Parfum de Vie – The Smells We Love and Perfume Psychosis – A Meditation


Compulsion

Americans are famous for loving shriekingly clean scents, shunning anything remotely unwashed, and themselves smelling like nothing interesting to the point that more than once, when smelling the latest designer released flanker intended for just such an audience,  I’ve wondered if they were simply bottling drugstore cleaning fluid and calling it a day.  Once when sniffing an unlabeled sample I was forced to wonder, “Is this Versace Bright Crystal or CLR?” So I was absolutely enthralled when I posed the question “What are your favorite smells?” on Facebook, and got responses that ranged from earthy to filthy.  A Perfume Freak’s Dream.

Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Scent memories are powerful.  With one whiff of a familiar smell, we can be mentally whisked to a moment in our past, the presence of an old companion, or a particular time or place we will never forget.  I know that when my college friends smell Calgon Turquoise Seas body spray (if it’s even manufactured anymore) they think of me which is pretty hilarious, but whatever.  I cannot deny my past and frankly, I still dig some Calgon.  (And Victoria’s Secret Dream Angels Heavenly which resulted in more than one person telling me, “You smell like a stripper….no no!  That’s good.”  Alright, sure.)

My past is full of lots of potent and unforgettable smells (I did live on a farm for some time, you know…) For years I have dreamed of a perfume that would smell like my Dad on a morning before church.  It is the most wonderfully comforting scent of Irish Spring, coffee, toast, perhaps a smidge of smoky bacon, shaving cream, mouthwash, and Tuscany Pour Homme.  Nothing smells more like “home” to me than that.  Penhaligons Sartorial comes close.  As does Creed’s Green Irish Tweed, but the toast and coffee are missing.

Similarly, another scent from my past that I wish I could recreate is the scent my parents seemed to effortlessly emit when they would return from an evening out.  Melded perfume and cologne, a touch of charbroil from the steaks they probably had, someone else’s cigarette smoke, a hint of booze, hairspray, leather, and the fantastic zing of a wool coat that has just come in from the cold.   They would walk in the door looking handsome and beautiful respectively, and that scent would just take over the house.  It was so grown up and mysterious and I miss it, although I suspect that I might occasionally smell this way myself.  There is something about Molinard’s Habanita that grasps this concept for me, and it is downright cheap and cheerful.  CB I Hate Perfume has an offering called Winter 1972 that has that cold wool coat with just a hint of cigarette.  Jasmin et Cigarette by Etat Libre D’Orange gets the smoke, but lacks the beef.

Yet another scent I wish to smell again is that of my Gramps’ basement, which sounds dubious, but read on.  Gramps, in his heyday, had a fully finished basement complete with wet bar and jazzy 70’s organ.  It was a wonderful place.  It smelled, quite frankly, like the business end of a wine cork.  To the wine cork add a bit of pipe tobacco, perhaps a bit of basement-related mustiness, maybe a bit of pine (for the holidays), a lingering waft of cigarette from somebody’s coat (we’re talking early 80’s here), and more than a dash of bourbon (Truly, I thought eggnog was the color of dishwater due to the ratios of rum to mix my Gramps used. Only in college did I discover it’s true density.)  Think about it: wine, cork, smoke, must…truly, if any of these scents are to be taken literally, this is the one that would make a fantastic men’s fragrance.  If only  I were a chemist.

Great smells in their natural habitat need only be experienced, however.  They need not necessarily be bottled. Certainly, they aren’t all meant to be worn on the skin.  That said, owning a bottle of something that, when sprayed, has the ability to transport you is an experience of pure comfort and joy.

Using the scents put forth on my Fbook page, I’m going to offer perfume-related  suggestions that just might spark a memory or two.

Let me first state, however, that the intent is not to be literal.  For an exercise in literal scent recreation, check out the Demeter line of fragrances.  It’s arguable that they are fully-fledged perfumes, but they are a master’s course in scent science. So, truly, if the scent of a thunderstorm is what you are after, Demeter has a scent aptly named Thunderstorm (as well as Earthworm, Funeral Home, and Humidor, just to name a few).  My project, rather,  is an experiment in the art of true perfumery and it’s ability to be an appealingly wearable scent, and yet still evoke an ethereal image of something you love.

In the meanwhile, some of our favorite scents are available quite easily in bottle form.  Flowers, woods,  and bakery treats dominate the perfume market, particularly those available and heavily advertised in the US.  So, for our purposes here, I am far more interested in conceptual scents and oddities.  A good lavender isn’t so hard to find.  Something with the snapcrackle of printer paper straight out of a Xerox or the spice of your dog’s fur may prove more difficult.

What can I say?  It’s a hobby.

Certainly, smell is all about context.  While my friend Nick and I agree that shallots slowly caramelizing in butter is probably the best smell on the face of the earth, I wouldn’t want to smell that way sitting at my desk.  Just like the smell of fresh raspberries might be a delight in nature, and refreshing post-bath, it would be hard to take someone seriously in a business meeting.  As such, I believe that flowers are best experienced as, well, flowers.  They are what they are.  There’s no great lilac perfume because you’re better off just smellin’ a lilac.

I guess this is just my way of saying the following perfumes are all in the name of fun, and if you are so interested, broadening your perfumery horizons.  I will never have smelled All the Perfumes, but I have made a bit of a dent.  I hope you enjoy.


Books, Magazines, and Other Related Paper
:  People love the smell of paper in it’s many incarnations, as do I.  However, the scent of newsprint is not the same as an old book.  Sharp crisp copies still hot off the printer don’t smell the same as a freshly cracked magazine.  A trade paperback smells very different from a leather bound classic.  The library, the used book shop and Barnes and Noble all are singular smelly beasts.  Certainly, paper is, underneath it all, wood.  But if you were only identifying things by smell, a cedar chip and a ream of printer paper wouldn’t seem very near to each other.  The cedar is still rich with it’s oil, the printer paper bleached and sharp.

The creator of the aforementioned Demeter line is also the genius behind CB I Hate Perfume which seeks to create in either water perfume or extrait (pure perfume) form, just such things as these amalgamated dream scents from our past and our experiences.  One such creation is a scent called In the Library.  It’s an intimate scent.  Vanillic in the way that, trust me, a good ol’ book is vanillic.  Warm, aged.  It’s a great pick, and I highly recommend it.  Truly, the love of the scent of paper seems fairly universal.  A newly launched scent called, aptly, Paper Passion has just launched, it’s subtitle – “perfume for book lovers.”

For that hot off the press slightly shrieky cleanness, I recommend Thierry Mugler Cologne.  It is far from subtle.  I believe Perfumes the A-Z Guide calls it “steam iron.”  Like paper, it somehow manages to evoke sharp coldness and steamed fresh ink.

Tires, Cars, Industry, Tar, Gasoline and WD 40.  For all the times I’ve driven through Gary, Indiana and experienced the sulfurous fumes that emanate from Steel plants, one would think I would be convinced that industry = stink.  However, this is not always the case.  The Blommer chocolate factory, on occasion, fills the city of Chicago with a very out of context air of baking brownie.  It is wonderful, and as reported in the Tribune a couple of years ago, likely highly carcinogenic.  BUT with our inherent love of pipe tobacco, gasoline, and vinyl, humans love to stick their noise into a cancer causing chemical and breathe deeply.  I ain’t here for your health.

My father, an engineer in the automotive industry has a job that is both white collar and yet requires trips to the plant floor donning earplugs and goggles.  When he arrives at home, he smells like a freshly sprayed can of WD 40 and it is one of the world’s most wonderful smells.

My husband loves a fresh tire.  He describes them as “sweet” and so they are, and of course rubbery.  Bvlgari Black is the premiere rubber perfume.  It looks like a puck, it is unisex and it smells great.  Women the world over have been attempting to woo men with bottles of fruity silliness, clean musks, and flowers, when all the time it was grease they were after.  Good, clean, grease and rubber.

Grass, Snapped Grean Beans, New Mown Hay, Horse Barns, Alfalfa, and Good, Clean, Dirt.  Only a kid from the country could assert that, in fact, cow shit is a vast improvement on all other kinds of barnyard shit including pig and turkey, in particular.  It is second only to the nicely grassy horse or rabbit shit which, in comparison isn’t just “not bad” it’s sort of kind of nice.  Even comforting if you were ever on first name basis with a horse or rabbit.

And I was.

I mention this because in perfumery there is an aroma-chemical called Indole that makes an appearance in both white flowers and poop, so if I mention that something has a barnyard quality or rather lacks a barnyard quality, I mean it with much affection and all seriousness (as the discussion of perfume allows).

But let us begin with a proper lawn mowing which engages no indolics whatsoever.  Newly mown grass is one of the world’s most wonderful, fresh and naturally occurring smells.  Frankly Gap’s recently re-issued Grass scent smells just about like it.  I’ve never smelled Demeter’s grass scent, but I bet that ‘s pretty great too.  I often wonder if Californians or Floridians feel quite as passionately about grass as we Midwesterners.  Surely they don’t have that bleary eyed look we all get stumbling our of homes in late March and maniacally fall to our knees, praising the heavens taht we have seen something that is both naturally occuring and green.  LOOK AT IT!  IT’S GROWING!!!!!!!  I sort of get why dogs roll around in things.  I bet they are just grateful that it’s there at all.

