hail, hail, the Fantastifiers come!

Fantastifiers: the clever name we gave to our clever, clever writing group; my favorite part of any fortnight. I’ll break it down for you.

There are six of us, all working on novels. We meet every two weeks, submitting chapters in alternating groups of three, which means that every month I’m expected to produce a new chapter for workshopping. Call it a fire under my ass, a gun to my head, all the good stuff. Chapter 4 is being workshopped tonight, and back home I’m poking at chapter 6. 

Oh! And we bring snacks. But that’s not the point. 

I’ve been working on this novel for about nine months, and I have about six chapters completed and ready to go. In a subsequent post I’ll talk more about the book and my plans for it, but for now, the umbrella skinny; the nutshell. 

Left to my own devices, I would put a pin in chapter six. I have ideas for how to fix the earlier chapters of the novel, some which require some pretty heavy lifting, and if I weren’t being policed by the Fantastifiers I could easily spend the balance of this year jiggering and re-jiggering chapter one and two (edits to make: less sex; more piano). But that’s the trap a lot of writers fall into, especially when they’re faced with what one of my writing instructors calls the “big, baggy middle;” that act 2 specter that looms large and empty and waiting for plot and characterization to fill it up. The hard stuff. The good stuff. 

And it would be easy for me to forego moving forward, in favor of fixing the early chapters. I can hear the justifications in my head already: “but, but, I won’t have all the information for the middle if I don’t delete the sex and add the piano to the early chapters!” Between you and me, that’s a big lie. I can hold the sex and piano in my head; I can forge on forward as if I’d fixed the early chapters; I can confront the Middle.

But what I’m saying is, I wouldn’t. Without the Fantastifiers fire I’d be mired in chapter one, tweaking and polishing and changing my mind over and over again. But I know that the important thing for me at this stage of the book is to lay plot pieces one after the other, to erect the scaffolding on which the novel will drape, so that when I do go back and edit, I’ll have infrastructure to work with. Another old writing instructor once told me that “a first draft is code for ‘place draft here.'” I liked that. The first draft is the bones, the flavorless writing and steel struts of architecture; later come the balustrades, gargoyles and stained glass. 

Thanks, Fantastifiers. I’ve got chapter 5 ready for you, and by October, come hell or the Mayan apocalypse, I will have chapter six.

the sing-along songs will be our scriptures

About… four years ago I got hooked on Regina Spektor and her entire songography was on repeat on my Zune for months. Now it’s the Hold Steady, and I’ve actually become unable to listen to anything else without wishing it was Craig Finn’s Jersey vibe and half-spoken lyrics against that 80s real-band-playing-real-instruments track. They’ve drawn comparisons to Springsteen and REM, the Tragically Hip and Sonic Youth, Ted Leo and even Billy Joel. They are all these things and more, people!

Here’s their one single, though I don’t even know if it got radio play; the opening track from “Boys and Girls in America,” Stuck Between Stations. Take it as a taster; if you like it, just keep rocking the fuck on with the rest of their discography.

There are four albums so far, and while individually they’re amazing, and while individual tracks on each album can also be isolated as a-fucking-mazing, there’s an even better story happening across the four albums, starring the same set of characters (Hallelujah [call her Holly] the teenage burnout, Charlemagne, the struggling drug dealer/pimp, and Gideon, the gang member — and a whole cast of other supporting characters who get drunk at music festivals, get fucked against dumpsters behind townie bars, get in knife fights, fall in love, party till it almost kills them, and wake up in Ybor City looking for a change).

The aesthetic is set up on the first record, “Almost Killed Me,” with a growling lyric-rich Craig Finn and some old-school hair band/punk guitar licks.

Then “Separation Sunday” really got the narrative ball rolling; it’s entirely a concept album based around Holly, Charlemagne and Gideon, slightly rawer than the other records and still totally lyric-based and groovy.

“Boys and Girls in America” is totally the most accessible record, and where lots of fans (including me!) got started. Three years ago or so, and came to town and played me “Citrus” and “Party Pit,” and I fell into this band crush headlong. Later when I went back to hear the two earlier albums I started reading the narrative and character development (as well as musical development and shifting styles), but for the first few months all I listened to was BaGiA. It’s where the single (above) is from, and it busted the Hold Steady into mainstream reviewers’ consciousness. Read a review from Pitchfork Media, here.

The newest record, “Stay Positive,” just came out a couple months ago, and while being an album totally addressed to summer ’08, is also a bookend to “Almost Killed Me,” which started with the song “Positive Jam” as a band intro. “Stay Positive,” after four records of some killer highs and some crushing lows, reminds us, “it’s one thing to start with a positive jam; it’s another thing to see it all through.” I can not stop listening to “Stay Positive,” occasionally clicking back to tracks on the earlier albums just to remember how they pay off in the most recent record.

Download the .rar file here.

