Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Endless Conversation

As Joyce moves through the history of English language literature in Ulysses while at the same time pushing it forward in his tale of a day in Dublin in 1904, he engages and comments upon the writers who went before him and lodges himself firmly in the (sub)consciousness of the writers who came after him. As we put together the seven hour radio show, thematically weaving together Joyce and Yeats and Milton and Callaghan, what emerges is an extension of Joyce's literary conversation with no end in site. Joyce himself correctly stated that his novel "was sure to keep scholars busy for centuries." And in fact, the business of Joyce scholarship is a cottage industry with thousands of books written on his works as well as a Joyce expert in the majority of universities worldwide.

Rehearsing and recording various excerpts from Ulysses, pairing scripts with fearless actors who love to bite down on a difficult, elusive or challenging text, is a thrilling experience. On Friday at KCRW in Santa Monica, we recorded two extraordinary international actors, Roma Downey and John O'Callaghan both of whom were born in Ireland. John has recorded for us many times and the sexual energy he brings to the character of Bloom is both titillating and thrilling. The beautiful Roma Downey recorded for us for the first time this year and she was was hilarious and moving portraying three characters - the narrator of Lotus Eaters, Bloom's penpal lover Martha and a dirty slut from the lane. The chemistry between these two deeply Irish performers brought out the pulsating humanity of the text, nevermind its sexiness, and will be yet another highlight of our broadcast this year.

Every year, I emerge out of Radio Bloomsday with a deeper understanding of the text, as more layers are revealed and the puzzle pieces in the more difficult passages start clicking together. Joyce is continually referencing himself, beginning conversations at 10am and continuing them in Molly's monologue after midnight. Not finishing them of course, Joyce never finishes a conversation. I love Bloom's endless flights of fancy as he imagines other lands and cities and women. In Calypso, read by Wallace Shawn and Anne Enright, he conjures up the "Orangegroves and immense melonfields north of Jaffa." In the Lotus Eaters excerpt read by Roma Downey and John O'Callaghan, he continues a fantasy of the Middle East: "The far east. Lovely spot it must be: the garden of the world, big lazy leaves to float about on, cactuses, flowery meads, snaky lianas they call them. Wonder is it like that. Those Cinghalese lobbing around in the sun, in dolce far niente, not doing a hand's turn all day. Sleep six months out of twelve. Too hot to quarrel. Influence of the climate. Lethargy. Flowers of idleness. The air feeds most. Azotes. Hothouse in Botanic gardens. Sensitive plants. Waterlilies. Petals too tired to. Sleeping sickness in the air. Walk on roseleaves. Imagine trying to eat tripe and cowheel. Where was the chap I saw in that picture somewhere? Ah yes, in the dead sea floating on his back, reading a book with a parasol open. Couldn't sink if you tried: so thick with salt."

Meanwhile, its hot as Hades in New York City, by 9am I am already shvitzing like a ferd (sweating like horse in Yiddish) as Bloom might have said but never did. After our late May monsoons, there is no more Irish rain here to set the scene and like Bloom I find myself lusting after the weather I cannot have. I am reminded of the beautiful Joyce poem "She weeps over Rahoon" which reminds me of sitting in my Granny's living room looking at the rainfall outside her window on Rahoon Road in Galway, the birthplace of Nora Barnacle, Joyce's wife and inspiration for Molly.

Rain on Rahoon falls softly,
softly falling where my dark lover lies
Sad is his voice that calls me
sadly calling at grey moonrise.

The wonderful musician Marie-Louise Bowe from Laois will be reading that poem and others on Thursday, June 16th. Join us on Radio Bloomsday from 7pm to 2am on WBAI in NYC and KPFK in Los Angeles and on wbai.org from anywhere in the world.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Behind the Scenes in Berlin

Our artistic director for Radio Bloomsday, the arts director for WBAI, Janet Coleman, is on tour with a show in the weeks leading up to June 16th. In between performances, she has been coordinating actors and engineers from hotels, backstage and afterparties in Europe. The Life! She writes to us today from Germany:

I am in Berlin with the New York City Players, opening tonight at the Hau Zwei in Richard Maxwell's "Neutral Hero." We started this tour almost five weeks ago with a premiere in Brussels, then shows in Vienna and Hamburg. We are sort of the international contingent of Radio Bloomsday, with the playwright/director Richard Maxwell and two of the players, Rosie Goldensohn and me, veterans of the WBAI Joyce marathon. For our opening run, we were joined in Brussels by even more Bloomsday players: Kate Valk (arriving right after the Wooster Group's Antwerp run of "Vieux Carre", Jim Fletcher (a non-touring New York City Player, also Jay Gatsby in the Elevator Repair Service's great production of "Gatz"), and Tori Vasquez (Daisy in "Gatz," and also Mrs. Richard Maxwell.Delores Maxwell, their daughter, is four years old, a temporary restraint on her ability to read "Ulysses," not on her status as a world traveller and theater goer.)