But I digress.

Moving away from the literal green of grass and moving on to the conceptual family of “green scents.”  Galbanum, a resin, is the primary player in the most famous green scents:  Chanel no 19, Gucci Envy, Chanel Cristalle (a green citrus).  Many Iris perfumes find themselves in the green family.  The Vintage Vent Vert.  Parfums di Nicolai’s Odalisque.

Diptyque’s L’Ombre Dans L’Eau is a trip through a rain-soaked garden on a hot August morning.  Tania Sanchez says it better than I that it smells like a “snapped green bean”.  To that I would add a dash of tomato leaves.  To anyone who grew up with and/or now tends to a veggie garden, this is a trip down memory lane.

Hay is sweet.  Not straw, but hay.  I prefer alfalfa, myself.  Green, sweet, fresh, and earthy.  I’ve read that Hay Absolute is a perfume in and of itself, but I’ve never had the pleasure.  And, unfortunately, for me I am allergic to it all.  Still, I rarely let that stop me.  Parfums di Nicolai has a very sweet offering both in scent and concept with a delicious hay accord that is actually a bit sweet for me.  It’s called Kiss Me Tender.  Serge Luten’s offering, Chergui, is hay inspired with a dash of honey and tobacco which evokes something of a Baltus Van Tassel-like character, in my mind:

Baltus Van Tassel from Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Baltus Van Tassel’s Bursting Barn from Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Bath and Body Works had a “clover” scented lotion that came as close to my childhood memories of an alfalfa field that anyone has ever gotten (that I know of).  I long for someone to recreate that scent.  I’ll help if I have to.

Love, Sex, Bodies, Babies’ Heads, and other Animalic Bits:  This would be the area in which Americans tend to squirm and look around for their Puritan bonnets, buckled shoes, and bottles of Dolce and Gabbana Blue.  One whiff of Muscs Kublai Kahn has the potential for the sniffer to look at you like you’ve just told a dirty joke in church.  If you’ve ever met someone from basically anywhere BUT the US, Canada, and the UK, you’ll quickly come to realize that the rest of the world just isn’t bothered by the natural smell of the human armpit.  In fact, during the creation of Sarah Jessica Parker’s perfume, Lovely, she insisted on a little body odor because, “Secretly I think everyone likes it.”  While I think the true dirty animalics were probably focus-grouped out of the formula, a bit of duskiness remains.  And, indeed, it’s one of my favorite perfumes.

The new formulation of the perfume classic Femme by Rochas has a distinct and dirty-minded cumin note, and cumin smells like pits.  The Chanel orientals do not shy from the civet, leather, or animalic notes available to them in quality form.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:  Often these big ol’ classics (Chanels, Lauders, Guerlains) are quickly dismissed by people of my generation and younger as “old lady perfumes” but per usual, your grandmother has lived longer and knows more than you do about such things as quality and class.  So to dismiss her Youth Dew as a scrubber is to dismiss the true art of perfumery.  Sniff again, and notice the cinnamon, vanilla and booze.

Lovers of Mad Men and all things retro, I implore you to move beyond the Chanel no 5 and experience the Guerlains, Balmains, Lanvins, and other grand players from the great age of perfume.  It will challenge you.  You will have the urge to wrinkle your virginal little nose in distaste.  THIS IS THE MODERN ERA OF PERFUMERY’S INFLUENCE ON YOU AND MOST OF IT IS CRAP.  Not all, certainly.  But our noses have been trained to love nothing but what amounts to hand soap and shampoo in EDT form.

Grab a bottle of Shalimar and experience the genius of Guerlain’s inedible desserty masterpiece.

If you can, find a bottle of the long discontinued My Sin and prepare yourself for a perfume adventure.  It loops from aldehydes to grimy leather in the blink of an eye.

Sarah Jessica’s Parker’s Covet perfume was said to be inspired by the scent of her babies’ heads.  Now, I have never smelled the noggins of her children, but this perfume smells more chocolatey to me (if my memory serves.)  Still, thought I would mention.  Rather to capture the close to the skin-ness that I think one is looking to evoke here, I would suggest an oil based scent.  Perhaps Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely in the oil form.  I have a great little amber oil I picked up in the hippie dippie section of Whole Foods (is there any other section?) for 8 bucks.

Leather, while a chapter of perfume that stands alone, is by all accounts animalic, no?  So is honey, if we’re getting technical.  In a more specific area of perfumery lies the animal fur.  Clean, living animal fur is a spicy natural wonder.  We have a cat that is downright perfumed naturally.  Peppery.  Dry.  And comforting.  We have another cat who some people say smells like butt, and I say smells like beeswax…which probably smells like bee butt.  If so, count me in as a fan of bee butt.

Just one more weird statement I have made when talking about perfume.

The Grand Joke played on the world of perfumery by Etat Libre D’Orange comes in a small glass bottle adorned with the infamous “crying penis” artwork that I am downright not joking about.  It is called Secretions Magnifique and it is nauseating.  However, it fits the category as it is an experience, most certainly, and moreover inspired by all bodily secretions that are not urinous or fecal.  That still leaves a lot of secretions.  They also threw a little jasmine in there for good measure.  But then again, sometimes jasmine smells like floral bad breath.

The ocean, salt, beaches and the primordialDune by Dior is considered a marine scent.  This doesn’t quite do it justice.  But, in fact, there is a dry salty note in it.  It’s wonderful.  Vetiver is a dry grass that rasps, in a way.  I burn the essential oil sometimes, and if I overdo the vetiver I feel like I’m mummifying.  That said, vetiver fragrances are downright sexy.

Hermes Eau des Merveilles is salty and incensy and very very calm.  Very close to the skin, and very dry.  It is unisex, and I would recommend it for somebody who wanted to broaden their horizons beyond fruity florals, without announcing it to the world.  A good subtle experiment, and nicely beachy.  But not summery beachy – Eau des Merveilles is a beach after the tourists have left for the season.  It mysterious and moody.  I suspect it would layer nicely with a bit of amber or vanilla, as well.

In a complete reversal, let’s talk about the old school european suntan lotion fragrances.  Those would be Bobbi Brown Beach and Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess.  I have a mild distaste for white flowers and I feel that these fragrances, Bronze Goddess in particular could be my in road.

Tobacco, Cinnamon, Vanilla, Burnt Sugar, Espresso, Booze, Ground Coffee and the gourmand.  These are the least challenging and easy to come by perfume offerings.  Prada’s latest:  Candy.  The cognac firm Frapin’s offerings.  Aqualina Pink Sugar.  On a more classic note, Guerlain’s Shalimar and L’Heure Bleu.  If you walk up to the department store perfume counter and say you want something that isn’t floral or citrusy, you will walk away with one of these most likely. 

So, I’m going to go a bit weird with this one and give you some slightly less literal takes on the gourmand.

Ready?  Let’s go.

Anne Pliska is a bit Christmasy.  There’s gingerbread here.  And oranges.  Apparently, orange is not an easy note in perfumery.  Mainly because I can only count about three of them that manage to have an orange note that sticks around.  While it is a gourmand, it’s also icy.  It’s frankly gorgeous and completely reasonable in price.  I only hesitated to tell you about it because I wear it and I convinced my mother in law to wear it, too.

Sacrebleu is a gourmand in the sense it has gourmand ingredients…but you wouldn’t want to eat these.  It’s one of the few fragrances with a  detectable tuberose  that I still love.  (Tuberose is very challenging for me.  I’m trying to push myself.)  IF I had a “signature scent” which I just don’t, this would probably be it. Similarly (with FAR more tuberose) is Dior Hypnotic Poison.  I am convinced, if the Bronze Goddess thing doesn’t work out,  that this will be my in-road to tuberose, because THIS tuberose is covered in coconut and almonds.

Coco by Chanel.  I call it the Brunette of the Chanel bunch.  It’s warm, spicy,  a bit loud but never shouty, and full of layers.

Tabu by Dana.  Now listen.  It’s going to stonk your socks off the first time you smell it, and if you are just dipping a toe into the older perfumes, maybe avoid this one.  It smells cheap.  It IS cheap.  But it is very hilarious and a great gourmand.  My advice is look for the root beer.  There is a distinct root beer note to Tabu that can be heard about all the shoutin’, and there IS shoutin’.  Patchouli has some things tosay.  As does clove.  Musk.  Heavy hitters all.  Seek ye the root beer.

Coffee – Bond no 9 has a very warm and welcoming frag called I Love New York.  And even though it’s never been my experience, their version of loving New York smells like coffee.  Still, not a bad thing to smell like.  My only qualm is that it might smell slightly too much like coffee.

The best vanilla ever created is the aformentioned Shalimar.  There is no getting around it.  It is the finest, Frenchiest, richest, most sumptuous vanilla to be had.

If, however, you were looking for a lighter vanilla.  Less creme brulee.  Check out Vanilia by L’Artistan Parfeumer.  Sadly, it’s been discontinued, but it wasn’t discontinued very long ago, and thanks to the Internets, you can get your hands on a decant, or even a bottle.

