Just a few pages. That’s it. No more. I’ll just check out the iBook preview. I promise…
A week later I turned the last page on Duma Key, a novel by Stephen King published in 2008. It was a good read from one of my favorite authors.
Duma Key tells the story of Edgar Freemantle, a successful Minnesota building contractor who is in a near fatal construction accident. He is brain damaged and loses an arm. As Edgar becomes unpredictable and violent, his wife divorces him. Edgar considers suicide, but not before taking a suggestion from his shrink: to do something he loves. He moves to Duma Key off the coast of Florida and takes up painting. There, as he makes new and unexpected friends, a strange force enters Edgar’s life.
When I read the novel flap, I thought I would be reading “The Shining on an island.” Duma Key was far from that. As usual, King’s characters are original and likable—after a few hundred pages, they all seem like people I know. I guess that’s why, when the terror does show up, it’s all the more terrifying.
My favorite part of the novel was the insight on the creative process. King exclaimed in his On Writing that writers should tell the truth. Painters should, too. Pages and pages of quotes and quips regarding creativity enhance an already strong story.
I also liked that I didn’t know where the novel was going. I couldn’t have predicted the tragedies that befell Edgar’s family and friends. What’s interesting is that some of the terror is conveyed in dialog between characters, second-hand over the phone. It left much to the imagination.
The villain in this story belongs to the class of über fiend that King writes about so well. Perse, the evil muse, is a sea demon in that just less-than-devil class, much like Randall Flagg from The Stand or Leland Gaunt from Needful Things, although less mischievous and much more serious.
I guess I missed this book when it came out. I’m glad I read it.
Once a month, I eschew the club circuit to perform at a wedding reception or private party. In fact, this past weekend, I played a few sets at a birthday party in Raleigh, NC. It was a great time. Here are ten tips I’ve found helpful for making a private musical performance a success.
Use a Contract - While playing clubs and coffee shops has its own unspoken protocol, the nuts and bolts of providing music for a private event aren’t as readily spelled out. A contract is the best way to get these specifics down on paper. Everything from basics (party location, contact info, and load times) to details (what kind of music, how many sets, and set times) is agreed upon by the purchaser and the artist. And, it’s all in one document. A small legal investment for drawing up a multi-use contract template goes a long way. The contract is also the appropriate place to agree upon how and how much you will be paid.
Be on Time - Whatever times are agreed upon for load in, set up, and starting, respect them with reverence. Show up neither early nor late. If you’ve agreed upon being set up by, say, 5 pm, be set up by 5 pm. If your set time begins at 7 pm, start exactly at 7 pm. Private functions do not operate on “club time,” which tends to throw an additional 30 minutes on the late side.
Understand That You Aren’t the Main Event - Providing live music at a private function is a lot like being a living, breathing jukebox. Party guests will treat you differently than they would at a rock club. Their attention is usually on the occasion for the party—a guest of honor, a wedding reception, or a corporate function. There won’t be a lot of applause even if you do an amazing job. The best way to gauge your effectiveness is to ask the host or contact person how things are going. Often, guests will still have enjoyed and appreciated your performance without ready applause.
Tailor Your Set for the Occasion - Sometimes I play private occasions where everyone in attendance is very familiar with my original music. Here, the purchaser requests that I play only original music. At other times, I play private parties where no one is familiar with my original music. Here, the purchaser requests that I play mostly cover songs and maybe a couple originals here and there. Having a clear understanding of your audience and the purchaser’s expectations is key for providing an effective musical service.
Smile - Enthusiasm is contagious. No matter what kind of day you’ve had up until the event, try your best to smile and be positive. Private events can be stressful, often occurring where music isn’t usually performed. A cheerful grin can diffuse and deter more than you’d think.
Pack a Snack - Private events are almost always accompanied by catering. There is food and often a lot of it. It is imperative that you not assume that this food is for you. It is rare that a host will not offer you a plate or two of food, but understand that pigging out in front of guests before your set is in poor form. Eat the party food only if the host offers it to you and only after most of the guests have been served. If you are not invited to eat with the party, eat your snack instead.
Bring Your Own Sound System - I have two different rigs for private shows. I use a big rig for events with over 100 people. I use a small system for events with under 100 people. The sound is consistent and professional in any situation. Sometimes, when a party also has a DJ or existing sound system, the purchaser will offer an “O yeah, you can just use the sound system on site.” Then, upon arriving, something is either inadequate or inappropriate for your particular set up. A common scenario is a DJ not having a DI for an acoustic guitar. Having your own rig takes this variable out of the equation. Now, you may show up at a private show location and there’ll be the most amazing sound system ever, but don’t count on it.
