Saturday, May 22, 2004


by "Guest-Blogger" Rob Grace

This is officially my last entry, and after today, I will return you to the capable hands of Mr. Isaac Butler, whose fingers are no doubt itching with a desire to type and communicate the myriad of thoughts that for the past week has been trapped inside his mind.

I enjoyed my time as guest-blogger here, but what have we learned?

I feel we've learned quite a bit, and yet absolutely nothing.

Do we know where we are traveling from and what we are traveling toward? We learn and we grow, but do we have any assurance that knowledge and growth, in the end, will amount to anything?

Do we believe Tolstoy when he says, "The only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless"? Or do we believe psychologist Viktor Frankl when he says, "What is demanded of man is not to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms"? Shall we discuss these two statements? Shall we debate whether or not they are, in fact, contradictory? What shall we do?

Life is a quagmire of moral relativity. There is no way out. We do not know why we do the things we do. We do not know what is and what is not virtuous. We do not understand the meaning of the events of the world around us. We are ignorant. We are fools. We will never know the answers to our impossible questions.

And by the way, if anyone wants to see me do stand-up comedy, come to "Don't Tell Mama's" on June 2 at 9pm.

Thank you for your time.

Friday, May 21, 2004

just one question . . .

by "Guest-Blogger" Rob Grace

Why haven't you read the Satanic Bible?

What are you afraid of? Are you afraid you'll agree with it? Are you worried you'll find within it some truth?

What does the Christian Bible say about the matter?

"Seek and ye shall find."

"The truth shall set you free."

"Happy is the man who finds wisdom and understanding for the gain from it is better than gain from silver and profit better than gold."

Am I saying the Satanic Bible contains within it the truth? Not necessarily. I am saying - Who are you to dismiss it?

Many people do read the Satanic Bible and they come to accept it and live their lives by what it preaches. These people are also prone to commit human sacrifices, sometimes of newborn babies. Do you think this is wrong? Do you understand this behavior? You don't want to understand it, do you? You don't feel you have the capacity to perform such a gross act, do you? You think you are morally superior to a Satan worshipper don't you? Are you worried that if you understand the rationale for committing a human sacrifice, you will somehow gain the capacity to do it yourself? Are you worried you'll become less of a person?

Perhaps you're wondering: Is Rob a Satan-worshipper? Is he using his time here at Parabasis to spread the word of evil throughout the world?

The answer to both questions is no. I'm simply wondering, why haven't you read the Satanic Bible?

Thursday, May 20, 2004


by “Guest-Blogger” Rob Grace

I don't know about you, but when I hear about what goes on behind the scenes of a theatrical production, I am somewhat interested in the gossip about who hates who and who's sleeping with who, I'm somewhat more interested in the trials and tribulations of the rehearsal process, but, above all, I'm most interested in the existential crises occurring in the minds of the actors.

They always seem to emerge, these existential crises.

How can actors justify what they do? Tens of thousands of actors live in New York City alone. Everywhere you go in Manhattan, there is an actor. There are actors on your subway car. There's an actor in the elevator with you. At least two actors work with you to support themselves. If you go to see a play, and you think the only actors there are on the stage, you are greatly mistaken. There's an actor working the ticket booth, an actor running the soundboard, an actor backstage helping with costume changes. Who do you think made the programs? An actor. Who do you think swept the lobby before the show? An actor.

The world is not in need of them. The world is in need of teachers. Our country is in need of soldiers. In this troubled economy, wouldn't it be more worthwhile to start up a business to provide not only jobs, but a valuable service to society?

Ask an actor why he does what he does. He will have an answer ready for you.

"I really enjoy the creative process."

"I like being a part of something that shows an audience some inherent truth about human behavior and has the potential to help people better understand themselves and their society."

"It's the only time when I feel fully connected to my body, my emotions, and my intellect all at once."

"I like to make people laugh, think, and feel. People need the stimulation. They need the catharsis."

These are good reasons, but they are not honest answers. Here's the only honest answer:

"I don't know."

Nobody knows why they do it. I know this for a fact because I am an actor and I don't know why I do it, and I have yet to encounter an actor who has provided me with a reason that I felt was genuine and sufficient.

Prove me wrong. Actors, writers, photographers, dancers, everyone. I challenge you to put into words the drive to create art.

Consider the gauntlet thrown . . .

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


by “Guest-Blogger” Rob Grace

What kind of mood are you in today?