Lolita Lempicka – I talk about this perfume a lot.  It was one of my Autumn picks.  It is one of my faves.  And it is a vanillic licorice with herbs.  Grand.  Distinct.  And very well done.  Also can easily be had for a reasonable price.

I put tobacco under the gourmands because it smells like you could almost eat it.  When, as a teenager I smelled an unlit cigarette up close and personal fo rht efirst time I shouted “IT SMELLS LIKE A FIG NEWTON!”  Uncool.  But accurate.  Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille makes you want to eat yer tobackey.  How very un-Ford like behavior.  A drier and smokier tobacco you might want to check out is Sonoma Scent Studio’s Tabac Aurea.

Wood, Forests, Workshops and Cedar Chips

Wood smells great.  It has natural oils.  It smells clean and warm at the same time.  Each wood has a distinct smell.  While we may not be up on the obscurities of the many different trees, certainly we know the difference between pine and cedar.  Sandalwood is the queen bee of the wood perfume family.  Mysore sandalwood oil (heavily overharvested and endangered) is supposed to be a perfume in and of itself.  I’ve never had the pleasure.

Ormonde Jayne Woman lists Black Hemlock as one of its primary notes.  When you sniff Ormonde Jayne Woman for the first time, when you look up you expect to have been magically transported to an enchanted forest where you may or may not be in danger due to the local sorceress.

On an more earthly plain, fresh unsullied hamster shavings smell downright grand.  The cedar ones in particular.  Cedar oil, in it’s essential form, somehow isn’t quite as warm and cozy as the wood itself.  In fact the oil can be a bit harsh.  Lately, the cedar that has been invigorating my pulse points is Commes des Garcons White.  It’s cinnamon and cedar and it’s downright cozy.

Recently…very recently, as in I got the sample a couple days ago, I discovered Sonoma Scent Studio. Perfumer Laurie Erickson’s work is just great.  Honestly, I can’t recommend it more highly.  Her perfumes are old school good.  They aren’t dumbed down.  There’s no flash.  They are adult and really well crafted.  My personal favorite at the moment is Winter Woods (I got this last Friday and I’ve already gotten several compliments).  It sort of combines the mystery of Ormonde Woman with a very really woodsiness and just a hint of smoke.  Although it isn’t listed in the notes, I get a very subtle vanilla and a pure incense in the drydown.

And then we have agarwood or oudh or aoudh or any of the other spellings that indicate as an American, you are just not gonna pronounce it right.  I say oudh with an “oo” that sounds like the “oo” in “foot.”  Here’s hoping I won’t get laughed at.  Anyhoo, I don’t know too much about oudh except that it’s like Hansel:  So hot right now.  I’m only just teaching myself about it, and will just have to report back.  I CAN tell you that if you are just dying to drop insane amounts of cash on perfume, start here.

Smoke, Fire and the Burned.  Growing up staunchly Protestant, I never experienced what my Catholic and formerly Catholic brethren think of as “church smell”.  To them, church smell is distinctly related to incense.  To me, church smell is a combination of green beans with ham in it, that cheap pink public bathroom soap, floor cleaner, Youth Dew, coffee in styrofoam cups and cheesey potatoes.  It’s true, being a Protestant just isn’t quite as glamorous as the ritual-practicing incense-burning Catholics, particularly when talking perfume.  Thankfully, through perfume, I can still relive what I never experienced.  In perfumery, incense goes far beyond a gas station purveyed joss stick.  Incense ranges from cracklin’ breath-takin’ frankincense to sweet purrin’ myrrh.  Resins.  Saps.  It’s fascinating. I like Armani Prive Bois d’encens, Annick Goutals Encens Flamboyant and Sonoma Scent Studio’s Incense Pure.  The best, however, is Chanel’s Coromandel which is just wonderful and I would bathe in it if I could.  White Chocolate Incense is the best way I can describe it.  Imagine having a mug of spiked hot white chocolate placed in your hand and a cashmere blanket wrapped around you.  You are ushered into a room that is bathed in silk, cashmere, angora and leather.  There is the purest frankincense burning in the corner and the floor is of the smoothest cedar.  That’s Coromandel.

It’s not just incense our noses like to burn.  Wood, fireplaces, even sugar (which I will address under a different category.)  Smoke is downright a-okay.

I mentioned CB I Hate Perfume earlier.  They have a particularly smoky offering called Burning Leaves.  If that is a bit too much bonfire for you, I recommend Sonoma Scent Studio’s Fireside Intense which is smoky but a bit closer to the skin and wearable.

Patchouli 24 by Le Labo is more than just smoke, but it’s the smoke that helps it stand apart.  Frankly, I could have thrown this under many categories such as the Animalics, or even the blurb on Books.  As Luca Turin says, There is a vanillic sweetness to an old book, and you will find that here in Patchouli 24.  Fear not the Patchouli, my friends. We all have our hippie related patchouli fears but patchouli is used is many many perfumes to round them out.  If you are a fan of the more oriental Chanels or Diors, it’s patchouli that is toasting your toes.  Think rich sumptuousness not raspy head shop.

Herbs

The Aromatic Fougere incarnate

In perfumery, herbs range from the very literal to the very weird.  The oldest cologne recipes originating from medieval times (even Egyptian) utilize thyme, rosemary, mint, and many other aromatics.  A perfect example of British style apothecary perfume (ie smells “older” than it is) is one of my faves: crisp, clean and herbal L’Eau by Diptyque.  In fact, L’Eau was one of my “in roads” to niche perfumery, but that’s a different post.  Herbs tend to be a bit masculine in perfumery.  The classic “masculine” scents are called Aromatic Fougeres and are packed with Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme and Vetiver.

However herbs are not always so very manly.  An herbal selection that falls under the “minty” category (a notoriously difficult note to achieve…however, I love mint in most forms and am therefore not as picky as your average perfume freak bear) would be a selection from the Guerlain Acqua Allegoria collection (a very reasonably priced way to get some Guerlain).  It is called Acqua Allegoria Herba Fresca. Another great mint pick is Dirty by Lush, and the solid is about ten bucks.

Herbs and Citrus often go hand in hand in the perfumery world.  One of my summertime picks is Eau d’Hadrian by Annick Goutal.  It’s unisex, fresh and decidedly herbal.  I wear it on the hottest days of summer when most perfumes are too much but none won’t do.

If you are really into aromatic herbs, however,  you should probably wade into the men’s department (that goes for both men and women.  Perfume is invisible. The only gendering happens in the marketing.  Again, another post…) , but keep your wits about you.  Head for the older stuff.  Perfumes for men are notoriously badly made and insulting to it’s audience.  The reason many people hate fragrance is because of newer Versaces and anything with the label of “sport.” Look for the classic Guerlains, Diors, Chanels.  Tom Ford has done well for men. A good in road for those who are nervous about crossing gender lines is the classic Acqua Di Parma or Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage.

A classic that has maintained a little world of it’s own is Clinique’s Aromatic’s Elixir.  I’ll be honest.  It’s a bit of a love-hate perfume and I am just not on the love side of the aisle.  However, much reading and research tells me it is very well done and a true classic.  It’s clear it is made from very high quality ingredients and is incredibly well made.  It’s distinct.  It smells like a classic from its era (the 70’s.   A wonderful time in perfumery.)  I’m just…not there yet.  (This opens the opportunity to discuss, “Why can’t you just not like it?”  I can.  I mean, I don’t.  I don’t like it.  But I know that Aromatics Elixir can teach me something about perfumery.  Whereas Fame by Lady Gaga, another perfume I don’t like, is just more of the same old crap that’s been flooding the shelves for all of the 2000’s.  As a cultural figure, she might have some lessons for me to learn, as a perfume figure, I’ve heard it all before.)

Seasons, Holidays and Memories – In a previous post, I attempted to capture All That Is Autumn To Me via perfume, and I made much headway.  Above, I’ve mentioned more conceptual memories I’d love to recreate.  My next project will probably be The Ultimate Christmas Perfume.  It’s hard to recommend perfumes for other people’s memories.  But even my own can be perplexing.  One of my favorite scents in the whole wide world is very specific and very strong.  It is Opening Night at a Theatre, Act Two Post Intermission.  The smells range from fresh sawdust, the oily smell of stage makeup, the heat of the lights, the booze in the patrons, the faint scent of cocktail meatballs and party trays, the range in perfumes in colognes, sweat, nerves, paint, leather, dust, hairspray, cigarettes,mentholated cough drops, mints….  The amalgamated smell is so wonderful and singular
and in some form has been a part of almost all of my life from my Dad’s performance of King Arthur in Camelot to my latest opening night just a couple months ago.  I don’t know if I’d want to wear it on my skin (if I don’t already by rote) but a candle would be nice.

Speaking of candles, sometimes this category is better served by atmospheric scents.  Every year my Momma (and now me and my sisters) make “Christmas smell” which is just a saucepan filled with all things Christmasey and simmered.  I love pine-scented candles.  Vanilla hand lotion.  Scent doesn’t always have to be EdP.

Nor does it need to be artificial.  Each March, some day comes along that registers above 60 degrees and I fling the windows open with glee to smell fresh air, soil, and green sprigs.  It’s a perfect scent, and one that must be walked into rather than put on.