Rich Maxwell once described the setting of "NH," which takes place in an unnamed but richly described small-town in America -- possibly in Minnesota --as his Dublin. Like "Ulysses," it's an exploration of the hero myth though told in the most American of authorial voices.

I salute the Los Angeles contingent of Radio Bloomsday and its brilliant recorded work at KPFK, WBAI's sister station. I am thrilled that two of my favorite Second City alums, Bob Odenkirk and Paul Dooley were able to play together this year, not just wave at each other on Cahuenga Blvd.

After Berlin, the NYC Players returns to NYC for one day, then on for a week in Montreal. After that, for me, it's all James Joyce and Caraid O'Brien all the time. It's quite stunning to be in my airborn Dublin, Geniusville.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pa is dead. Misery! Misery!

We often forget the main event of Bloom's day as we go through the many experiences that make up his world on June 16, 1904, his breakfast, his toilet, his errand running, his getting thrown out of a pub, his heavy lunch, his bath, his attendance at mass, his visit to the newspaper office and later to the seaside, his visit to the hospital to check on poor Mrs. Purefoy in yet another long labor, his carousing with Stephen Dedalus at the whore house, their drunken walk home, his lost key, his scrambling to get over the fence and sneak into his own house, his last act of kissing his wife goodnight on her bottom. There are also his many musings on food, life, wife, sex, her affair with Blazes Boylan, the time when he was courting Molly as a young man, his pen pal lover Martha, his own dead son, his own dead mother, his own dead father. What gets Bloom out of the house that morning, however, is the unexpected death and funeral of his friend, Patrick Dignam at 11am that morning. What keeps him from returning home, of course, is the knowledge that his wife is planning to consummate her affair with her lover.

The Calypso episode which Anne Enright and Wallace Shawn perform in its entirety begins with Molly asking about the funeral and ends with Bloom muttering aloud "Poor Dignam." He chats with his old girlfriend Josie Breen about the death explaining why he is wearing mourning clothes in Lestrygonians and we are there in the pub during the Cyclops episode when Alfie Bergan hears that his friend has died for the first time. One of the most poignant moments in the novel is Dignam's son little Patrick Aloysius doing an errand for his mother on the afternoon of the day his father is buried during The Wandering Rocks episode of Ulysses. Little Patrick is relieved to escape the weeping of his mother and her friends, proud to be in special clothes and missing school for the day. His attention is drawn by a photograph in a store window advertising a boxing match. He wonders if he will be able to sneak out to see it, before he realizes the date of the match has passed. And then the brutal suddenness of his father's quick death takes hold of him. In all his innocence he says of his father, a famous alcoholic, in that segment:

"The last night pa was boosed he was standing on the landing there bawling out for his boots to go out to Tunney's for to boose more and he looked butty and short in his shirt. Never see him again. Death, that is. Pa is dead. My father is dead. He told me to be a good son to ma. I couldn't hear the other things he said but I saw his tongue and his teeth trying to say it better. Poor pa. That was Mr Dignam, my father. I hope he is in purgatory now because he went to confession to Father Conroy on Saturday night. "

The legendary radio host and writer Garrison Keillor recorded the tale of Patrick Dignam with such sad beauty and compassion for us last week. Patrick's grief reminds me of the the title character in another great Irish novel, Roddy Doyle's Booker Prize Winner Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha.
The entire Wandering Rocks episode in Ulysses is a snapshot of Dublin during that one late spring afternoon in 1904, broken down into eighteen segments each one focusing on a different character or characters in the novel. We will be featuring several segments from Wandering Rocks, Joyce's micronovel set in the middle of his macronovel. In this chapter, Bloom buys a dirty book for his wife, in an excerpt that will be read by comedian Marc Maron. Blazes Boylan flirts with a shop girl and buys Molly, whom he refers to as an invalid, a gift which will be performed by Radio Bloomsday veteran Alec Baldwin. The brilliant young novelist Nick McDonell (below) performs Stephen Dedalus browsing in a bookstore where he chances upon his young, hungry sister. She is trying to buy a french primer to better herself, despite the fact that their mother has just died, their father is an alcoholic and they never have any food in the house. Stephen wants to save her but cannot, the tremendous weight of his artistic ambition propels him forward:

"She is drowning. Agenbite. Save her. Agenbite. All against us. She will drown me with her, eyes and hair. Lank coils of seaweed hair around me, my heart, my soul. Salt green death.