Communicate Limits - I have yet to play at a private function that didn’t serve some kind of alcohol. Alcohol in a social setting can lubricate and enliven a crowd. It can also foster belligerence and boundary trouncing. Every now and then, you’ll find a guest who wants to “get on the mic” for a song. If a situation puts you or your gear at risk, I’ve found it prudent to say “no” to spur of the moment microphone hijackings. However, sometimes these situations can be fun for everyone at the party. Use your best judgment. Communicating performance limits with the purchaser, usually within the contract, is a good idea.
Dress Appropriately - You wouldn’t want to show up to play a formal wedding in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Conversely, you wouldn’t want to show up to play a luau in a suit. Finding out the dress code for a party is imperative. It’s usually better to dress up than dress down. Having your appearance in sync with the look and feel of the party is only logical.
Do Some Research - For every party, there’s usually a VIP, or very important person. For a birthday party this would be the guest of honor. For a wedding reception, this would be the bride. For a backyard bash, this is usually the person who’s paying you. Find out what this person’s favorite song is. Playing the VIPs favorite tune makes everyone happy. When I do private shows where the purchaser and crowd are very familiar with my original music, I let them make my set list. When it’s a cover-oriented crowd, I take plenty of song requests, weeks before the show, so that I have time to learn some new material.
Do you perform music at private functions? Do you have any tips? Feel free to comment.
Maybe I used a red Sharpie to mark the circumference, I thought, looking at the exit lip of an exposed, four-inch dryer vent. Blotches of irregular crimson ink clung to its edge. Then, as I pulled what seemed like the tenth handful of bird’s nest out of the vent, I looked at my busted knuckles.
Negotiating the second-to-top rung of a step ladder isn’t the safest place in the world. Such managable danger is a necessity when attempting to clean out a season’s worth of finch nesting from a dryer vent that’s ten feet off the ground. Thankfully, the east side of our house is on very flat land. That ladder, as tipsy as it can be, wasn’t going anywhere.
This will only take a minute, I thought, an hour before putting everything away (which included a shop vac, a pair of needle nose pliers, and a six foot multipurpose rod modified for de-nesting).
The recently installed vented flaps hadn’t been enough to keep the finch and his family out. This wasnt the first time I had removed nesting from this particular vent. A few years ago, I pulled out several feet of woven pine needles and leaves. This was before the new flap, though. I guess the finches had adapted.
If there is a hell, and such a place is customized for our personal distastes, I imagine my version would be a hot attic in the middle of summer, rife with fiberglass insulation, dust, and darkness. My friend Chris told me that the best way to get fiberglass out of your skin is to take the coldest shower possible as soon as you’re out of the attic. He would know, being an electrician. Most of an electircian’s labor is running wire in and through fiberglass insulated enclosures.
If the nesting continues I may have to replace the vent entirely, which amounts to a 14 foot run of aluminum tubing through a dank, dusty attic. I’ll have to dive down into kiddie pool deep fluffy filthy fiberglass to seal the deal, probably in the high heat of summer. We’ll see. I installed a pest proof cover on my existing flap vent. That ought to keep those finches out.
“And we all shine on. Like the moon and the stars and the sun.” John Lennon, “Instant Karma”
Last year, when I learned that Stephen King was writing a sequel to The Shining, I thought it might be a good idea to read the original book. I had been scared witless on many a late might by Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the novel. I also heard that the novel and film versions of The Shining are very different from each other.
When it comes to the “book vs. movie” debate, nine times out of ten, in my opinion, the book is better. In a recent address at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, King himself said that movies are usually just surface material. Conversely, Stanley Kubrick was a master of cinema—in his movies, there’s so much that lies just beneath the surface, not said, but implied.
So, I have two questions: 1) What are the primary differences between the book and the movie versions of The Shining? And 2) Which one is better?
I’m sure there are plenty of charts, comparisons, and essays, both on the web and in print, on these differences. I wanted to find out for myself. Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
Five glaring, broad brush-strokes differences I noticed:
In the novel, the hotel consumes Jack Torrance before exploding sky high. That pesky old boiler needed constant supervision after all. In the movie, Jack freezes to death in the hedge maze—the hotel consumes him in a different way, appearing in a picture from 1921. In both, he was “always the caretaker,” drawing light on temporal phenomena shared by both versions.
In the novel, Wendy, Danny, and Dick escape the hotel explosion on a snowmobile. They relocate to Maine. In the movie, Dick Halloran takes an axe in the chest (Ouch!)—he doesn’t make it. Wendy and Danny escape on a large snow vehicle. Their fate remains unknown.