Got samples from all four albums. To wit:

From “Almost Killed Me”:

  • “Barfruit Blues,” where we meet Hallelujah, Charlemagne, and Gideon at their lowest
  • “Killer Parties,” about the Twin City set looking for the best parties and then suffering the consequences. Also waking up in Ybor City.
  • “Knuckles,” a great song about bad-rep boys and liars.
  • “Certain Songs,” just, everything they stand for and everything we remember from college jukeboxes and bar band bars. Certain songs, they get so scratched into our souls. This is a big favorite among the fans, and one of the sweetest, most melodic songs in the set, after “Citrus” off BaGinA.

From “Separation Sunday,” the first five tracks off the album. Like the first chapter of a book, and meant to be read all in a row.

From “Boys and Girls in America”:

  • “Stuck Between Stations,” the aforementioned single and the tale of being a target demographic for about fifteen minutes.
  • “First Night,” a beautiful and nostalgic look back at the glory days of Holly and Charlemagne and that first night when it all went down.
  • “Party Pit,” just fucking AWESOME and fun and a sing-along song. Gonna walk around and drink some more.
  • “You Can Make Him Like You,” a predecessor to other songs about party girls trying to tough it out among the dealers, see also “Two Handed Handshake.”
  • “Massive Nights,” another sing-along-song and the updated check in to “Killer Parties,” waking up in Ybor City yet again.
  • “Citrus,” a ballad unlike anything else they do. Lost in fog and love and faithless fear; I’ve had kisses that make Judas seem sincere.
  • “Chillout Tent,” a three minute play about kids at a music festival in Western Mass.

From “Stay Positive”:

  • “Constructive Summer”: This record brings us out of the gutter and back to a place where we can stay positive: let this be my annual reminder that we can all be something bigger.
  • Sequestered in Memphis”: another party travelogue song, a run-in with the law and hooking up with some chick at some place where she cat sits, and everything is fried.
  • “One for the Cutters,” friggin’ GENIUS. Here’s a bright college girl at Oberlin (or somewhere Oberlin-like) who, when there weren’t any parties, sometimes partied with the townies, and gets into some townie shit. It’s a cute little town, boutiques and cafes, her friends all seem nice, she was getting good grades, but when she came home for Christmas, she just seemed distant and different.
  • “Yeah Sapphire,” or why this album is the one with the sing-along songs. Rock on.
  • “Both Crosses,” because this band is considered one of the great Catholic guilt records, riffing on that original Catholic-girl chaser, Billy Joel.
  • “Magazines,” a really incisive appreciation of what happens to insecure underage party girls with body image and daddy isues.
  • AND… the secret hidden tracks:

  • “Ask Her For Adderall,” my current anthem about when you just can’t do people anymore and you’re on that slippery slope, and Holly/Hallelujah finally in a place to judge another burnout.
  • “Cheyenne Sunrise,” another road song, from St. Paul to Ybor City by way of Cheyenne, too small, yet escapist.
  • “Two Handed Handshake,” part three of the bonus staying-positive tracks, looking back on those boys and girls in America and figuring out why they have such a sad time together. Boys, I’m pretty sure that we can put it back together, and girls, you gotta try to be nice to one another.

Download the .rar file here, in case you missed it up top.

And, because they’re a narrative band, spend some time reading the short stories that are Craig Finn’s brilliant lyrics, here: Hold Steady lyrics.

There are a ton of songs I’ve left off, particularly from the first two records (two of my all-time favorite songs off “Almost Killed Me” aren’t in this zip file… they’re yours to find!), so you would do well to buy all four at your leisure, or whichever one jumps out at you based on these tracks I’ve uploaded.

Then. THEN. I want fiction about Holly and Charlemagne and Gideon (and his gang with the same tattoos), fiction about Hostile, Massachusetts and Ybor City, fiction about the obscure bar bands and jukebox tracks and hard drugs and townies.

And then we gotta wait two years before they put out another record, if they’re keeping with their trends. I have no expectations of getting sick of these four any time soon, but then, it’s impossible to get perspective on those things.

Anyway, stay positive, build something this summer, sing along with the sing-along songs, and hold steady.

O, my offense is rank!

x-posted to Eating Hard Candy Alone

6 Aug 2008, 12:45, Borough of Westminster

The trip broke the bank. One day more and I’d be busking at Heathrow, scraping together the money to get my car out of long-term parking somewhere off Imperial Hwy near LAX. At least busking on the Heathrow side I’d be paid in pounds.

It’s just past noon and I’m in a franchisey-looking pub near the Tower Bridge, Wednesday, my last day here. Just coming off a week of unreality as escorted by Caz (hostess in possession of the unquestionable mostess) and mon couer N., Alexis, Kari, and some fantastic, hard-rocking good times with Sarah-Jane, a dual-citizenship dear friend from back when we were six years old.