I'm in the mood to resurrect Thomas Paine and Soren Kierkegaard, lock them in a room together for a week, and see what happens.

Both men spent the later years of their lives engaged in failed attempts to battle the current state of Christianity. Every time I hear George W. Bush reference his devotion this religion, I sense both Paine and Kierkegaard rolling over in their graves, or at least banging on their coffins to try to get out and shut him up.

Paine authored the brilliant piece, "The Age of Reason", which quite intelligently rails against the absurdity of The Bible. He must have known it would be a controversial work, since he purposefully waited until the end of his life to write it. He was living in Europe at the time and most certainly underestimated the extent of the negative reactions he would elicit. He returned to America, which promptly turned its back on him, slandered him, and called him an atheist. The backlash sent him spiraling into obscurity and poverty, where he died, and his bones were shipped to England where they disappeared forever.

"My mind is my own church," he wrote.

He argued that man could find God through science, through observing and studying the works God created, rather than by studying ancient outdated texts written under false pretenses. He criticized people for blindly following The Bible when so much contradictory material seems to question its authenticity. In one of his more clever passages, he says of the Gospels, "The originals are not in possession of any Christian church existing, any more than the tablets of stone written on, they pretend, by the finger of God, upon Mount Sinai, and given to Moses, are in the possession of the Jews. And even if they were, there is no possibility of proving the handwriting in either case."

He argues that even those who claim to abide by The Bible do not actually abide by The Bible when he writes, "The church has set up a system of religion very contradictory to the character of the person whose name it bears."

Fifty years later and halfway around the globe, Kierkegaard fought against this same hypocrisy. He differed from Paine in that he was a faithful Christian, a man of The Bible, and he made a name for himself by spending entire chapters analyzing a single passage. However, he too was deeply discouraged by the disparity between what The Bible teaches and what was preached and followed by the so-called Christians of his day. You can watch his ideological battle unfold over the course of hundreds of pages in his brilliant book, "Works of Love".

He says, "By foolish and ingratiating Sunday-talk, Christianity has been deceptively transformed into an illusion and we have even been tricked into the fancy that we, just as we are, are Christians."

Christianity, in its truest form, is a quiet religion that risks preaching its own destruction by teaching that we should not only let our enemies harm us, but allow them to harm us more than they initially desire. For this reason, a true Christian will never be an effective political leader. One cannot very well love his enemy and turn the other cheek and at the same time, defend his nation from people who wish to attack it. It cannot be done. This is why, in colonial America, the Quakers were removed from power in Pennsylvania. They refused to defend their citizens against Indian raids, allowing countless civilians to die under their leadership.

George W. Bush claims to be strong on defense, but it is not because he is Christian, but because he is blatantly unchristian. He blatantly ignores those very tenets that the Quakers of Pennsylvania held close to their hearts.

Soren Kierkegaard. Thomas Paine. I am in the mood to resurrect you. Be glad that I lack the technology to do so. Even if I could resurrect you, perhaps I would not, to spare you, so you wouldn't have to see that the battles you fought against hypocrisy and foolishness are still being fought today, and will most likely be fought until the end of mankind. In fact, they will most likely lead to the end of mankind.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004


Allow me to introduce myself.

I'm Rob.

I was an actor in the show that Isaac recently directed, "First You're Born", and I am also the author of "Questions and Answers", the play which Isaac referred to in a previous entry as "a Pinteresque, quiet, pause-filled piece about redemption and morality." Isaac and I are currently in the preliminary stage of planning a workshop production of the piece, and at a meeting over the weekend to discuss the matter, Isaac offered me the opportunity to serve as "guest-blogger" for a few days on Parabasis and after only mild hesitation I graciously accepted.

You should know that I enjoyed working with Isaac on “First You’re Born”, but I will say that during the run of the show the stress of it began to take its toll and slightly impair my ability to perform ordinary tasks and make simple decisions.

Here's an example of such an instance . . .

One afternoon before a show I walked into a deli to get some juice. Afterwards, halfway down the block, I suddenly realized there was a bottle of juice in my hand.

How did it get there?

I remembered entering the deli, but had no memory of purchasing the juice or leaving the deli. I was certain that I had left the deli because I was no longer in the deli, but it quickly became clear that the reason I had no memory of purchasing the juice was because I had not purchased the juice. I had stolen it. I had walked into the deli, picked up a bottle of juice and left without paying for it, completely oblivious of my actions.