In the novel, the hedge area is composed of giant topiary animals. In the movie, the hedge zone is a maze.
In the novel, Jack is given a greater, deeper backstory, one ripe with more relationships, more conflicts, and a rather blunt portrait of alcoholism. In the movie, only a few of these details are developed. In the book, Jack’s internal dialog during his interview with Mr. Ullman is striking. The movie omits this altogether.
In the novel, Dick Halloran’s life in Florida is well described and entertaining. In the film, only one or two of these vingettes make the cut.
In a general sense, the book and the movie tell the same basic story. However, the book goes deeper. The film, while a surface tale, is scarier at times.
As with just about all of King’s novels, story is key. The characters are original and each scene is vibrant. To do this, King weaves it all together in such a way that Jack and Wendy seem like people we all know. Also, the book goes deeper into Danny’s strong ability to “shine,” or see things that are below the surface, sometimes telepathically and sometimes imagined. The hotel seems to want this power for its nefarious ends. The book presents many sophisticated fantastical elements that the movie does not. Wendy is forgiving of Jack in the novel, understanding that the real villain was the hotel itself.
Kubrick was a master of film. Each of his movies is signature and unmistakably his. The Shining is no exception. What makes Kubrick’s version of The Shining scary isn’t the story. It’s what he shows us and how. In the movie, Jack, Wendy, and Danny veer away from King’s unique characterizations and towards the stereotypical: Jack, the angry alkie who’s about to fall off the wagon, Wendy, the mousy alcoholic’s wife, and Danny, the kid with an imaginary friend. Danny’s shining isn’t very important in the movie. The film lessens the effect of the supernatural and plays up Jack’s insanity. Jack is more of a villain in the movie.
Jack Nicholson’s portrait of Jack Torrance is much more maniacal than the Jack Torrance from King’s novel. In many ways, this makes the movie scarier than the book. Similarly, Shelley Duvall’s brilliant performance offers a more terrifying experience for Wendy. The scene where Jack breaks down the bathroom door with an ax and says “Here’s Johnny!” has to be one of the scariest scenes in movie history. This scene plays differently in the book. Unless I missed it, Jack doesn’t even say “Here’s Johnny!” in King’s version.
The numerous differences between versions explain why ABC broadcasted a mini series of the Shining in 1997. Why mess with a classic? Well, obviously the mini series plays closer to King’s version.
The scene from the novel that I liked best, and one that was cut from the movie, is when Jack is repairing the roof of the hotel and is stung by a wasp. He uncovers a wasp’s nest and kills the bugs with a spray. Later, after giving Danny the nest as a trophy, the wasps come to life and sting the fire out of everyone. Jack considers suing the chemical company who made the spray, but decides to just freeze the nest and be done with it. ”Things not being what they seem” and “being powerless over our fate” are themes central to King’s book. These ideas don’t come through as firmly in the movie. Kubrick’s version plays more like a straight horror film with a tinge of mystery and fantasy.
The acting and directing was so strong in the movie that, while reading the novel, it was impossible for me to imagine anyone other than Nicholson and Duvall playing the Torrances. Wendy has blonde hair in the book. In spite of King’s description, my mind substituted Duvall’s black haired image anytime Wendy showed up.
So, which one is better? I’m calling it a tie. Both works are masterpieces. Both are bone-chillingly scary.
Although, when it comes to preparing for the sequel to The Shining, the novel is better. With less emphasis on Danny’s story, the film wouldn’t be a sufficient Cliff Notes to the novel before reading Doctor Sleep.
Which version of The Shining do you like better? The book or the movie?
“I’m just going to hook up the recorder to the main outs,” I said.
Five minutes to show time, navigating a quagmire of cables and mic stands wasn’t easy. Such is the way with a make-shift, DIY live broadcast production. One false move and everything goes down.
Mark sat in his chair, tuning his guitar, waiting to go on. My chair was close to his chair. If we were to fit into the 4:3 video broadcast aspect ratio, it was going to be tight quarters for the remainder of the evening.
“So, pretty much the only thing that can go wrong is if we lose power,” I said from across the room. Thunderstorms were forecast for our area.
Not five seconds later, we both heard a loud pop. The lights went out. The camera feed was off. The rig was down. There was no power.
Seconds later, everything was back on. The microwave across the way in the kitchen lets us know when the power is back on with its signature beep.
“Did you do that?” Mark said.
I was, after all, fiddling with something in the corner of the room. ”No,” I said. “Must be the thunderstorms.”