And at the same time I’m looking to get back to LA, you know, where everybody knows my name, or at the very least where my outgoing combination of brashness and sincerity is seen as friendly (as opposed to just terribly gauche, or, you know, threateningly offensive). In LA when I’m washing my hands in the ladies’ room, next to another lady washing her hands at the adjacent sink, it goes like: I say “hey” and she says “hey” and then there’s a “how’s it going” sometimes even followed by a “I am in the process of ditching my date” or “I hope they don’t tow my car” (this is me, spitballing typical LA convo), and then we dry our hands and go our separate ways, right? Anyway it turns out if you do this in a surprisingly non-touristy subterranean wine pub near Covent Garden, the lady in the loo will look hard at the floor, not say a word, and brush past you like you might be trying to corner and kill her.

But the point of all of this, the culture-clash punchline, is Hamlet, up in Stratford-Upon-Avon, me full of glee and no idea of the appropriate way to show it.

The proper review of Hamlet will come under separate cover (if we’re lucky); this is just the context; no melancholy Dane, just the Ugly American and how it all played out.

August 4, 2008; 7:15pm, The Courtyard Theater, Stratford-Upon-Avon

We had front row seats. A mixed blessing. From a combination of nerves, my own chronic insomnia and severe jetlag, I hadn’t slept a wink the night before in the B&B. I bought a few white lilies wrapped in a paper cane bouquet. We file in to the Courtyard Theater. We have front row seats. I’m grabbing Caz like she’s made of magic.

Lights down, play starts, Tennant in the corner barely blinking and we’re all waiting for “a little more than kin and less than kind” and I’m probably actually holding my breath till it comes, but then, I can’t stop yawning.

I CAN’T STOP YAWNING. I’m offending even myself. I want to hold up a sign: “It’s jet lag! I love this play!” but instead we’re in the front row, before Tennant and Shakespeare and god and everybody, and I CAN’T STOP YAWNING.

And what’s funny is that in extreme circumstance, I could probably get away with that at the Pantages, but here, not in a million years. Gauche, brash, obnoxious. I figut yawning and shaking from the cold and nerves, all the while yawning WORSE and shaking WORSE, throughout the whole performance; I looked like nothing so much a an epileptic freezing to death in the snow.

I’m not pretty, necessarily, but I’m striking lookng even on the lamest days, high cheekbone and giant Jewish schnoz and a scar over my lip and dark-rimmed glasses, and, anyway, before the show, sitting outside the theater with Caz drinking pre-show beers — before I learned you don’t bum cigarettes in this country — I bummed a cigarette from an artsy loking university kid named Neil, who’d been in Hamlet at school — Rosencrantz — and we talked about the play and our expectations and interpretation. Again, Hamlet review proper to come in separate post, maybe, hopefully.

And, did I mention, we were in the front row, Caz and me? Caz, a model of Shakespeare-going propriety; me haking, yawning, occasionally gasping, and accidentally whispering along to “oh that this too too solid flesh” and “I have of late and wherefore I know not” (which — though this belongs in the other review — Tennant played to its perfect emo comic effect where so many other productions play it dark. Tennant’s like, REALLY, Hamlet? REALLY, here, halfway through the play you don’t know why you lost all your mirth? The line drew a laugh, from R&G onstage to the rest of us off, but again, I’m digressing) and spastic, and gripping my armrests and Caz white-knuckled, SHIVERING AND YAWNING and laughing out loud.

At intermission, as we’re queued up for the bathroom and drinking our interval-time scotch, two women said to me and Caz, “you were in the front row, right?” and to me, “I recognize your glasses.” You twigged to me because I was the one yawning, I didn’t say out loud. Internally, OH FUCK. Oh, the shame.

The show passed in a blur of bare feet and a broken sword (proper review under separate cover, if I can remember well enough to separate the actual Hamlet from the one I saw in my head for six months leading up to this show).

And then the stage door was a mob scene. Horrible, almost shameful to be part of it, but I had travelled 6000 miles and planned half a year for this, and I had flowers, dammit, and I was going to deliver them if it killed me. I grabbed a pen and scrawled YOU WERE TRANSCENDANT (which I spelled, you know, just like that, and not, as it should be, with an -ent, because that’s par for my yawning, shaking, embarassing course) on the flowers’ paper cone, drunken and bowled over by the show and the night at large.

There were probably a hundred, hundred and twenty screaming fans, pushing and shouting and waving their souvenir swords. As the early actors came out for their autograph signings the fans were generally well behaved, pushing and crushing in controlled chaos and respecting the metal semi-circular barrier that blocked off the crowd from the stage door itself. It’s FREEZING outside, me in my short sleeveless occasional dress and Caz trooping it out valiantly, and my teeth are legitimately chattering, making skull-cracking noises as my knees knock and I stand, way back at the edge of the crowd, staring through to see what’s what and who’s who.

Then the stage manager does a feint, coming out and announcing he was terribly sorry, but David had visitors and would be unable to come out to sign anything. Thanks very much and good night.

About half the crowd dispersed, grumbling, and I made my way up to the metal barrier, planning to give the flowers to the stage manager, nod a thank you for the cast and the phenomenal show, and be on my way.

