“Bully”, or How To Write A Play You Don’t Want To Write

Vincent Truman

Vincent Truman

“Bully” was the next play I had to write. The problem is I didn’t want to write the damn thing.

Life is a series of thousands of experiences; none are disconnected from each other. I’d go so far as to suggest that, if you put them in a single chart, most life events in a single person’s existence would resemble far more a web than a flowchart. Repercussions from one event invariably show up in seemingly independent actions years removed from said event. I think, if you were to ask, any successful playwright would admit to a thread being present, or felt, from one work to another. Certainly one can draw a line fromAlan AykbournAlan Aykbourn’s 1959 play “Love After All” with his magnificent, trilogy “The Norman Conquests” in 1973, as one could certainly draw subtle parallels from that work to 1979’s “Sisterly Feelings.” Similarly, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Play About the Baby” reveal common fires in Edward Albee’s work, despite over thirty years separating them.

Following on from my plays “Venus Envy”, “Killing Angela” and “Featherstone”, all of which dealt with hidden or manufactured agendas, “Bully” was fully ready to be written, even if its author was reluctant.

“Bully” recounts a man named Alex, who, after thirty years of living in shame and fear, decides to confront the bully of his youth, in the form of a freelance electrician, husband and father of one named Darrell. Despite having no contact in those intervening decades, Darrell’s bullying tactics served to nurture a life in Alex of just not wanting to be picked on or harassed; the result being that nobody notices Alex at all anymore and his ability to withstand this predicament has led him to Darrell’s garage on a crisp Saturday morning. Alex goes there to confront Darrell and extract an apology, but he is well-armed with tools to use in the event an apology isn’t coming. And it isn’t coming.

I’ve got a bully of my own in my past, who, by no coincidence whatsoever, is named Darrell. I occasionally spy his Facebook page and am excited by, and terrified by, confronting him. But after all these years, what could he say to me in real life? From his pictures, he’s still the slit-eyed, tough-looking fellow he was thirty – nearly forty – years ago. And unlike my counterpart of those many years ago, I see a woefully unhappy man, trapped within the posturing of a high school dropout. Certainly any confrontation I would have with him would only serve to retrigger that power he thought he felt over me those many years ago. So, while I still maintain traits that make me uneasy – I’m uncomfortable in crowds, I tend to avoid confrontation, I constantly think of myself as not “manly” enough to stand up for myself, to say nothing of my tendency to pick friends, and a spouse, who exploited those weaknesses, either to re-enact past battles or to punish myself – I have convinced myself that such a meeting would be pointless and that I shouldn’t overestimate a schoolyard bully’s power over me as I drift into middle age.

But, aha. I have also been Darrell. There was a time, in my drinking 20s and careless 30s, that I would use just about anyone who got me what I wanted, and I would wreck those who stood in my way. I proudly waved the banner of “I Don’t Give A Fuck”, which was easily, and occasionally accurately, called out as grave insecurity. I slept with married women – kept my own personal log of exactly how many that was separate from my usual conquests – and was basically no good. That particular thread was given new life recently, as a very good friend of mine is basically doing the same thing. And I find I not only have no time for it, but I am like a ex-smoker who is very quick to judge anyone who might light up in reaction to stress or addiction.

To write “Bully” has forced me to inhabit several of my lives, and it’s been absolutely horrifying and panic-inducing. A workshop was planned for the beginning of April; in terror, and when things weren’t falling perfectly into place, I canceled it with a couple of days’ notice. The rewrites, which followed the actual workshop in late April, have depressed and panicked me, alternately. Yet I do know this: “Bully” is the most intimate, personal and risky of any work I’ve done. That alone has meant that it had to be written.

“Bully” has been selected to be featured in the maximum amount of performances (seven) in the 2015 Chicago Fringe Festival.

To be continued.

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Music Video: “Vas Sueve” by Zem Complex, Euro Crooner

Zem Complex, 1996

Zem Complex, 1996

“Vas Sueve”, which translates loosely as “Very Sueve”, was a 1996 #1 smash in Moldova for Zem Complex, Euro Crooner and part-time proctologist.  With its monotonous, I mean, insistent bass guitar and pedantic, I mean, pulsing synthesizers, “Vas Sueve” captured the feeling in Eastern Europe, just like the Rutles’ “A Hard Day’s Rut” captured the zeitgeist of Minshull Street in Manchester, UK circa 1964.  Compared favorably to other hits such as “The Macarena” and “Call Me Maybe”, “Vas Sueve” is a tribute to songs you may never want to hear again.