There’s another category of scent is one that I think probably is the most fun, and also marks the true perfume geek:  The scent memory of an experience you’ve never had.  I remember the first time this happened for me.  I knew that my Aunt had worn White Shoulders for years.  And when I came across a description of White Shoulders in a book, I figured, “What the hell?”  A bottle of the EdC concentration is about 12 bucks at Walgreens.  If nothing else, the bottle is pretty.  I grabbed some on my lunch break.  When I smelled it, I expected to have immediate thoughts of my Aunt assuming I would remember the scent from childhood.  Instead, for some reason, I was mentally whisked to Ginger’s first visit to her new house in the movie Casino.  “What a Difference a Day Makes” was playing in the background and the world of the early seventies appears in a classic Scorcese long shot through closet upon closet of fur and jewels.  I just knew that the house smelled like White Shoulders.  And White Shoulders is just the sort of thing Ginger would have worn.  That day at least.  Trying to prove her innocence with an innocent perfume.  I just have to figure out what she must have worn at night.

Jean Claude Ellena, Hermes’ in house perfumer, says he is inspired by the paintings of Cezanne and Matisse.  Not their literal contents, but rather their spirits.  This appeals to me.  What’s the point of these big human brains if we can’t stretch out senses a bit?

Soul to Squeeze


Look, I’m a snob.  I know.  I’ve tried to fight it, but what’s the use?  Luckily, because the universe has a sense of humor, I am also a gigantic spaz and clutz so it all works out.

Anyhoo, I’m sitting on a crowded train yesterday and can’t help but eavesdrop on an awkward conversation between two coworkers, guys probably in their late 20’s, early 30’s.  In short, similar in age to me.  One of them is sort of a quiet mysterious type who looks like he could have been a military recruit at some point, the other is gregarious and just about exactly like every upper middle class white college boy down to the J Crew button down, North face vest, khakis and Jack spade bag.  (See my snobbery appear).

So Gregarious guy says, “You into Matchbox 20?”

And Mysterious guy looks at him like, “You can’t possibly be talking to me, even though it is clear you are talking to me.”  But instead he says, “…uhhhhhhh….not really man.”

I’m stifling giggles.

Gregarious guy says, “Well they just came out with a new album today, it’s pretty good.”

Mysterious guy doesn’t say anything.

Gregarious guy continues, “Yeah, I’m into music.  I like Jason Mraz, Dave Matthews.  Pretty eclectic actually.  I like those bands from 97-99.”

Eclectic…I think.  I do not think it means what you think it means…

Mysterious guy says, “Ehhhhhh I like bands from a little earlier in the 90’s. ”

“As well you should,” I think.

Gregarious guy says, “The only band I really got into from then was Pearl Jam.”

“Shit,” I think.  “Don’t bring me into this.  Don’t make me talk right now.”
You know because it’s always about me.

Mysterious guy says, “I don’t know man.  I’m getting more into electronic stuff.  Less guitar.”

Gregarious guy says, “Like…..house music?”

Mysterious guy says, “…No.”

Long pause.

Gregarious guy, “You know what really bugs me about so and so and that issue at work…”  And they quickly morph the convo into something about work that they both feel strongly about.

Long pause.

Gregarious Guy: I really love the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Mysterious Guy: They were my first concert, man!

“Saw them at Riverbend in 2001,” I’m thinking.  “STP opened for them.  What a great night.” Visions of my Anthony Keidis poster flash into my head.

And for this moment, the three of us (even though they didn’t know I was listening) had a moment of shared Chili Peppers.  My snobbery faded because 1. How can you possibly be a snob when you are professing love for the Red Hot Chili Peppers? 2.  Sometimes all you need is music to connect.

Or dance:

Or books:

Or theatre:

Helene Weigel-Brecht in her Silent Scream as Mother Courage

Or movies:

Or art:

Art, in any form, from the highest of high in conceptual painting to the lowest of the low fart joke, has the ability to connect us with these little invisible threads of art we love.  Words we love.  Songs that touched us.  Movie cracks that make us laugh.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
Herman Melville

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

I am consistently awed at art’s ability to connect us, and I am humbled and priveleged that I get to be an artist and work with other artists.

But most importantly, I had that little moment of enlightenment partially because of this guy:

Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers

But he agrees with me:

“What’s the difference between me and that guy with the grey suit on down there? NOTHING! What’s a difference between a mouse and Jupiter? …NOTHING!!!” – Flea

Maybe I’m not the snob I thought I was.

Gone for a Soldier – My Spring 2012 Reading List


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I am an avid reader.  And now that I have a Kindle?  Oh my god.  I’m a reading machine WITH a reading machine. I sometimes get so overwhelmed by titles I have to read or watch that I come up with complicated spreadsheets to keep track.  True story.  And I’m fine with it.  I know who I am.  Lots of things inform what I read and when I read them.  I try to create seasonal To Read lists just to keep my thoughts together.  Two major elements that inform my “To Read” lists are the current season, and if I’m in a show.

In Spring, my reading usually takes on an outdoorsy feel.  (One of my favorite Spring reads is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.)  I also read up on different religions in the spirit of Easter and Passover.  Since Chicago weather has been more early July in nature, than late March, I’ve also been tempted to read things with Summer on the brain.  I usually read some big blockbuster type book like a Michael Crichton that just begs to be read on a beach.

This Spring, I am also rehearsing a production called Opus 1861 which involves music from the Civil War era in a modern day wartime Afghanistan setting.  Since I have no personal experience with either conflict (although I have visited many a Civil war battlefield and museum, and am now in retrospect very grateful for the experience), I have been stocking my list with lots of research. (I also have a big list of documentaries I’ve been trying to plow through.)

My seasonal lists usually consist of around 20 books.  I try to make them a diverse mix of non fiction and fiction.  I try to learn about a subject I know little about.  I try to throw in a couple pulp fiction fun reads, and I also try to read some items that might help me in my personal goals.

Okay, so that said, here are the titles on my Spring 2012 booklist:

Part One:  Research

  • The March by EL Doctorow (I am exceedingly jealous of my husband who will be at the upcoming opening of Steppenwolf’s production of The March.)
  • War by Sebastien Junger
  • The Civil War by Shelby Foote
  • 1861: The Civil War Awakens by Adam Goodheart
  • Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt
  • What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes
  • The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of our Soldiers by Nancy Sherman
  • Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson
  • The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan by Bing West
  • The Girls Come Marching Home: Stories of Women Warriors Returning from War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt

Part Two: Personal Picks

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov – I try to attempt a classic on each list.  I figured a saucy one makes sense.  Lusty Month of May.  All that.  Whatever.
  • Game of Thrones Book 1 by George RR Martin.  After all this grit about the Civil War and Afghanistan, I think I will require something very escapist and fantastical.  I’m sure there are battles but there is no denying it’s pure fiction, right?  RIGHT????  *Twitch twitch*
  • Dune by Frank Herbert.  I promised Will I would read it.
  • Outbreak by Robin Cook.  THIS is my kind of science fiction.
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  I love a good new agey fable every once in awhile.
  • Dance of Death – Book 6 The Pendergast Series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  This is my favorite pulp fiction series.  It’s got elements of mystery, science fiction, occult stuff, and one of my favorite recurring characters: FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast.  If these books ever get made into movies, Paul Bettany just HAS to play this guy.  HE HAS TO.  I will accept NO ONE ELSE.
  • The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury.  More escapist conspiracy crap that I frankly love to read.
  • Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup.  A book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time.  Other than exercising my vote, the best way to maintain autonomy over our own bodies is to learn as much about them as possible.  And then maybe reread The Handmaid’s Tale again.  Cripes.
  • Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron.  Sometimes I need to be reminded.
  • The Firestarter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte.  I preordered this one before I had the Kindle.  I bought this program when it was a pdf file.  I can’t wait to see the rehauled print version.  This woman is a genius.  An unmitigated fully feminine no compromises genius.  I think I will be glad I have the print version just so I can write “GENIUS!” in sharpie in the margins.

I won’t end up reading all of them.  That’s why there are so many titles.  Likely some of the books I’ve chosen as research won’t end up resonating for me.  Some of the ones I’ve chosen for personal reading will end up sucking.  That’s why I have the rule of 50.  If it ain’t working for me after 50 pages, I put it down.  I’m also sure I won’t make it through all 4 volumes of Shelby Foote’s comprehensive The Civil War before tech.  Or before I’m 40.

I also won’t read them in any particular order (although the research books will be heavily weighted towards the beginning since we open in mid-April.)

Hopefully, I can carve some time out in this gorgeous weather to sit back and dig into my list!

Top Ten Greatest Living Film Actors. According to: Me.