The question: Should I or should I not return to the deli to pay for the juice?

It was quite a simple issue and I was determined to resolve the matter quickly and rationally, so that I could continue with my day and prepare for the show.

The first thing one should do when faced with such a dilemma is consult Socrates. Socrates, of course, believed that a man cannot knowingly commit a deed that he believes to be evil, so according to him, if I did not return to the deli to pay for the juice, I must inherently believe it is right for me to do so.

Certain laws should be broken and perhaps this law was one of them. As Thomas Jefferson said, "If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so."

The task at hand seemed clear. If I could rationalize that the law preventing me from stealing the juice is unjust, according to Jefferson, I would be obliged not to return to pay for it.

I then looked at the context in which Jefferson made that statement, which was, of course, the American Revolution. Jefferson’s revolution wasn’t just a reaction to certain laws, it was a reaction to the very system of government by which he was ruled.

I wondered that if I decided not to return to the deli and pay for the juice, could this decision have deeper ramifications? Would I be advocating the elimination of private property and perhaps the establishment of a new system of government that's not built on the premise of ensuring the preservation of private property? Could such a change be accomplished within our current system of government without some type of violent revolution? Would I be able to gain enough support for my cause?

Again, I consulted Socrates, who was ultimately condemned to death for charges that he believed were unfounded. At his trial, he said of his accusers that "they have scarcely uttered one single word of truth." He believed he did no wrong and though he expressed hostility toward those who condemned him, he retained his respect of the legal system that allowed them to do so.

It seemed that I was doing the opposite. I was questioning my system of government for upholding a law that I believed to be just. I realized that I didn't truly advocate the elimination of private property. After all, I’m thinking about buying a new computer and I’m not sure how that would work if the concept of private property were abolished. In our current system, I certainly would not want someone to steal from me and therefore could not justify stealing from someone else. It would be nothing other than hypocritical for me not to return to pay for the juice.

However, I didn't return to pay for juice.

Why not?

I had been to that deli several times before and each time, the man behind the counter was extremely rude to me. One time I asked if I could get a plastic spoon even though I hadn't bought anything, and the man threw a fit. Another time, I had no money and attempted to buy a drink with a credit card, and once again, the man threw a fit. "There's a ten dollar minimum for credit card purchases!" he yelled, "You should have known!"

So in the end I chose my own personal revenge over the laws of the state. A morally questionable choice, I agree. A choice many would make without giving a second thought, I also agree. But as I wandered along the sidewalk, juice in hand, I was quite disturbed by the liberties we take with this unspoken contract we have with our government. Like Christians with Bible passages, we pick and choose what we will and will not obey.

I was certain only of one thing: The stress of the show was certainly taking its toll. When a simple trip to the deli to get some juice turns into a journey through the mysterious web of justice, virtue, and morality, I know I must need a vacation.

Monday, May 17, 2004

And now, some music

So, like I said earlier, I went to go see the Ted Leo and the Pharmacists show (hereby Ted Leo/RX or TL/RX) last night at bar 13. This was a “secret” show—minimal publicity, announced on his website and on a couple of others, but not the website of the venue. I had heard of secret shows before—a friend of mine saw Guided By Voices under the nom de plume “Homosexual Flypaper” at CBGB’s and was treated to an intimate evening of covers and old material that people hadn’t heard in awhile.

Mary and I went to the show, and let me tell ya, it was pretty awesome. First off, if you haven’t heard Ted Leo/RX, well, you need to. Besides the fact that Ted Leo is a big Homestarrunner fan, and founded Chisel, one of the greatest bands in the history of the DC punk movement, he's also a fantastic song writer. TL/RX are the 21st century American answer to Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Literate smart lyrics with poppy, complex vintage punk instrumental backing. That’s about the easiest description I can come up with, although those guys at AMG can probably do better.

The special treat of tonight’s oh-so-secret show? Well, TL/RX head into the studio tomorrow to start recording the new album, and they decided they’d demo it by playing it for us from start to finish in order. The new album is going to be great, I think. I can already pick out several songs I really like, including this obsessive arpeggiated number that apparently will finish off side one if you happen to buy it on record and one about taking a walk, or walking around, or something like that. I really like songs about taking a walk. Marvin Pontiac’s “Runnin’ Round” or Spoon’s “Take a Walk” or TL/RX’s “Bridges, Squares” always put me in a good mood.