Agenbite of inwit. Inwit's agenbite.

Misery! Misery!"

Eighteen deeply human moments in dozens of people's lives, as moving today as they were when they were written. What we seek to highlight during our broadcast of Radio Bloomsday is the longing, the desperation, the pain, the beauty, the hope and the dreams behind the hundreds of Dubliner's who populate Joyce's mind, decades after he physically left that city forever and continued to write in Zurich, Pola and Paris. Please join us as we investigate the psyche of the human soul as seen through the mind of James Joyce on Thursday June 16, 2011 in WBAI 99.5FM in New York City, on KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles and on www.wbai.org anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

30 years of Bloomsdays on the Radio

Dozens of actors, writers and engineers, from coast to coast, come together every year to create our seven hour broadcast of artists interpreting James Joyce's Ulysses, Radio Bloomsday. Last year, we interviewed our artistic director and the Director of Arts Programming at WBAI, Janet Coleman, who is working with us on Radio Bloomsday from her European tour of Neutral Hero, a new play by Richard Maxwell, another Radio Bloomsday performer. This year we turn our attention to our producer, Larry Josephson (pictured at left). Larry has been broadcasting Bloomsday on the radio for thirty years. A Peabody-Award-Winner he has spent 45 years in public radio as host, producer, manager and engineer. He started the nonprofit, The Radio Foundation in 1977 as a means to produce and distribute his work, and that of others.

Larry was the host of an infamous grumpy morning program on WBAI, New York (1966-72). A series of local and national programs followed: “MODERN TIMES,” “BRIDGES: A Liberal/Conservative Dialogue;” an 8-hour documentary, “ONLY IN AMERICA: The Story of American Jews;” and “What Is Judaism? Conversations with Rabbi Ismar Schorsch About Seven Jewish Holidays.”

Josephson is also responsible for the revival of Bob & Ray on public radio, CD and in Carnegie Hall, after they were no longer commercial. He holds a B.A. in Linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley, and has taught radio production at the New School and NYU.

Director Caraid O'Brien interviews Larry at his Upper West Side studio.

How long have you been producing Ulysses for the radio?

1981 was the first year I produced Bloomsday for radio. In the late 70s there was a Bloomsday marathon reading broadcast on WBAI from the Shakespeare & Company bookstore on 81st and Broadway, now a discount cosmetics outlet. When the store went out of business I went to Isaiah Sheffer and suggested we take over the tradition and broadcast a show live from Symphony Space, which we did for 27 years. In 2008, I decided to produce a Bloomsday exclusively for radio, broadcast live and on tape from the WBAI studios on Wall Street. The radio-only concept allows us to record actors who can’t come down to WBAI live—Alec Baldwin, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Wallace Shawn, Anne Enright, Paul Muldoon, Bob Odenkirk and many others. I invited Caraid O’Brien to direct and to perform Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. Janet Coleman, WBAI’s Arts Director, serves as Artistic Director of the project.

What was your first experience with Ulysses?

The first time I encountered the book was in 1978, hearing it read over WBAI from Shakespeare & Company. I loved it as sound art, to me it’s verbal music. I believe that it was written to be read aloud, to be declaimed, whatever Joyce’s intention. It’s a feast for the ear as much as for the eye.

Most educated people haven’t read the book. If I had nickel for every time someone confessed to me that they have never read Ulysses, or started and gave up, I’d be a wealthy man.

So your first encounter with Ulysses was when it was read aloud at a Bloomsday?


And since then you have devoted 30 years to performances of Ulysses on the radio?


Larry (with beard) in a 1969 photo by Richard Avedon for a piece on WBAI in New York Magazine.

What are your favorite parts of the book?

The opening of the book has a certain resonance, “Stately Plump Buck Mulligan…, and Molly, the end of Molly, starting from “the night we missed the boat at Algeciras” ... to the final “Yes.” It’s some kind of a miracle that a man could write Penelope. I can’t think of another man who could have gotten into a woman's mind like Joyce did. Caraid, I like your Molly best, it sparkles like champagne. Fionnula Flanagan's is completely different, like a full bodied wine. Both are amazing performances. The stamina, not to mention bladder control, required boggles the mind.

Ulysses is very funny. I love the jokes: Mr. Deasy’s line from the second chapter – “Why didn't they kick the Jews out of Ireland? Because they never let them in.” That’s funny and sad.

What else speaks to you about Ulysses?