In honor of this week’s Oscar nominations, I thought I would make a Top Ten (plus more).  I used to ravenously try to keep up with the year’s critical darlings, but I don’t have the time and I’d rather watch movies out of desire rather than obligation.  That said, YAY Melissa McCarthy!!!!  I’m also thrilled with the long overdue nod for Gary Oldman.  With Mr. Oldman in mind, I’d like to offer my

Top Ten Greatest Living Film Actors

These are actors who are able to totally transform themselves.  Some actors do what they do, and do it well, but these guys do basically everything. Note:  this is not my list of favorite actors, nor is it my list of Greatest of All Time. But I do believe that these are the greatest living film actors today.  Some are completely ignored by the Academy, others have rightly brought home an Oscar.  Rather than overload this post with video, I only include selections for my #1 and #2 choices (plus a select few).  However, I’ve included an “Essential Performance” that, for me, defines why I find these people to be so utterly brilliant, and whom I can learn from just by watching their work. Note: the “essential performance” is NOT necessarily their academy award winning film.

One final thing: I’ve never really understood why performance awards are set up along gender lines, so I said f*ck that and threw them all together.

10.  Kenneth Branagh.  Branagh gets it.  He’s a haughty classically trained Brit who can perform Shakespeare with the best of them.  He often does.  But his performance in Harry Potter tells us he’s also in on the joke.  That said, watching him do Shakespeare, nay…he nearly dances it, is a joy to behold.  Certainly, his Hamlet was a career topping acheivement.  I thought he was a little old for the role, myself, but still well done.  What really trips my Shakespearean trigger is his performance as Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing.  Very few comedies leave me laughing repeatedly like this film, and while all evidence is to the contrary, I am no film snob.  I love this movie very much BECAUSE it has a wonderful fart joke.  But Branaugh, alongside his then wife Emma Thompson, shines.  Yet there is something unsettling about Branaugh, and that undercurrent of darkness despite his shiny blonde hair, finds him cast as a high ranking member of the Gestapo more than once.  Branagh has a certain air of classic actor, but he is able to transcend that and ultimately comes off as not modern, but rather essential.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: Much Ado About Nothing

9.  Johnny Depp.  Remember that internet meme “Steal like an artist?” Depp does this.  He’ll tell you who inspired a certain performance.  But what he is becomes so much more than an imitation.  Depp gets tossed aside critically for relying on “weirdness” or for his longtime partnership with Tim Burton.  What is missed is his ability to take a risk and commit. His apparent need to hide behind these characters works for our benefit.  I believe very much that the idea of vulnerability in performance is abused and misused.  Using your life story isn’t vulnerable, working out personal issues onstage or onscreen isn’t vulnerable. Opening yourself up, being available and responding honestly to your fellow actors IS vulnerable.  Depp gets this.  Something he inherently understands is what he looks like on camera.  I don’t mean what he looks like esthetically.  He knows what angle will help him achieve a mood, an emotion, or even that characteristic weirdness.  Unlike a stage actor, Depp was built for film.  He knows that even the correctly timed milimeter of eye movement says something.  The small smile says something different than the big toothy one.  Depp is always working as hard as the camera.  And yet it looks effortless.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: Pirates of the Caribbean- The Curse of the Black Pearl OR Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

8.  Christopher Guest.  We all know his work in his own films, as Corky St. Clair, Nigel Tufnel, Alan Barrows and Harlan Pepper, but he’s also the Six-Fingered Man in The Princess Bride, a role where he nearly (and slyly) blends into the background.  That subtlety is exactly what gives you chills about his character.  He rightly let’s Chris Sarandon get the showy stuff.  It’s an unsung and wonderful performance.  It’s also an example of his ability to see his roles beyond the scope of himself.  Anne Bogart, one of my fave directors and theatrical thinkers, often asks “What is the most interesting/important thing happening right now and what can I do to add to it?”  Sometimes the answer is “Nothing…yet.”  And that seems to be where Christopher Guest works.  He creates characters who can stand alone with a film behind them.  There’s a reason we still occasionally catch Nigel Tufnel on a talk show, even though Spinal Tap was made in 1981.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance – Waiting for Guffman

7. Frances McDormand. Occasionally, an Oscar goes to the right person.  Like most people, my first time noticing Frances McDormand was in Fargo.  Marge Gunderson is one of the greatest film characters ever created (another list I’d like to make). I love her performances in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Almost Famous, Raising Arizona, and Wonder Boys.  A lot of people talk about how “natural” or “believable” an actor is.  I don’t care.  Some of the most unnatural and bizzare performances are my favorites.  See Hank Azaria in The Birdcage.  What McDormand does is make the ridiculous honest.  When I watch her onscreen I think “THAT’S what I want to do when I grow up.”

Academy Awards: 1
Essential Performance: Fargo

6. Catherine O’Hara.  She’s brilliant, and it ain’t just her acting skills.  Thanks to her collaborations with Christopher Guest, she’s actually creating these roles from the ground up.  As a kid, she was of course, the Mom in Home Alone to me…but you know what?  She’s really good as the Mom in the Home Alone.  Her scene with John Candy is precious.  But it’s Christopher Guest’s films where she really got to show her stuff.  Each and every character is completely different and three dimensional.  She’s a slapstick as she is smart. She is also the hands down best stage drunk I’ve ever seen.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance – Any Christopher Guest film in which she appears.

5. Gary Oldman.  I’ve posted about Oldman before.  He has been many things, and boring has never been one of them.  His intensity is often spoken about, but his tenderness is as profound.  I simply can’t think of anyone else who could play Sirius Black.  Or Sid Vicious.  Roles that may have been up for interpretation, once played by Oldman, are no longer anything but what he makes them.  His role in The Professional could have been easily botched by or more likely, rotely played by another actor.  It is, on the page, just a better-than-average action movie bad guy.  In Oldman’s hands, it’s evil incarnate.  Volatile, funny, and all the more terrifying because of it.  His Dracula is not a monster, but a wounded man.  A man corrupted by his own pain.

Academy Awards: 0 (Hopefully soon to change)
Essential Performance: Sid and Nancy OR The Professional

4. Ian McKellan. McKellan is a lesson for an actor to learn.  The lesson is this:  A strong sense of self is the key to survival in such a vicious business.  The man owns a tshirt that says, “I’m Gandalf AND Magneto, bitch.”  Oh, and also maybe the greatest King Lear.  His performance as James Whale in Gods and Monsters is smart and heartwrenching.  (As a side note, I think the Bride of Frankenstein is overshadowed by Frankenstein.  The Bride of Frankenstein is better, funnier, campier, and more self aware.  Check it out. Both pieces are James Whale, but The Bride has a sense of self it seems like he was almost afraid to let loose in the first film.) But back to Gandalf, he’s like a master class in acting in one character.  There are the most subtle and also the most huge theatrical moments and yet it all belongs, and never feels out of place in his portrayal of Gandalf.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy OR Gods and Monsters (Also google his King Lear…It’s phenomenal)

3.  Robert Downey, Jr. There are two categories of Robert Downey Jr films.  His entire career, and then Tropic Thunder.  Both are full to the brim with brilliance. In the first category we have Chaplin, Wonder Boys, Home for the Holidays, Iron Man…. and then there is Tropic Thunder.  One false move, and it could have been a disaster.  Certainly Stiller and the other creative minds behind the concept of Downey, Jr.’s character walked that line very effectively, but they needed someone to make it physical in form.  And they found the right guy for the job.  Robert Downey, Jr. has soulful eyes, but they absolutely radiate ego and mischeviousness in Tropic Thunder.  Certainly it’s well known that the guy has had some inner demons to fight, but it’s almost like Tropic Thunder gave him the venue he really needed.  People have misconstrued some of the charicatures in Tropic Thunder and read them as making fun of a particular race or a physical or mental disability.  What Tropic Thunder is really doing is ripping the ridiculousness of Hollywood and awards shows and the general self-congratulating that entertainment types like to do.  (I am not unaware I am an actor making a list of awesome actors, btw.)  Tropic Thunder succeeds because overwhelmingly, they trusted their audience to “get it” and we did.  Robert Downey, Jr is as comfortable in a drama as in a comedy, but one thing he always bring is a sense of fun and of the ridiculous.  He almost seems to step out of the screen and make us laugh at ourselves, including him.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: Tropic Thunder OR Chaplin

2. Emma Thompson.  She’s a phenomenon.  I’m sort of speechless about her talent and abilities.  She kind of sneaks into some movies and just tears into the role, no matter how small.  There is a moment in Love Actually when she finally realizes her husband is at the very least, contemplating an affair, and she’s just trying to get it together so her kids don’t see her lose it at Christmas.  We’ve all had this moment.  That “please stop crying” moment.  That in-your-bedroo0m-trying-to-get-your-shit-together moment.  I couldn’t find a good clip of it, but go to 1:26 of this video to at least see a hint. My favorite Emma Thompson performance is in Stranger Than Fiction.  Lest you think I only enjoy her when she’s being a bit bleak, check her out in the aforementioned Much Ado About Nothing throwing around some banter with her then husband Branagh

Academy Awards: 1
Essential Performance: Stranger Than Fiction

1.  Peter O’Toole.  I arrived late to the Peter O’Toole game.  Partially, that’s because I was born in 1981 and those missed years of film making couldn’t be helped.  Partially I was too busy watching his partners in crime like Richard Burton.  But better late than never.  He made a really bad movie in the 80’s that I adore called High Spirits.  Truly, it’s dreck.  But I love it, and not ironically.  And here’s the thing.  He knows it’s dreck, but he still performs as if it’s Shakespeare coming out of his mouth and better yet, he almost makes it sound like it is.  If Robert Downey Jr.’s performances are equivalent to a great backyard BBQ with your best friends and family, Peter O’Toole’s are the grandest most fun three day bender you’ve ever had.   I mean, of course, Beckett is great.  Lawrence of Arabia, a triumph.  Lion in Winter, astounding.  But I offer you my favorite O’Toole performance:  Man of La Mancha.  It’s flat out fantastic.  Unlike most movie musicals, La Mancha doesn’t give you much to look at (other than Sophia Loren, and I do, as wannabe bombshell, adore Sophia Loren).  The roads are dusty.  The costumes dirty.  The setting bleak.  It’s an actor’s musical.  That’s almost literally all there is.  O’Toole is perfection.  You want his Don Quixote to march his chivalrous way into your life and tell you to dream the Impossible Dream.  I daresay I wept in joy at this movie.  And it was all because of Peter O’Toole.  He is, in my mind, the greatest living actor.