The new album sounds great, the band is really tight (the RX’s drummer and bassist are a sickly tight backup band) and the fans are cute, and nice (not as attractive as Firewater’s fans but much, much nicer). Ted Leo is a charming front man. He constantly makes cracks at the expense of the band’s last effort “Hearts of Oak” which (I’m just guessing here) hard core fans must not like too much. Oh well, their loss.

After they finish playing the album, the crowd goes a little nuts. Ted Leo struts over to his amp to tune his guitar, and then turns the audience and says “well, that’s the end… of the new stuff. I guess we’ll play some old stuff now. Any guidance?” They proceed to play several cuts of “Tyranny of Distance” and older material based on people’s recommendations. At the end, he plays an oldie that I haven’t heard before and thanks the audience for “not requesting a single song off of Hearts of Oak, really, I’m touched”.

You see, the problem is that TL/RX’s album “The Tyranny of Distance” is basically an instant classic. It’s a beautiful album filled with one excellent song after another. It’s almost overwhelming in it’s power. That kind of success is unrepeatable. No matter what, you’d be headed to dissappointmentville after that. It’s almost inevitable. I happen to quite like “Hearts of Oak”, but then again I heard it before I heard “Tyranny of Distance”, so there you go.

Anyway, they’re playing again in NYC soon and I’m definitely going to see them again. TL/RX are some of the most energetic musicians I’ve ever seen. Every song is played a good 1.5 times the speed on the album, and then they gradually speed up as it goes along. This becomes something of a miracle when you realize how complicated many of Leo’s guitar lines are. Meanwhile, his poor drummer has to go apeshit at least once on every song. By the end of the show he was grimacing, drenched in sweat, looking like he was 2/3rds of the way to a massive coronary. This was the point when someone requested “Dial Up” which probably has the hardest and fastest drum part of any TL/RX song I know. Leo looked to the drummer, seemingly asking permission before agreeing to do the song.

Go see them if you get a chance. Many of their shows are cheap/free and it’s well worth it.

Onto other music business… my friends over at One Ring Zero have a new album out, it’s called “As Smart As We Are” and features lyrics by many awesome writers, including three of my favorite authors (Paul Auster, Jonathan Lethem and Clay McLeod Chapman) and many other well-knowns (Rick Moody, Neil Gaiman, Myla Goldberg, Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers etc.) . Normally, ORZ do instrumental prog-klezmer-circus-jazz or something like that. Anyway, this album is a little more straight forward, it’s a pop/rock album, but it’s a prog-klezmer-circus-jazz pop/rock album. A lot of fun to listen to and worth checking out.

Also finally got my hands on Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” which I fucking love. “18” was the moment when Reich left behind rigid systems, allowing them to inform his song writing without being the be-all and end-all. In pieces like “Drumming” (which I’ve written about here), Reich made realization of the formal system part of the ecstatic beauty of listening to his music. As ‘Drumming” layers version after version of one pattern in occasionally different tempos over and over, and music gets complicated, but the writing is very simple.

“18” is very different. While there are glimpses of phasing, and the style remains rhythmic and repetitive, this music is about something very different. Part one (“pulses”) moves through 11 chords, each one repeated twice for the length of one breath. Then you are treated to variations and expansions on those chords in each of 11 sections. And then we get back to the 11 chords played again as a kind of epilogue.

It’s difficult to describe and, if you’ve never heard it before, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. The closest thing I can compare it to is the film scores of Thomas Newman, who presents a kind of watered down, listener-friendly version of Reich’s rhythmic building of themes and variations.

I think I’ve written enough about music today. Three cds you should go pick up if you’re interested:
Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” (get the 1997 version out on Nonesuch)
Ted Leo/RX, “The Tyranny of Distance” out on “Lookout” records
One Ring Zero, “As Smart As We Are” published by Softskull

Happy listening!

Shh... It's a secret!

Hey everybody.

Went to a Ted Leo and the Pharmacists concert last night, a "secret" concert, apparently. They played the new album (which they go to record today) from start to finish in order, and then took requests. It was awesome, I'll have more on that later today, along with some other music stuff about Steve Reich and One Ring Zero.

Also, good news! Starting Tuesday, First You're Born actor (and geneal all around good guy) Rob Grace will be guest blogging from an undisclosed location somewhere in the Temposphere.

As for now, I'm off to meet some people for lunch (slept later than I meant to, sorry!) so there'll be posting later today and guest posting starting tomorrow.