I love the language. And the languages: English, Greek, Latin, Gaelic. That it’s about all of life and death, sex and food—and drink---compressed into one day. And how disrespectful and mocking it is to the church and the clergy. I like the fact that there is an incredible amount of scholarship about Joyce and Ulysses, Joyce and his relationship to his wife, Nora Barnacle, the letters and poems we read. And its publishing history, including the battle with censors. The fact that Bloomsday is celebrated all over the world on the same day is inspiring to me; it’s great to be a part of that.

I also like the sound of the character names: Blazes Boylan, Patty Dignam (R.I.P), Stephen Dedalus, Mr. Deasy, Corny Kelleher, Bella Cohen, Father Conmee, S.J, and, of course, Mr. Leopold Bloom.

You have produced a radio documentary on history of the Jews in America. Do you relate to Bloom’s Jewishness?

I don’t think of Bloom as a Jewish character (according to Jewish law he isn’t—his mother was a Christian, his father converted to Christianity), nothing he does is particularly Jewish. Only the drunken, anti-Semitic louts in Barney Kiernan’s pub define him as a Jew.

However, he is one of the few Jews in mainstream literature that isn’t a despised character like Fagan or Shylock. He is the outsider in his own (Irish) society.

Another association with Ulysses: my first wife and I had a baby who died at 18 months; the marriage broke up soon after. It is still very painful to this day, so I identify with Molly and Leopold that way.

(Bloom lost his newborn son Rudy 11 years before Ulysses takes place; he and Molly haven’t slept together since then.)

When did you first become involved with WBAI?

I was a computer program for IBM in Poughkeepsie, NY, a form of hell for a single man from LA who’d never seen snow. In 1965 I finally got a transfer to an IBM office in New York City. Since I knew no one in the city, I volunteered at WBAI as a recording engineer. Bob Fass, my radio mentor, got me a job as an announcer in 1966. Shortly after most of the staff, including AB Spellman, the morning host, walked out over a dispute on how to cover the Vietnam War. I auditioned, got the job and the rest is history. I broke all the rules of morning radio—eating my breakfast on the air and reviewing it at the same time. Occasionally, I was so depressed I couldn’t speak and just played music--one morning I played “Lady Madonna” over and over for two hours. Other mornings I showed up late or not at all.

I was called “the morning mayor of the revolution.” but I was skeptical of the sixties movements, especially the alleged transformative power of drugs and sex but I was against the Vietnam war and supportive of civil rights.

I don’t think human nature has changed much since we climbed out of the primordial slime. Rage and passion are just the same, one’s basic needs for security and love, to raise children, have always been there and will always be.

A four year old named Katie would call in every day and talk about her day. Lisa, a 14 year old student at the Nightingale School would call in with cynical tales out of school. WBAI never sent out a press release. I started out in March, 1966; in September I opened the
Times to find a review of my show by Jack Gould, their TV radio critic, who loved the show and gave me a great review. I did the morning show for 6 years. After the baby died, I couldn’t talk about it so went back to Berkeley to finish my degree. Two years later I returned to WBAI as station manager. As a station manager I made a good radio producer!

People think of me as a typical New York Jew but I was born a typical LA Jew, transformed into a New York Jew after living here for 50 years.

What is WBAI’s connection to literature on the radio?

WBAI became a Pacific station in 1960 after the eccentric philanthropist, Louis Schweitzer, donated the station to Pacifica. In the seventies WBAI did a marathon reading of “War and Peace,” mostly live, with William F Buckley, Morris Carnovsky and a cast of hundreds, using community members as well as professional actors. “The people” reading the people's novel. In the sixties and seventies, original and traditional radio drama, cultural criticism and reviews were an essential part of WBAI’s schedule, along with news and public affairs. The station became highly politicized in the seventies, divided against itself, driven by identity politics, so cultural programming with broad appeal started to fall away.

Radio Bloomsday’s artistic director, Janet Coleman, has done yeoman service in keeping literature and radio drama alive throughout her career at the station.

Who do you hope is listening in to Radio Bloomsday?

People who love
Ulysses or who will learn to love it after listening to Radio Bloomsday, because it’s a wonderful piece of literature read by great actors. Having a book read to you goes back to infancy, it is a primal experience. There is a long history at NPR, Pacifica and on the BBC reading books to listeners, just like mother.

Why do you produce Ulysses for the radio every year?

It is an activity that is something I am very proud to be part of. I enjoy it. I am very pleased that I have made Ulysses readings happen on the radio for 30 years. It has given me a lot of pleasure, a bit of prestige and it fulfills the motto of the Radio Foundation, “Devoted to the Art of Radio.”