Academy Awards: 1 (Honorary)
Essential Performance: Every single one.  He NEVER turns in a bad performance.  However, Lawrence of Arabia can’t be denied.

Runners Up:

Stephen Root – 0 Academy Awards.  He is the definition of a working actor.

Hank Azaria – 0 Academy Awards.  His vocal work alone speaks for itself.

Paul Gross – 0 Academy Awards.  This might be my favorite scene ever.  Watch him direct a bad actress on her performance as Ophelia:

Allison Janney – 0 Academy Awards. She pops up in weird places like Primary Colors, but she makes her mark.  Plus she’s from Ohio… She is big part of why I love Drop Dead Gorgeous so much. But truly where she gets to shine is on The West Wing.

Diane Weist – 2 Academy Awards.  Woody Allen gets a lot of shit sometimes, but his eye for Diane Weist is right on target.  I watch her performance in Bullets Over Broadway the night before I start rehearsal for a show.

Jeffery Wright – 0 Academy Awards. Basquiat.  Angels in America.  And then he plays Colin Powell.  An argument for the subtle.

Dustin Hoffman – 2 Academy Awards.  He should have won for Tootsie, but I won’t pick the fly shit out of the pepper.  Sure he was wound a little tight early in his career, but he relaxes as he ages, making his body of work always interesting to watch.

Hope Davis – 0 Academy Awards.  American Splendor.  About Schmidt.  And if you’re interested in the early careers of your acting heroes as I am, that’s her in Home Alone as the French airline associate.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman – 1 Academy Awards.  This guy has presence.  And a very unique one too.  Often the word “masculine” gets associated with Cary Grant types, but for me, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the picture of a masculine presence on screen.  One of my favorite performances of his is actually in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War.  I could take or leave the flick, but this movie is actually the first time I really paid attention to him.

Angela Lansbury – 0 Academy Awards.  She can do anything.  She still fucking does.  I can’t handle it.  Oh, and she originated my absolute dream role: Mrs. Lovett.

Benicio Del Toro – 1 Academy Award.  I like weird with a purpose, and Benicio Del Toro is just that.  When you watch him, you are watching a story develop through someone’s eyes you don’t recognize and that is so very interesting.

David Morse – 0 Academy Awards.  I just know, I just know that George Washington must have sounded like that.

Cloris Leachman – 1 Academy Award.  She’s in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  She’s Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein.  She’s still swingin’ and she doesn’t give a shit.  I love this woman.

Anyhoo, I know there’s no Streep or Dench on my list (no reflection on them.  I love them both.) Nor is there Anthony Hopkins or any other typical list toppers.  Tell where I’m wrong!  I love a good debate on a top ten list.  Still, I stand by this.  These are the folks whose brains I want to pick.  Who’s talent I want to learn from, and whose work I ALWAYS want to watch.

Happy Rex Manning Day! – Fall Fashion Lookbook 2011


Part One of Fall Fashion 2011 (Tune in later this week for my 2011 Wishlist)

For past Fall Fashion posts:

Fashion 2010

Fashion 2009

Fashion is a huge ocean of which some waves I ride, and some I ride out.  The past couple years definitely had some trends I was into.  While I’m not a huge Mad Men viewer, I don’t mind the sweeping sixties vibe that followed in it’s wake, but with all the benefits of women’s lib already fought and somewhat won.  Still, while I love mid-twentieth century fashion all the way from the 20’s-70’s, the heart and soul of who I am (for better or worse) resides in the years 1991-1995.

I waited patiently for many years.  Sure, fashion hinted, or rather hiccuped in this general direction.  A ripped leg here, a doc marten there.  But now…now the 90’s that I know and love have returned to the fashion world.  Leggings, slouchy sweaters, tartans, doc martens, rugged mixed with classic.   Sure most of the mags are touting 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s fashion but if you look, that’s not exactly what you will see.  That combo, combined with the demands of 21st century lifestyle has ressurected the decade of my style influence, my artistic soul, the 1990’s.

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I am above most things, a movie fan.  This isn’t to imply that the 90’s were influenced by movie fashion.  90’s fashion was almost entirely influenced by the music scene.  What I love about 90’s movie fashion is that it is edited and it is usually not the point at all.  Lucky for me, that equals inherently wearable outfits.

Friends, do you know what I’m getting at here?  Do you know what I’m saying?  I’m saying Cher from Clueless represents everything about this season for me.   I’ve been waiting, dear God, 15 years for this.

Ignore the pouty face, this outfit is one of my favorites from the movie and the essence of what I'm looking for this season. Cropped sweater, button down, plaid skirt, and you can't see them, but she's wearing mary janes.

But let me not get ahead of myself.  Last year, while poodling around in my physical look book (a couple of very messy but inspired binders full of clippings) I sorted out the genres of fashion that I love and that work for me.

  • Classic
  • Dancewear and Dance inspired
  • Bombshell
  • Baroque
  • Bohemian
  • Romantic
  • Glamour

The 1990’s have a solid representation when it comes to Classic, Dance, Baroque, and Bohemian.  I love the Bombshell look and I LOVE Glamour but this year, I’m going back to my roots.

The following are examples of 90’s movie fashion that are serving as my inspiration this season.

"I really think Musictown is torn on the revealing garment issue. "

There is not an uncropped sweater to be found on those ladies.  Worry not, for I am not a midriff barer.  But I AM a cropped layerer.  And thus I shall continue to be.

"Okay, so you're probably going, "Is this like a Noxzema commercial or what?" But seriously, I actually have a way normal life for a teenage girl. "

"I have direction." "Yeah, towards the mall."

I love schoolgirl chic: button downs with sweater vests, little shift and wiggle dresses, tartans,  mary janes and wide headbands.  If viewed through a nineties lens, you really have created the ideal space for my style to work.  Thus Cher is one of my fashion icons.

So is Buffy.  The original Buffy.  See this post for a full run down on Buffy style, particularly her prom ensemble.

"Get out of my facial."

"Great. My secret weapon is PMS."

I am IN LOVE with this outfit, varsity jacket included.

Even the cheerleading outfits kick ass!  I mean, I WAS a cheerleader.  These things appeal to me.

How funky is your chicken?

The following picture is important to me, for you are seeing my high school style sitting next to my adult style.

"I totally paused!"

But the boys have much to offer.  The following examples ARE early nineties, but by way of the 50’s and early 60’s.  No fashion era is without influence.  Take for example, the regency era.  Think Jane Austin.  Those fashions while being their own look, have a distinct Grecian feel to them.  Just an example.

Anyway, I give you the boys of Dead Poet’s Society and School Ties.  The clothing is 50’s prep school, but the slouch, the attitude is pure 1990’s.

"I sound my barbaric yawp."

"The honor code is a living thing. It cannot exist in a vacuum. "

Here is a pic from My Own Private Idaho.  This is unisex fashion that looks sexy on anyone.  Honestly!  Picture Alicia Silverstone in that leather jacket.  It would rock!

"I'm afraid if I shared your wine, I might catch this awful disease you appear to have. My jacket would grow little zippers all over it and my toes would have jingle bells on them like those there. "

In a bit of a different take on 90’s fashion, here is the character Carrie (Michelle Forbes) from the movie Kalifornia.

"Too graphic. Too overt. Not suitable for mass consumption."

Her style is simple, severe, and awesome.  It’s grey tshirts, black tshirts, that incredible haircut, and one of the best leather jackets in movie history.  The cigarette is nearly it’s own character.

In that same vein, we have the ladies of The Craft.

Their skirts were either very short, or very long.

"Hail to the powers of the Watchtowers of the East."

Let us not pretend the maxi dress is something new.

This is my fave: prep school style combined with early 90’s attitude.

We are the weirdos, Mister.

The trap (that I consistently fell into as an adolescent) of 90’s fashion, for women, is that it can quickly become so masculine, it’s shapeless and sloppy.   So what I hope to be at 30 is what I wanted to be at 13.

If you combine Alicia Silverstone’s fashion in Clueless with her looks in the Aerosmith Amazing, Cryin’ and Crazy videos, you have now seen my Fall Fashion Inspiration for 2011. Ditto for Liv Tyler in Empire records and the videos.