To a fault, I run contingency plans in my head. The plan, if we lost power, was to turn on the modem, reboot the rig, wait, login, and pretend like it never happened. We were back up and running in two minutes.
At 9 PM EDT, we went live. Sixty-two “Pay What You Can” customers logged in to StageIt and watched us open the show with “Comfort.”
Mark and I practice at Two Egrets all the time, but never have we broadcasted our sessions via web cam. This, of course was a real show, for real fans, who paid real money. But, we weren’t in a venue. If this is the future of music, I am totally okay with it.
We made our way through the planned set list, trying a few new arrangements with “Another Day in Paradise” and “All There Is….” As the requests rolled in, and the tipping grew to generous proportions, we veered from the plan and played “Summertime.” ”Banana,” an unplanned surprise, went down as well.
Thankful for no power outages or tremendously egregious technical glitches (sorry for the drop outs and lags—not us), we finished our show right around 9:50 PM EDT. It was a good night made possible by technology and a willingness to try new things.
After the show, Mark and I sat and talked about what worked and what didn’t. We both loved the format. I for one, and he agreed, thought that wearing a technical hat and a performance hat at the same time was a drag. Next time we do this, it would be a good idea to bring in a few tech guys to run the board, monitor the feed, and make sure things sound good so that we can just concentrate on singing.
Around 10:30 PM EDT, Mark headed home. I dipped my head into the studio, looking a the sea if cables and abandoned mic stands. That can wait till Monday, I thought.
With the right carbon dating system, it would be possible to reconstruct the entire show history at the Local 506. All you’d need to do would be to take a sample from each of the stickers on the wall to the left of the stage. There must be thousands of stickers on that wall. Enter the data and bam! Or, you could probably just look on the web.
Still, I stood there, entranced by the wall of stickers.
“Do I know you?,” Christopher said.
“Yeah, probably,” I said, adjusting my gear to fit under the nearby shelving. “I used to play in Collapsis. We played here a lot.”
I pointed to the faded, chipped Chartreuse EP sticker we touted back in the 90’s. It was a few layers deep on the sticker wall, each layer signifying about five years of shows. But, there it was, Collapsis: The Chartreuse EP. We had, indeed, played the 506.
“Oh, yeah. I remember you,” Christopher said. He was the sound guy for the night.
He gave me the rundown of events. I was opening for Gravity’s Pull and they were just about to start their sound check. I would do a brief check after them, wait for an hour or so, and then begin playing at 9 pm. It was a business-as-usual evening of music at the Chapel Hill, NC club.
Gravity’s Pull sounded great at their check. I loaned my Pro Jr. to Mark Ivanitch, the band’s guitarist and vocalist. It was just for back up, but in case an amp goes down…it’s good to have back up.
I saw Gravity’s Pull a few times back in the 90’s during my tenure at Chapel Hill. One night I was walking down Cameron Avenue and heard a Posies song coming from the Chi Psi house. It sounded like it might have been the Posies (which, in 1993 would not have been an impossibility), so I dipped my head in. It was Gravity’s Pull doing a really good version of “Dream All Day.” That was one of my favorite songs from 1993. I hung out for the rest of their set. Great show.
Over the years I kept up with the band via the local news and through the grapevine. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I got to know Mark Ivanitch. He brought his recent recording project, Misfit Kid, to Two Egrets. We’ve recorded four or five songs together. He’s had some success with them, too.
After my soundcheck, I sat by the club door, drafting essays on my iPad. After an hour, I began my set. The room was empty except for a few people. Over the course of the show, the room filled. By the time I finished, the room was packed. That’s how opening slots go.
I enjoyed my set. I ad libed after my song “Walk in Circles.” I was in the early 90’s spirit and played “Crocodile” from Building a Hole, having had no intention of ever revisiting the song. I’ve been filming and recording my shows lately. These two songs came out particularly well.
As I broke things down after my set, the room echoed with eager Gravity’s Pull fans. They hadn’t played in years and this was a reunion show. Their set was excellent and they played very well. Everyone had a great time.
I headed home an hour after they started, staying to see a lion’s share of the rock. Sunday mornings, I’m on dad duty with Ivy. She doesn’t care what time I go to bed. She gets up at 7 every day, regardless. Leaving at 11 got me home in time to get six hours of sleep before Ivy’s day.
On the trip home, I thought again of that wall of stickers. I bet, on some microscopic level, the thunderous sound that comes from the stage at the Local 506 becomes embedded in those stickers. Somewhere, in addition to being able to reconstruct the schedule, one could also hear echoes of everything that had ever been played there.