Of course, instead, David came out, obviously tired and not thrilled about the screaming mob. The look on his face made something actually break in my heart. I can’t think back on it too much or it saddens me. A professional Shakespearean actor in the glow of a press night performance where at least three things went wrong on stage that they covered for valiantly, wanting to chill and bask in the glow and wait for the morning’s reviews, instead faced with a screaming, shouting, nearly VIOLENT crowd.

The running of the bulls began in force, ramming me into the barrier and smacking me in the back of the head with their programs, the cry of “DAVID! DAVID! OVER HERE!” almost threatening and thunderous.

Caz, wise and classy as ever, stayed back, keeping herself out of the fray while standing by in case I needed a picture taken or a moment immortalized. (Caz = FTW, again, for real, really)

David took a deep breath, stepped up, head down, no smile, no eye contact, and began his semicircular signing frenzy, signing program after program without looking up, as people shoved their programs and tickets and swords under his nose. The first couple rows of the crowd, my row and the crowd behind me, mainly, got to shove up and get their papers signed; the folks behind me took advantage of the fact that I was standing quietly and waiting with my flowers to shove their programs in front of my face, around my waist, over my shoulders, leaning me over the bar to get to David, who kept on signing and ignoring the press of flesh as best he could.

I waited till he was done, and he stepped back, threw up a professional but tired-eyed smile and thanked us, and I tossed my bouquet at his feet.

He picked it up, looked at me, made maybe his only eye contact of the evening, murmured “thank you,” and went back inside.

At first I took a small amount of pride; I was the only one who got eye contact, the only one with an acknowledged thank you, the only one who GAVE something as opposed to shouting and grabbing and taking. I touched his arm as he walked by. He’s even more beautiful in person. More on that in the review of the production, to follow in this LJ provided this LJer finds the words to talk about it.

The rest came later at the Dirty Duck, the actors’ pub.

Despite the freezing — no, seriously, SO SO SO cold in my wee strapless dress, SO SO cold — temperature, Caz and I stopped at the pub to find the actors who played Horatio, Ophelia, and Laertes on the patio, drinking with their friends and chatting it up with a small and respectful crowd of adult theatergoers. A much more casual atmosphere for us to chat them up and for Caz to get her program signed.

While she was flirting with Laertes — quite fit and Caz’s new Shakespearean crush — I offered to by Horatio a drink, and then the night went on like that, drinking and smoking with Horatio — Peter de Jersey (and a marvelous Horatio he was, blinded by love for Hamlet, loyal to the end, melancholy himself) — talking about my work and his work and how he wants to come to LA, and about Hamlet and Shakespeare and poetic interpretation (and all the while at this point Caz is taking one for the team and chatting with some horrid crazy fanlady who talked about her life-sized Cyberman cutout and her hideous business cards — Caz, again, CAPITAL wingman, CAPITAL. She gave me nearly an hour with Peter de Jersey, which was just the night I needed) and British custom and the US elections and manga and beer. “Tell David Tennant you met the chick who gave him flowers,” I couldn’t help but say to Peter. “And she wasn’t insane.” He laughed. “I absolutely will.”

Later Caz informed me that while I was busy with Horatio, early on, Laertes had said to her, “oh, you were in the front row, yeah, I saw you with your friend.” I saw your friend YAWNING, he didn’t say. SHE DISTRACTED ALL OF US, that FUCKING AMERICAN, he didn’t say.

O, my offense is rank.

So, David Tennant’s not in love with me. But the next morning, in the pouring rain, I tromped back to the flower shop in Stratford, bought a couple lovely cut orchids, and brought them (by then a soggy paper cone) across town to the Courtyard Theater. I’d written a nice long card to Peter de Jersey, thanking him for the night before, complimenting his performance and telling him to share my respect with the whole cast.

I stood at the stage door in my soggy hat at 8:30 in the morning, holding my bouquet and card, and knocked on the door. The crewmembers inside saw my flowers and approached the door suspiciously, convinced I was a rabid David Tennant fan.

“Can I leave these for Peter de Jersey?” I asked. The crew member positively beamed. “Oh, Peter!” he said. “Absolutely, I’ll be sure he gets them!”

*

So, yes. I was a little bit shamed to be a yawning theatergoer, but at the end of the day, the trip, the summer, I am more shamed to be part of that brutal wave of fans that have made life almost unnavigable for David Tennant. And while I didn’t stalk him, or grab at him, or get in his way, or scream his name, I watched it happen.

And I don’t just mean watching the crowd mob him at the stage door; I mean watching his meteoric rise to fame over the last two years (and I predicted this, in June of ’06, I predicted that with two years Tennant wouldn’t be able to walk down the street without being harassed, that he would be a household name. So, go me for getting it, but I wish I’d been wrong), and the audience’s shift from appreciating him as a whip-smart waspish actor to a cover model. From having reverence for Doctor Who to making it impossible for Tennant to go see Catherine Tate’s West End play, because the audience spent more time harassing him and actually disrupted the play, and Tennant had to get up and leave so the show could go on. Awful, awful.

I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t come back to Doctor Who after this; in fact, I’m sure he won’t; I wouldn’t. And I think we — me, I — all made this happen. So now I’m embarassed for my part of it.

