroom in the world.

..The Aragon enjoyed near capacity crowds every day. Weekly attendance regularly topped 18,000 during the 20's, 30's, and 40's...

...Playing the Aragon was regarded as having obtained "big-time" status. Acts like Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Welk, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo, Dick Jurgens, Harry James, Xavier Cugat, Eddy Duchin, Carmen Cavallaro, Kay Kyser, George Olsen, Benny Goodman, Sammy Kaye, Art Kassel, Artie Shaw, Ted Fio Rito, Jan Garber, Frankie Masters, Russ Morgan, Orrin Tucker, Griff Williams, Ben Bernie, Tommy Tucker, Abe Lyman, Henry King, Bernie Cummins, Shep Fields, Gus Arnheim, Ted Weems, Eddy Howard, Wayne King and many more frequented the Aragon....

...And in the Midwest those who weren't dancing perhaps sat at home by their radios and waited impatiently until the announcer ended his station break by saying: ".... we return you to our studios in the Aragon Ballroom, where the dancing is now in progress." The announcer spoke of the beauty and described the happy crowd enjoying the music of the best orchestras in the nation. Radio broadcasts were of paramount importance to the Aragon for advertising. These broadcasts were made live six nights a week from 10:05 PM to 11:00 PM on WGN Radio...

I walked in. There was all sorts of setup going down and sitting somewhat central were the two head honchos on directors chairs. They were lounging, not sitting up tense but layed back and splayed.

I love those first moments of contact. I know and recognise people who look at you like one expendable wheel on the locomotive they are tasked with .
We said hello. I share with a good number of my fellows the blight of being hyper-vigilant. Gruff people = Brittle self inflating reactionaries
Playful people = disciplined all encompassists with a mission. These guys were the latter and with the whole , 'puppy' thing behind us we knew where we stood.
I introduced myself, they smiled ruefully, I excused myself to put my stilts on and take a wander . Just checking for challenges generally. I found I could get everywhere, stairways are a speciality of mine. I looked for niches and cubbies and pillars and corners. The fact that it was all based on Spanish architecture and I had delt with that in Spain suited me.
There was a grand dual stairway entrance, statues of egyptian/african giants at their base.
I found my way up to the choirstands overlooking the dancefloor, the second story of the plastered spanish courtyard, interesting,

On the night Aretha Franklin would have 150 on each side as her choir, then James Brown.
I found myself even higher in a loft and took it for my dressingroom.

I knew all they wanted to know was that I was confident. I walked the set, took my stilts off and let them know that I was pleased and ready and I'd see them tomorrow, the day of the gig.

They offered a taxi, I refused, stating I preferred to walk for a bit.
I saw the cultural jar, they flinched. I was about to learn why.
I saw the same flinch in Tokyo where a friend, after about a 40 hour flight with holding lounge stopovers, after getting to our room in Tokyo, took his shoes off and walked barefoot out of the house and up the road. There is no greater sin than this in Japan. To walk on your bare feet in public =automatic flinch
Japanese anecdotal olympics aside,

The surrounding Chicago burbs were unattractuve.

Taxis knew full well the densians were desperately poor. I walked a long way back home before a taxi picked
me up. I was white.I was male, I was incongruous . I hadn't been mugged yet.
I arived back at my hotel and tipped heavily. I finally gave the bellboys something for nothing, went up to my room and ordered industrial quantities of of food and alcohol. I had just under 24 hours to the gig.

Pt 3

Last edited by martin ewen; 04-07-10 at 04:13 PM. Reason: ....
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Old 03-16-10, 06:49 AM   #3
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Old 04-03-10, 01:11 AM   #4
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Lurk Mennonite Birthday.


I did a charity gig, a birthday party for a 7 year old at a Mennonite compound in upper state NY.

They were going to pay me in maple syrup and a sideboard for the bathroom.

These people dress funny and tend to conceive via second hand bathwater a little more frequently than average but they are pacifists and hard workers and gosh darn it clown is universal.

So there I was in a bare hall with 20 children with overdeveloped biceps and badly set limbs after farm related fractures when I noticed the birthday boy had a harelip.

I know how it feels to be shunned by your peers simply because you look funny and slur when you talk and wet the bed. (I don’t drink nearly as much as I used to)

So in the spirit of collective camaraderie and everyone walking a mile in each others scuffed farmboots I dove into my prop-bag where I keep arts admin, performance and sado masochistic props , emerging with a stapler which I used to staple everyone but the birthday boys (who didn’t have one) upper lips to the base of their noses.

I then improvised a show that consisted of prat falling while attempting to comically mop up their collective spittle and drown their cries for help playing Ramones at volume from my PA.

On reflection (and I’ve had time to reflect) I might have been a little too sophisticated for this particular audience.

As Gustav the clown who I consider a mentor once told me, “your primary responsibility in life as well as performance is to keep yourself entertained.”

So the doors were locked which is the custom at these venues apparently but one of the tykes managed somehow to throw a wooden wheelbarrow through a window and escape and next thing you know the doors burst open and a scrum of surly looking parents and elders rushed in and with needle nose pliers undid all my good work before forming what i could only call a threatening circle about me.

It was at this point the hairlipped birthday boy let out a silken peal of laughter,

Everyone stopped and stared.

I had been warned on arrival that along with the lip and the involuntary violent bowing and the missing ear and the club foot that little Jacob the 12th and a half had never uttered a sound.

I tried to remain humble, I waited for them to work out for themselves what a profound clown they had had the privilege of bartering services with but instead they picked me up and roughly bundled me into a windowless room that smelt vaguely of goat vomit.

I was stuck in that room for 6 days, they would bring be in a preserve jar every day full of marinated yoghurt cheese balls.

I feared the worst. I thought I was being kept as breeding stock but in a strategy worthy of a magyver episode I escaped.

I retained 6 days worth of cheesy flatulence and using a flint I ignited it and blew the door off its hinges and hightailed it .

Last edited by martin ewen; 04-03-10 at 03:40 AM. Reason: shed skin like reptile.
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