Say what you will about Aerosmith.  I have mixed feelings myself, and they are all ignoring the past 15 years.  Those are three of the greatest music videos ever made.  It doesn’t hurt that I had a huuuuuge crush on Jason (NOt, I repeat, NOT Jeremy) London.  Have you seen Man in the MOon??? (Not Man ON the Moon…that’s the Jim Carrey pic).   Okay fine.  Amazin’ is the least amazing of the three videos.  The whole virtual reality thing sort of dates it.  Okay, fine, I love the song Amazing.  I totally do.

But look at her dress!!!

That dress with Doc Martens is perfection.  She hitches a PLANE with it.  Not a car.  A PLANE.

Moving on, with a slightly more beachy vibe, we’ve got Lori Petty in Point Break.

Add a touch of the West for the ladies of Gas Food Lodging.

Let us not forget Singles.  The single most 90’s movie ever created.  I defy you to find one MORE 90’s.

I know that, if you are a fan of the early nineties, you would expect to see Reality Bites here.  Howev, while I love Betty Page, the Betty Page bang doesn’t work for me, nor does the waify hipster look of the movie.  I’m as preppy as the nineties get, which isn’t very.  But it is enough.  And it is what ultimately leaves me just a bit cold towards the movie.  I respect it!  It just isn’t “me.” In me there is a conflict of yuppie, hippie and grungey that basically rivals that of the plot of PCU.

I’m in my element, people.  I’ll come up with a wishlist tomorrow, but I think you can see where I’m headed.  We are shaped by the styles of our coming of age.  I will now attempt to improve upon them.

Movie Hero of the Week – Ray Liotta*


My friend Jay sent me THIS GQ article on the making of my favorite movie, Goodfellas.  (My second favorite movie is What a Way To Go which, I feel, in combination with Goodfellas reveals nothing about my personality whatsoever.  Except maybe a love for a dance number, the color pink, with an undercurrent of gritty violence.  And Italian men.)  Anyway, Jay and I have been roundly obsessing over this article and our love for Goodfellas over the past few days.

Meanwhile, for just absolutely no reason at all in the world whatsoever, I have become recently interested in actors who hit their stride post-30.

Meet Ray Liotta.

Ray Liotta

He lobbied hard and got the role of Henry Hill in 1990’s Goodfellas at the age of 30.  There is nobody else like him in the pictures.  Imagine playing a role like Henry Hill, for all accounts a not good guy.  Not the WORST guy, of course.  That’s Tommy.  But a bad guy nonetheless, and you root for the dude.  Of course, this isn’t unprecendented.  Movies can make you do that. But with the wrong actor in that role, it would be pretty difficult.

There is a 95% chance that any interview or article you read with Ray Liotta as the subject is going to use the word “intense.”  Not inaccurate, but I think over-simplified.  He’s not just punching walls and looking sulky. He is intense without angst. I think that might be passion, but you really don’t see truly passionate work very often and think we find it disconcerting, particularly as an American movie goer. What is presented to us as passion is often just masturbatory emoting.  Not this guy. This guy is focused.  He listens. He’s confident without being cocky.

I’ll tell you something else I like about the guy.  Honesty.  He says he did Operation Dumbo Drop for the money.  Damn right he did, and you would too. It takes a hell of lot to stay afloat in show biz.  I would be lying my face right off if I said I wouldn’t do something like Operation Dumbo Drop.  The only thing I won’t do is kid shows and working at amusement parks.  God bless the people who do, but I prefer my desk job to that.  I wish I didn’t.  I wish I was a purer soul.  I also wish I had a hundred million dollars and a bucket of rubies and garnets.  And a chauffeur.  I’ve always wanted a chauffer.

I digress.

In the following scene, you see something that I think defines Ray Liotta.  Focus.  I mentioned how he listens.  Check out how…ugh…I hate to say it, but I can’t think of another phrase- how “in the moment” he is.  Look at his focus and his eye contact and his power in the scene with Morrie.  He is so specific.  (This clip also shows one of my fave De Niro/Scorcese moments of all time, but that’s just a bonus.)  Also, the video is called “My Favourite Scene From Goodfellas,” noting the British spelling,  obviously, I didn’t title the video.  And it’s not my favorite scene (although it’s a good one.)  It’s just very illustrative of my point.

Just for the record, THIS is my favorite scene from Goodfellas.  Of course, the best scene is THE shot.  You know…the steady cam…the Copa.  You know, I always admired that shot purely for the timing, not just by Scorcese by the umpteen gazillion actors and extras that breeze their way through it.  Recently, however, I just made the connection (because I’m a fool) that it’s about Karen. We feel like we are on Henry’s arm in Henry’s world.  It does something incredibly important.  It answers the question “Why would you stay with this man?” before you even think to ask it.

God, I love movies.

Anyway.

Have you seen Narc?  Interesting flick.  Liotta produced it alongside his then wife, if I remember correctly.  He stars alongside Jason Patric (an upcoming MHOTW).  It’s brutal.  It’s violent.  It’s harsh.  It’s good.  Really good.  Whereas you might root for Henry Hill, you don’t for Henry Oak.

Have you ever seen Corrina, Corrina?  It’s good.  And Liotta is really good in it.  I’m not sure how he does that wounded soldier thing without doing what all the other guys do.  He’s tortured by not tormented.  He’s hurt but he’ll survive.  He loves but he doesn’t gush.  This clip is long, but worth it.

Have you seen The Rat Pack?  Do.  If I’m nerdily blabbing about the difference between imitation and portrayal of real-life characters, I often bring up Liotta as Frank Sinatra.  He doesn’t look like the dude (minus those baby blues) and he doesn’t sound all that much like him, yet he nails it.  Ditto for all the performances in that movie (minus the woman who plays Marilyn).  I get why it wasn’t a big-screen movie, but I wish more people have seen it.  If I were to teach an acting class, I might use it.  It establishes fine lines and never dances over them, and Liotta is the leader of the group.  Not just because he plays Frank.  He establishes a presence that guides the movie.  Now.   That said.  When you do watch it, expect the Kennedy campaign song to the tune of “High Hopes” to run through your head for weeks….”K-E-DOUBLE N-E-D-Y…he’s our favorite kind of a guy…Everyone wants to BACK. JACK. JACK is on the right track…cuz he’s got HIGH HOPES…he’s got HIGH HOPES…”  See.  There I go.  Anyway, here is a clip:

I’m not a big Blow fan.  heh.  But they cast Liotta as Depp’s dad.  The dude is all of like, ten years older than my boy Johnny.  I guess it works because of the flashbacks.  But Liotta is really great.  Sweet, even.  I’ve never read if Depp and Liotta got along particularly well on set or not but there is a genuine fatherly affection there.   While playing age happens all the time on stage, it’s actually fairly rare in movies, at least to this extent.  I often wonder why casting worked out this way.  Still, a weird production decision works in Ray Liotta’s favor because he gets to show a really awesome side of his talent, he probably wouldn’t have otherwise.  Graceful age.  Not rickety wheezing and overuse of the word “whippersnapper.”  On a dorky movie nerd note, allegedly Johnny Depp’s character in BLOW was responsible for 85% of the coke trafficked in the US between the 70’s and 80’s.  Therefore, there is an 85% chance that that character provided Henry Hill, Ray Liotta’s character in Goodfellas, with his coke.  Small world, man. I guess that’s more of a dorky stoner note, now that I think about it.

Hey look!  Ray Liotta on Martha Stewart:

That’s funny to me.  It amuses me.  I also love a man in an apron.

I’m not a huge Field of Dreams fan, either.  I’ve been told that’s because I’m a girl.  I think it’s because the movie is cheesy and Amy Madigan (love her in Uncle Buck) is irritating and an odd pairing for Costner.  (Also, I would never tell someone they don’t get a movie because they are a man.  Sure, that seems like something I would say, but I wouldn’t.  Because movies are universal experiences.  I played catch with my Dad, too.   We have tickets for Wrigley in May.  They are in my desk right now.)  But that’s not the point.  An article I read recently in so many words says Liotta is more intense, and better than he has to be as Shoeless Joe Jackson.  The phrase “better than it has to be” is very depressing, but often apt.  The world of the American movie is world that embraces, if not encourages mediocrity.  In fact, that’s sort of what my Movie Heroes are about.  They COULD have just phoned it in.  They didn’t.  And I look to them for inspiration and encouragement through their work which is conveniently available via DVD.

In all his films, something simmers beneath Liotta’s exterior.  In Henry Hill, it finds its way out.  In many other characters he plays, like Shoeless Joe, it never does.  It’s a deep sense of humanity.  Even loss.  It’s profound.  And it’s beautiful.  I’m also a Pisces and am incredibly susceptible to this state of being.  I married an intense simmerer.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Aloofness is my kryptonite.  I want to hand it my phone number written on my panties.  I can’t help it.   Complicated emotion bubbling underneath a brooding exterior is the bucket of water to my Wicked Witch of the West.

What a worlllld.....what a worlllld...

Have you seen Observe and Report?  It’s, hmmm, I’ll say it’s disjointed.  But I love when dudes in movies wear those over the shoulder cop holster things.