I’m the girl who has always — in the slash battles, the RPS battles, the fanlib battles and the OTW battles, the cease-and-desist battles and the chan battles and the underage battles — come down on the side of the fans, come down for the rights of fans and fandom. And this is the first time I think we’ve pushed it too far, and I’ve done my part, and I feel terrible about it. We wiped the smile off of David Tennant’s face. Our loss.

*

Epilogue: After dropping off Horatio’s flower, I tromped back through the rain to get my luggage, and then to the Stratford-Upon-Avon station to get the train back to London. In the coffee shack on the platform, a kid says to me: “You were at the show last night.” Then I remember him, the Neil dude who rolled me a cigarette before the play. “Yeah, Neil, right?” “Yeah,” he says. “I was several rows up on the other side and I saw you, you were in the first row with your friend.”

“Did I make a scene?” I asked. He grinned. “I saw you yawning a couple times.”

On the train, I sat behind an American college girl and her dad, also on their way back from the show. “I’m never going to wash this hand again,” I overhear the girl say.

After introducing myself they invite me up to play poker with them in their double seat. “I heard you say you got to meet one of the stars?” I ask the girl.

“Yeah,” she says. “I was a theater major and I love Patrick Stewart, and I got to meet him after the show.”

“How’d that happen?” I ask.

“Oh,” she says. “I wrote him a letter.” I bite my tongue. “Wish I’d known that David Tennant guy was going to be in the show,” she goes on. “I’d’ve written two letters.”

*

strange love

Let’s talk about MyNetworkTV. The idea is so overdue that it almost seems quaint; thirteen-week stripped serials that tell arced dramatic stories, and then are over, poof, and another one starts up.

Because of the “gap” left by the merger of UPN and the WB into the CW, lots of local affiliates all of a sudden had hours without programming, and a whole network was left with empty prime time. So now, from 8 to 10 (Pacific, I don’t know how many feeds there are) we’re getting Desire and The Fashion House, based on classic telenovelas that have enthralled millions of our neighbors down south. These are full American remakes, of course, drawing talent like Bo Derek, Morgan Fairchild, and Tippi Hedrin (Tippi Hedrin, people!) in Fashion House, which, according to its website, “delves deep into the glamorous, yet unscrupulous, world of the fashion industry and how greed, lust and blind ambition make or break careers, and hearts, in the business.” Desire, a serial about mobstery restaraunteur brothers, stars Sofia Milos, near and dear to us from CSI: Miami’s many adventures.

Every weekday for thirteen weeks we’ll get another episode of the unfolding mystery, and as a bonus, the ADD-ridden among us will get special “catch-up” episodes on the weekends, where the week’s events are condensed into an easy-to-swallow hour. And then! When the story’s over, the shows go away. And whole new shows start, with whole new stories. Revolutionary!

The shift from the rigid network format (half-hour or hour, twenty-two week episodic structure that builds its story in time for sweeps and hiatuses) to a story-based one is the natural evolution of the medium. With DVD boxed sets and bittorrent downloads, we’re eating TV series by the season, not the month. Me, I’ve only watched “24” on DVD. I just wait till the season’s over and go to Amoeba so I can consume Jack Bauer’s entire day in one go, and I have been known to do just that — though, unlike Jack, I pause to eat and pee and get from place to place, so it usually takes me longer than twenty-four hours to get through a season.

And let’s all look at Doctor Who, the classic version, for a change: here’s a show that’s been producing story-based arcs for something like twenty-six seasons. And the BBC still remains a rich proving ground for short-form serials; six-episode, thirteen-episode, three-episode stories come and go, year in and out.

Now, we’ve had our share of excellent miniseries, don’t get me wrong, and from Roots to Band of Brothers to that one where William H. Macy had really big ears, I love me a good miniseries. I sat through Taken! I mean, mostly for Matt Frewer and Dakota Fanning, but still. Ten hours! I love a story that takes ten hours!

MyNetworkTV has all the hallmarks of failure, from a cheap-ass logo to programming that looks like it was shot on a sound stage behind the Border Patrol station in Tijuana, but it’s got nothing to lose, and it can afford to be shameless, and that just might propel it to that weird sort of hypnotic success. Soap operas run for twenty seasons, not because they retain viewership from start to finish but because everyone dips in, once in a while, enjoys a season or two of Luke and Laura and then goes back to college or whatever and leaves the series for the next generation to enjoy. This leads me to believe that we will eat this kind of storytelling up.

Open Letter to Scottish Actor David Tennant

June 4, 2006, reposted.

Dear Mr. Tennant,

I’m writing from Hollywood, California, because your star’s rising so brightly I can see it from here, and it’s gorgeous, and it’s blinding, and I thought you should know what it looks like from 6000 miles. This is also a love letter.

From today I give you a year, maybe eighteen months till you’re a household name, top-billed, in the States as well as abroad. Here’s what’s gonna happen.