Not much is known about Zem Complex outside of his massive hit, which actually has nothing to do with this song but rather refers to an unfortunate fender bender outside of Blechinstrad, Moldova’s most ill town.  This video pulls in various footage from the wacky virtual reality game called Second Life and was compiled by his widow, Industrial.  Says Industrial, “The song is about nothing, really, so it seemed fitting to couple it with a game about fuck-all as well.”

Zem was once interviewed by Rolling Stone, but the interview was removed because it turned out the reporters called the wrong place.

 

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Three Hour Song: “Boats and Hos”

Vincent Truman, Boats and Hos

Vincent Truman, Boats and Hos

Upon occasion, I create what I call a Three Hour Song.  How it works: I invite my friends on Facebook to comment with words, phrases, keys, tempos, anything (I rarely try and implement a theme) and from that I write, record, mix and upload a song from scratch in, you guessed it, three hours. None of these exercises come with any warning; generally, it’s when I have nothing to do in an evening – of have things to do I’d rather avoid – and I have a decent stock of alcohol at hand.

In June 2014 came “Boats and Hos.”  With the exception of  another experimental song called “Alan Rickman”, “Boats and Hos” has received the most consistent plays over time, amounting to an impressive – or paltry, depending on your perspective – 250 plays.  For whatever reason, my friends kept on suggesting nautical-sounding phrases, including, of course, the title.  While I kept my screen on the comments, I played piano until a suitable sounding melody emerged.  A few strings, bass, percussion, drums and harmony vocals later, a song appeared.

I should admit that I am never, ever in a good mood when I do these songs.  I am directionless (or rudderless, if you will) or cannot cultivate any imagination or inspiration. Bypassing my intellect altogether, these songs come from a wholly other place.  It is not muse-driven.  It just needs to be done, which, for some reason, works quite well.

 

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The Girl Who Wears Your Face #tbt

Vincent Truman, 1992

Vincent Truman, 1992

I’ve been on a past life journey lately, roaming through recordings I made through the late 1980s and 1990s, thanks to a newly acquired TASCAM Porta One four-track recorder I picked up on ebay (after acquiring, a month earlier, a TASCAM Porta Two, which played everything at an unreconcilable fast speed).  These cassette recordings, all of which feature me playing – or rather attempting to play – various instruments are like a photo album of sound.  For every recording, I can remember days, temperatures, apartments, studios, electric guitars, locations of the “recording studio” (often a corner or a disused small room), relationships, lack of relationships, highs, lows, and cats.

One of my favorite tunes is a song called “The Girl Who Wears Your Face”, which I recorded in 1992 using various drum patterns and a very 1980s-style synthesizer, complete with so much echo that it attempts to cover the many mistakes played throughout, and a fairly clever, if basic, bass pattern.  This song was really liked by my friend Keith, ever the music expert, who dubbed it his second favorite song of 1992.  Keith and I both created documents with our top 10 or top 20 songs of the moment or month or year, and it’s one thing that bonds us to this day.

In 1992, I had just come out of film school, and was doing all of the things that people come out of film school doing, which are: (a) not getting a job in film; (b) being exceptionally critical of filmmaking (it was years before I could just watch a film and not judge each pan, close-up or post-production vocal overdubs) and (c) dying my hair various colors.  Of course, I continued filming as well, using a huge monster of a VHS camcorder.

This video is a composite of those films and the music I was making at the time.  Although it is certain not to do me many favors in terms of my creative career, it remains one of my favorite tunes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_YxobIuTKA

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“Life In The Midwest” (short film)

Anyone who lives in the Midwest of the US will find great significance in this short film.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5H9PFrq95LE

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TED TALKS… LOUDLY (2014 & 2015)

TED Talks... Loudly

TED Talks… Loudly

Watching the famous TED TALKS series on youtube and related media, I have come to learn a great deal about the world around me.  From topics as diverse as mental illness to  nerdcore comedy, I have gained a profound understanding of the world around me in twenty-minute increments.

Nothing is so impactful, of course, as experiencing a TED TALK in person, which is why I am glad there is a fellow named TED in my neighborhood who, often without a clear audience, gives lectures on a regular basis.

Here are two such lectures.

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6o06ga4yhA

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“Dream a Little Dream”

My adopted niece Katherine, who lives a couple of states away from me, recorded and uploaded to Facebook a charming uke version of ‘Dream a Little Dream.’  I listened to it a few times and thought, ‘hey, by gum, I should figure out how to download this song and add some instruments, to give her a backup band.’  So I did.

It’s not perfect, by any means – this is no Jeff Lynne-produced “Free As A Bird.”  But it carries a certain relaxed charm which I enjoy, and can rarely pull off when recording by myself.

https://soundcloud.com/vincenttruman/dream-a-little-dream

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