I’ve always sort of thought of Cop Land as a nod toward the wish that you could see Goodfellas again for the first time.  You can’t.  Still, it’s decent cop movie.  Gritty.  Liotta and De Niro.  You could easily do worse on a Tuesday night.  Alright look, I’ll be honest.  I really don’t remember much about it.  I saw Copland when I was 16 and it was on the new release shelf and I was going through my De Niro phase.   Other than the fact that I am a straight woman, my movie-related coming of age was decidedly male adolescent.  If I had found a Scarface poster, it would have been on my wall.  Unfortunately (fortunately?) I lived on a farm in Northwestern Ohio and those posters weren’t easy to find.  I did manage to snag a Brad Pitt one from Legends of the Fall at the Kmart in Defiance, Ohio.  That and the Dirty Words one I got at the George Carlin concert I saw.  And the Wayne’s World one I got in my “Wayne’s World Extreme Closeup” book (I still own it.)  Jesus, I was weird.  This doesn’t include the glut of Eddie Vedder (see “intense simmering”)  pics I had collected, all pre-Internet mind you.  That took dedication.

Again, I digress.

Looking at his filmography, one thing is clear:  Liotta is a working actor and his work is refreshingly absent of ego.  Certainly I’ve never met the guy, but you get the distinct impression people like him.  They like to work with him.  Repeatedly.  That is something that benefits an acting career.  He also seems to have followed his nose and done what was right for him.  That is really really hard to do as an actor.  You often find yourself following other people’s paths, other people’s ambition.  There is so little guidance for artists (which is both a good and a bad thing) that you feel completely blind sometimes making the decision whether to do a project or not.  Which city should I move to?  Film or theatre?  Agent or no?  Union or no?  I’m too old.  I’m not old enough.  There is something confident, decisive and steady about Liotta’s resume and I admire that.  And what do you  know, he got to be in one of the greatest movies ever made along the way.  Plus, he’s really fun to watch.

*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.

Musical Auditions: Part 2: The Audition Day


Career Post

Part 2 of a series about Musical Auditions.  (Click here to view Part 1: Preparation)

We all have our own little rituals when it comes to stressful situations.  Some people do a little yoga, some meditate, others pray.  Some people seem to be immune to audition nerves and bully for them.  For me, I like to know absolutely as much as possible about what to expect.  So, this post is sort of written to myself in the past in the hopes that a newbie musical theatre professional can get some sort of benefit from it.  If you are a seasoned old salt, please add any helpful hints.  Rather than focus too heavily on the nitty gritty details, I try to answer the question What is a musical audition like?

If it seems like the following is a lot of effort for all of 60 seconds of your life, well, it is.  But it’s worth it, in the end.  Preparation lessens the stress of a situation that is traditionally thought of as nerve-wracking.  But, it can, and should be fun, for the most part.  Why not?  Auditioning is absolutely as much a part of the actor’s job as anything else.  No need to look at it as a “necessary evil”.  It’s like a 60 second cabaret starring you.  This is a notion to keep in mind while selecting material, something I’ve blogged about here and here in reference to building your book.  I will also discuss it in an upcoming post about selecting audition material for a particular audition and how the book itself should function.

There are basically two situations:  Appointment or No Appointment.

Appointment

Auditions by appointment are posted ahead of time.  Sometimes you have to submit your headshot and resume in ordered to be offered an appointment.  On the day of the audition you show up a little early, fill out the requisite paperwork, and do your thang.  If there are no appointments available, ask if can be on the waitlist.  They still may be able to squeeze you in.

No Appointment

These include Equity crashes, waitlists, open calls and cattle calls. (I loathe and detest open calls.  But that really doesn’t matter.  Cattle calls, however, are not as horrid as the name implies.) I recommend crashing Equity auditions every once in awhile.   Particularly in Chicago.  While the talent pool is big, it’s hardly overwhelming and to date I’ve never not been seen.  Scare yourself every once in awhile.  That’s my motto.  (I know, I have like fifteen mottos.)

The purpose of this post isn’t to detail all the ins and outs of the different types of musical auditions because in the end, you are still busting out 16 bars or so and maybe a monologue.

*************

So Audition day dawns.  What to do?  Well, whether the audition is at 10 in the morning, or 10 at night, find some time to warm up and rehearse and hydrate.  Avoid caffeine and dairy if you can (makes you sound a little gurgly).  Don’t let the audition be the first time that day you’ve sung.

Of course there is the age old question of what to wear.  I am going to do a post about audition wear coming up, but whatever you choose should be pressed and professional.  I like to wear a dress to musical auditions.  It’s the most “me” thing.  Lots of women wear dress pants.  It doesn’t really matter.  The important thing is to look a little dressy.  Musicals, in particular, have a bit of a dressy feel to them. The makeup is a little more intense.  You are often wigged.  Even miked.  The costumes are a little more ridiculous (if not patently a lot more ridiculous).  Dressing up hints in that direction, and it’s a sign of respect.  Remember, as I’ve said before, at it’s heart it’s a job interview.  A creative one.  Where you sing.

Keys:

LOVE your material.  Love it.  Don’t get so caught up in finding obscure and interesting pieces that you forget to sing something you enjoy.  I tell you this from experience.  I have been guilty of this time and time again.  You should really love your whole book.  I sort of look at my book as a dream cabaret – with a few caveats.

I like to have a little checklist for myself  that I keep in my audition binder to remind what to bring along:

1.  Music – marked (I’ll talk about how to do this in the Audition Book post.)

2.  Sides (if provided)

3.  Monologue (for review, and if requested)

4.  5 headshots and resumes

5.  Shoes (if I plan on changing shoes when I get there)

6.  Water

7.  Audition/Rehearsal Kit (I will go over what is in this in a later post.  But it’s basically a makeup bag full of safety pins, lozenges, mints, kleenexes and other stuff I usually wish I have.  More important for long audition days.)

8.  Pashmina or something in case the audition area isn’t heated…this happens.  A lot.

9.  Calendar

10.  Phone/Keys/Wallet

11. Dance clothes and dance shoes.  (I don’t think you need to carry around your dance shoe collection, but having your characters on hand is not a bad idea.  Don’t do your initial audition in them, however.  Frankly…it looks dorky.)  You may be asked to come back and dance that day.  This is fairly rare in Chicago, but it does happen.  I am of the “Be Prepared” school of thought, so might well throw those trusty t-straps in your bag.

12.  The details of the audition including location, directions, and hopefully a phone number in case you get lost or are running late.

13.  Pens and a little notebook.  You might be called back immediately and given information that you will want to write down.  You might meet someone who’s name you need to remember.  You never know.

The Audition Itself

When you arrive, you will usually be met by a table where an audition monitor will usually be seated.  This person is your guide.  They have the sheet with your appointment.  They have the forms you need to fill out.  They know if things are running as scheduled.  They know who is in the room.  Be nice to them.  Follow their instructions, and ask them any questions you have.

Then sit back and relax, go over your stuff, observe.  Sometimes I even knit.  Pay attention to any announcements from the monitor.  Don’t make them repeat things over and over.

When you are called into the audition room, you could see any number of people: The director, the music director, the accompanist, the choreographer, the producer, the artistic director, the assistant director, the stage manager, the managing director, casting director,  interns….  Normally, there are usually 3-4 people in the room, and not the entire slew of production staff.   I often ask whoever is monitoring the auditionwho is in the room just to have a general feel for what will greet me.  I also like to know who is accompanying on the off chance I know them.  If we’ve worked on a certain piece together, it might be a good choice for the audition.

So what do you do once you are in there?  You are introduced by the monitor, typically, and then given a moment to speak with the accompanist.  Don’t lollygag with the accompanist, but do take your time.  They need the info to play to your specifications.  Bring music in your key.  Do not expect that the person at the piano can transpose on demand.  Even if they can, they may not because it’s a pain in the ass.  Also, make sure you bring actual sheet music.  Not chord charts, and certainly not fake book entries.  With the internet, libraries, and music stores are at your disposal, you’ve got absolutely no excuses other than laziness in this regard.  The accompanist is your partner and there really, more than anyone else, for you.  The director doesn’t need backup music, you do.  However, the accompanist may also be the music director.

Once you’ve established your music with the accompanist, you walk to your spot, re-greet the people at the table, introduce yourself and your piece(s) and do your thang.  Finish up.  Say thank you, and wait for them to dismiss you.  They might want to ask you questions.  They might not.  Don’t go running out of the room.  They might even ask you to sing, gasp!, something else.  (You should have several selections available in your book.  I’ll talk about that in the Audition Book post.)

Then you’re done, you’ve thanked the monitor, and before you know it, you’re back at home and it’s all in the past.  Except for that waiting part.  For reference, I like to make a note of who I met at the audition, who was in the room, what I wore, what my hair was like, the material I did, my thoughts on the audition, and any comments or reaction.  It’s just good info to have and info you’ll be glad you have the next time you audition for them.  I used to keep this information in a notebook.  But now I use an Excel spreadsheet.  Oh yes.  My dorkiness knows no bounds.

Coming soon I’ll talk callbacks, audition wear, your Book, the pieces themselves and how to approach their actual performance,  rehearsals and all sorts of other fun stuff!