They’ll make you work out, you beautiful lanky stringbean, and you’ll get biceps and a chest and then they’ll make you do (more) shirtless scenes. Then you’re gonna cultivate an American accent. They’ll tell you to do it because more roles’ll open up for you. We’ll tell you to do it because we want to hear you sound like us, and you’ll do it because you got a bit of the cowboy in ya and a damned good ear. Take it for a test drive on Doctor Who this year, because in the age of BBC America you’ve got a bigger captive audience than Tom Baker ever had, and in a week you’ll end up on YouTube.

Next you get a breakthrough hit. Something with critical appeal on a low budget, this year’s Trainspotting. I bet the scripts are coming in already, and you’re with ICM, so you’ll pick the right one. Then it’s a question of do you want to do the mainstream summer American romantic comedy they send ya, or do you wait for the villain role in the smaller American thriller? And the girls join the gays, as they tend to, and next thing you’re beating out Brad Pitt in every poll there is. Glossy magazines that smell like perfume will call you things like “The Scottish Sensation” and the Desperate Housewives will start fantasizing about you. Quite possibly call you to offer you a six-episode arc.

I just met you this past year because I’m a geek and a fangirl and I watched Eccleston in Who, and, like everyone, thought I’d never get over him once he left. (If you’re playing the home game, you had me in three episodes. I marked the moment, it’s at the end of “School Reunion” when we get our very first giant Tennant grin, breaking around “my Sarah Jane!”)

Since then I’ve made a point of getting hold of screeners for Casanova, Blackpool, Secret Smile. I watched 2005’s Quatermass for you, and the internet provided old episodes of Taking over the Asylum where they noticed you first, all limbs and energy and that weird wisdom in your eyes. You like props and stage business. You like smiles that break from one corner of your mouth to the other, like a wave. You like to touch people. You like to pace, to sit down and get right back up again. You like to cross a room and then look back over your shoulder. You bite your upper lip and shoot a knowing look. Most white guys bite their lower lips, but you’ve redefined mouth business for a whole new generation, with that pop of your lower jaw and the way the tip of your tongue folds up against the roof of your mouth. I suspect some of that’s you, just as I suspect that even when you’re not performing your face tells a hell of a story.

So I did twelve years of Tennant in about two months, real time. I watched you grow up and blow up and explode on the screen as Casanova, as Carlisle, as the Doctor. This time you took the slower path, and I tripped through the pages of your book and fell for you as I watched you blow the roof off the place.

The reviews I’ve read describe your Doctor as quirky, electric, I’ve even heard “waspish,” but if you ask me (and boy how you didn’t) I think the key element you bring to the character’s what we saw in the very first five minutes we had him on screen — he’s a fellow who’s hop, hop, hopping for his life, in perpetual motion because if he ever stops, even for a second, he’ll be forced to come to terms with the weight of his 900 years and all his angst and guilt. And so you spin him across the screen with a sort of desperate mania, like the guy who hides his emotions behind humor or the guy who talks too fast because he doesn’t want to hear what you’re gonna say if he lets you interrupt. Actually, it’s kind of chilling. One gets the feeling that just beneath the surface, Tennant’s Doctor, for all his infinite adaptibility, is about one good guilt trip away from smiting the universe with his wrath for all of its injustices. Kind and passionate, yeah, but don’t ever mistake that for nice.

All this in sharp contrast to your Casanova, though on the surface they do share a sort of Peter Pannish irrepressibility, because you somehow managed to make Casanova — while entirely a rogue — the domestic sort. Here’s a man who, despite appearances, really does just want that perfect love affair, to run off with his heart’s desire and settle down for a life of domestic wedded bliss. And how you managed to do that while keeping him a self-centered cad is just another little indication of why I spent the last two months seeking out every credit of yours I could get my hands on. Casanova who wants nothing more than for his son to be proud of him, or nothing more than to play house with Henriette, and still manages to botch the whole thing up because he’s crippled by his own need for instant gratification and because he’s got that magpie-like attraction to the shiny and new and untried.

And then Carlisle’s a third sort entirely, probably the laziest character I’ve seen you play. And of course it’s not really laziness he’s got, but what you present as sort of a combination of complete worldly entitlement and a sort of boredom with everything around him. Your Carlisle slouches through his life completely convinced he’ll get whatever he’s got his eye on without much effort on his part. When other folks talk, he lets his mind wander. He lopes around with that air of bored confidence, but then, in a really phenomenal performance, you litter all that confidence with nervous behavior, the eye poking, the oral fixation. Like even Carlisle doesn’t know how insecure he really is. And it works for him, both the insecurity and the overconfidence; he gets his man, he gets the girl, he’s a corrupt antihero and we all root for him anyway.

In other words, you’ve impressed the socks off me. And that doesn’t mean anything, I mean, my opinion, as I’m not famous, or noteworthy, or an asshole, but I’m brighter than most and I’ve got discerning taste and I’m not even an Anglophile; I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Jewish New Yorker cum-Angeleno, and I think you are the greatest thing to come along since belly lox on a bagel. And not just because you’re a beautiful man, which you are, from the loud arch of your eyebrow to your toothy grin that can stop a girl’s heart, ka-thud, just like that. And not just because you’re a legitimate talent, a genuine actor’s actor, an alive, electric performer with a freakish ability to shift from beaming to broken or from charming to creepy with a curl of your lip. Because one bit of stage business isn’t enough for you, and they may call you spastic and jumpy but every single one of those movements is controlled, elegant. You slide into your roles like you were born in them, which, I suppose, in the Doctor’s case, you were. You make good decisions. You see the whole picture. And I’ve grown absolutely addicted to watching you do it, and falling just a little bit in love with you besides.

Not even just because you’re a Socialist, or you did 7:84 or can probably match me at West Wing trivia, or because you still believe in agitprop, though those are points in your favor. And I didn’t fall for you just because you’re six feet and can’t weigh more than a buck fifty but you move like a dancer and your head’s always square on your shoulders and you can’t teach that kind of confidence, that kind of posture, that’s just born, and either you got it or you don’t, and you’ve got it in spades.

But mostly I’m impressed from 6000 miles away, and I felt the need to write to you, because you’re taking this in stride, all of it, hop hop hopping for your life and making good choices and living in the present and building a career not by cutthroat ambition but by sheer talent, each role coming out of the next because we want you, and not the other way around. And you say now that you don’t have a five year plan, and I believe you, because I’ve read articles from ’04 where you mentioned trying to get your agent to put you up for a walk-on role on Who. But a year from now you’re going to belong to the world, The Next Big Scot, because the scripts are only going to come in faster after Christmas, after Recovery, after whatever’s next, and I’m gonna miss you.

Scotland’s known you forever, but we just got hold of you over here across the pond, and we’re proprietary! I love that this year you’re property of the geeks, the fanboys and fangirls and the Pink Paper gays, all of us who always jump on board just a little bit quicker than the rest of the world, all of us who know how to see magic in the mundane and who saw it in your amazing face. We’re a clever bunch, geeks and artists, and we usually find the cool stuff first.

We’re on the brink, you know? Doesn’t it feel like apocalypse weather? This big world and my country’s diabolical administration and the conflict that arises when a planet gets too small for its population? Good time for agitprop and a great time for geeks — we made the microphones and the internet and the podiums and now we’ve got ’em in our hot little hands. So what do we SAY? What do we DO? How do we use what we got to change the world for the better? Is it any wonder I fantasize about this year’s love in the form of a Socialist Scot with a talent that even The Man can’t keep down?

But that’s also why this is a love letter, because I’m aching for our lost year, because next time you’re in LA you’ll be bigger than Brad Pitt and rich as Croesus, and I’m never gonna get the chance to work with you, to use your energy and vast, sprawling talent to tell my stories. And we’ll never get that drink.

And it woulda been a good drink, David, it woulda been awesome.

Maybe I’m wrong, and you’ll stay staunchly where you are, the pride of Scotland and the Pink Paper heartthrob for five more series of Who, and then maybe after that you’ll team up with Russell Davies and write your own pilot, and star in that, and spend some more decades with the RSC and follow the path of other actorly British sorts, and you’ll crossover to the states when you’re seventy and playing Dumbledore in Harry Potter 21.

But either way, I hope you feel the potential, the excitement, the fire of your shooting star. Because from over here, it is absolutely incredible to watch, and I can’t look away.

The best of luck to you in everything you do. Come to LA and I’ll show you a good time.

the gospel according to Andrew Lloyd Webber

And I know there’s the thing where we joke that you think we killed your Lord (“we” being us Jews and “you” being you Christians, for the purposes of this sentence), and that’s fine when it’s for fun, but the thing is, everything I know about the New Testament and the gospels I learned from Jesus Christ Superstar (and some Godspell — my Christian friends have informed me in the past that Godspell is a more accurate/more revelatory musical theatre interpretation of the Jesus story, and that JCS leaves a lot more open to artistic interpretation. Would you say that’s true? Maybe I just have to listen to Godspell more — anyone have .mp3s for me?) — everything I know about the New Testament I learned from anecdotal evidence, popular culture, and Jesus Christ Superstar, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the past few days, driving back and forth from Pasadena in dead traffic with JCS on the stereo, and I have concluded that I don’t see Judas having any other choice! Had I been in Judas’ position, in the Gospel according to Andrew Lloyd Webber, I would have done exactly the same thing.

There are so many places along the way where I could have become misinformed that I’m making it a point to learn more about the Gospels, which is where I turn to the internets for help. I’m looking for any secular type gospels — I think we in the secular world call it “historical fiction” — that describe the Jesus/Judas/Gethsemane/blood money/Caiphas/Annas betrayal. I have Norman Mailer’s The Gospel According to the Son which was, if nothing else, more straightforward than Gore Vidal’s gospel, but I would like more, particularly about Judas Iscariot. All the biographies/gospels I’ve found on Judas tend to be lifted from the Christian Inspiration area of the bookstore, rather than the fiction area or history area, which makes me nervous, and I sat for a long time in Barnes & Noble carefully dismissing any gospel that had red letters or Los or Thees or Thous or O Lord!s in them — and was left with Mailer, Vidal, and Anne Rice. Good thing Anne Rice is crazy (and good thing her big Jesus tetrology hasn’t reached the Gethsemane chapter yet) or I’d have come home with more books than three.

I’m trying to get a handle on the political environment of the day, on the conflict between the Romans and the Jews of the Middle East, Caesar feeling threatened by the rise of other powers, the desert populus of Jews just trying to survive day to day in the hot unforgiving sand, local lords and governors paying tribute to Caesar and charged with keeping their flocks in line. I mean — Caesar was a force to be reckoned with, no? I wouldn’t go up against the Roman Empire without good backup either, and even then I’d be careful where I stepped. It’s like trying to mount a revolution under an oppressive dictator. You gotta be cunning!

So — let me see if I’ve got this right? And you tell me where I’m wrong, or lead me to texts where I can expand my knowledge? This is me retelling JCS, trying to squeeze fact from interpretive dance.

Jesus and Judas start a nonprofit, basically, in Galilee, stirring up grassroots support to help the poor and suffering. Judas is eager to help his fellow suffering Jews, and hopes they can continue their work under the radar for as long as possible before Caesar comes stomping in demanding tribute.

The poor and meek and so forth really take to Jesus, and for a couple of years their nonprofit does great work around Galilee, healing the sick and feeding the poor in the desert! Then Jesus’s popularity grows to such a degree that the local leaders, folks with a real fear of Caesar and their ears to the ground, folks who have been at war before, people like Caiaphas and Annas, start getting nervous that Mr. Nazareth’s cult of personality will bring the attention and the wrath of Rome upon their little struggling neck of the desert.

Judas, meanwhile, wonders how his well-meaning and humble nonprofit somehow launched into a one-man Jesus Revue, and also worries that with all the singing and dancing Jesus is doing, and with all the crowds that have flocked to Jesus, the wrath of Rome will come to Galilee and see Jesus as a threat and take out the whole lot of ’em. Judas wonders why Jesus is spending their group’s hard-raised money on fine ointments and massage oils for him to use with his prostitute girlfriend, when insteaad they could use that money to feed and clothe the poor. Jesus replies that he will only be on this earth for a short time, and that they should all make the most out of having him here, and that he’d be more useful to the organization if he were relaxed, which Mary understands, hence all the deep-tissue massaging. Jews continue to flock from miles around, and everyone starts calling Jesus the King of the Jews for some reason.

Judas now seriously bugs out, because all he wanted to do was help his fellow Jews in Galilee, not throne a King. Caiaphas comes to Judas and says, we know this isn’t what you signed up for, we need to take care of Jesus ourselves before Rome smites us. Judas says no WAY, he’s my BEST FRIEND, I’m not turning him over to you. Meanwhile, Judas watches as Jesus gets the whole country to sing and dance his praises. Judas, for the good of the Jews, agrees that Jesus is a threat that must be stopped.

Then there’s dinner and some more singing, and then there’s the betrayal with a kiss. Judas, appropriately, can’t live with himself, can’t take the blood money, after all that, kills himself and dies a villian. Elsewhere, Pilate doesn’t want to have to make a ruling regarding Jesus’s case, because whoever chooses to punish Jesus is going to be, among many things, supremely unpopular with the groundswell of Jesus fans, and Pilate had a dream where they all hated him. So he sends Jesus to Herod, figuring it’s up to one Jew to deal with another. Herod ALSO doesn’t want to punish Jesus, and gives Jesus every opportunity to admit he’s not the King of the Jews and get out of there unscathed, but Jesus refuses to admit it. Sure, he says, “you named me that,” but he also proposes that there might be a kingdom for him somewhere. All this talk of being the son of god makes Herod think Jesus is in fact just crazy, but Herod can no more punish a crazy man than he can punish an innocent man. There’s 40 lashes, because the crowd INSISTS that Jesus be punished some way and the crowd’s getting restless. Then they send Jesus back to Pilate, because the crowd keeps insisting that JEsus be killed or else they’ll be stuck facing the wrath of Rome, and Jews don’t have capital punishment. Pilate goes ahead and nails Jesus up, hating himself for it all the while.

I feel — if Jesus was indeed a real guy who walked around Israel 2000 years ago — which is quite likely — I feel he really put his friends in a tough position, put his people in a tough position, sold out the needs of the many in exchange for his own cult of personality, got high on fame and was a threat to Judaism everywhere. And then of course, he was a threat to Judaism, because after all that, we get Christianity. Judas, on the other hand, strikes me as the type who never wanted fame, but wanted to find a way to help his people — more of a Socialist than a King.

And I lose control here. I don’t know why a new religion sprung up because of this one guy. I don’t know what we did that was so wrong. I don’t know what Jesus did that was so great.

I don’t get out much, so I read. I will tell you more after I’ve finished Mailer. Any clarifications or pointing out where I’m completely all wet eagerly appreciated.