Friday, May 20, 2011

Happy Birthday to a Brilliant Bloom

Leopold Bloom and his wife Molly are an artistic couple, he is always dreaming and scheming to get her onstage, writing sketches, stealing operas, arranging concerts in which she appears. They fell in love over Lord Byron's poetry whose book of poems Bloom gave Molly while they were first courting. Molly mistakenly thought he was a poet because he dressed like one, a deception she's never quite forgiven him for. It is their love for and frustration with each other that keeps this novel stitched together. There is even a book entitled The Chronicle of Leopold and Molly Bloom that imagines their relationship in greater detail inspired by textual clues from Ulysses. You know that old Irish saying, in Molly's heart, a flower Blooms. Today is the birthday of my own personal Leopold Bloom in residence, the Obie award winning theatrical impresario, director and actor Aaron Beall. He first played Bloom onstage at Symphony Space in 2004 for the centennial celebration and has appeared in every Radio Bloomsday I have directed since.

In honor of Aaron's birthday, here in an excerpt from last years Radio Bloomsday directed by and starring Aaron Beall as Bloom with the fantastic actresses Nicole Wiesner and Tara Bahna James as the bitchy sopranos Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy from The Sirens episode of Ulysses.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

All Spirits - Dead and Alive

Still raining here in Manhattan as I work on the rundown for this year's Radio Bloomsday, our seven hour broadcast of excerpts from James Joyce's Ulysses. When I first started working on creating epic Bloomsday celebrations about a decade ago, I would frequently convene planning meetings and rehearsals at bars and beer gardens. One of my favorite locations was the backgarden at Rudy's in midtown Manhattan where you can still get a picture of watery beer for under ten dollars. That year, we scored and staged the Cyclops episode of the novel which of course takes place in a bar and ends famously with the one-eyed fenian, The Citizen, dinging a biscuit tin in the direction of Bloom's head because Bloom dared to list Jesus, Mercadante and Spinoza among famous world changing Jews. Frank McCourt played the narrator, Malachy McCourt was the citizen and Aaron Beall played Bloom.

Alas, my bar rehearsals are no more and I fully admit to being a failed hedonist. Recently, I have traded one sort of spirits for another and have started meditating to focus my energy and calm my mind. With that in mind, I have been particularly enjoying all of the metaphysical references in the novel from Bloom's meditation on the decomposing body in Hades to Molly's questioning of the meaning of metempsychosis, the movement of the soul to another body once its host body dies, at the top of the Calypso episode. The novelist Anne Enright and the playwright Wallace Shawn will be performing that episode in its entirety around 8pm on June 16. The Victorians were very into seances and the occult and Joyce riffs on this both in theme and writing style. There is a hilarious parody of a description of a seance in the Cyclops episode that the lovely actress Judy Graubart performed last year.

Another favorite excerpts from last year's broadcast was the vocal acrobat Zeroboy performing an excerpt from the Hades episode of the Ulysses. The scene takes place at Paddy Dignam's funeral, which is of course the purported main event of Bloom's day and leads to all sorts of thinking about this life and the next. You can hear an excerpt from Zeroboy's performance in the video above. Zeroboy will be performing a new excerpt for us this year. Don't forget to tune in this June 16th, to hear him live. Special Thanks to the wonderful website www.joyceimages.com for their help with this video.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Recent Visitation of Jupiter Pluvius

New York is feeling much like Dublin today. Thundershowers, wet winds and drenched socks took hold of the city during "a recent visitation of Jupiter Pluvius," this mid May morning. The rain has stopped, the trees are washed but the pavement is still dark with damp. As Joyce writes in one of his early poems about the rain: " Rain has fallen all the day./ O come among the laden trees:/ The leaves lie thick upon the way/ Of memories." Performer Marc Singer describes Dublin in similar circumstances as Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom walk home after a rain shower on Radio Bloomsday this June 16, less than a month away!

Water is almost a character in Ulysses as well it might be given the typical wet and rainy Irish climate. Of course, Ireland much like Manhattan, is an island surrounded by water, and its writers talk often of the sea.

Several chapters of Ulysses take place by the Sea. "Thalatta! Thalatta!" The novel begins in the Martello Tower as Dedalus watches Buck Mulligan shave and take a bath in the ocean. Stephen refuses to swim, and admits to being a hydrophobe, or at least that is what he tells Bloom at the end of the novel in the Ithaca episode, explaining why he doesn't want to wash his hands. Later in Proteus, he walks on the beach thinking of his past and imagining his future. You will hear the poet Paul Muldoon perform an excerpt from the second half of this chapter on Radio Bloomsday.

Even Bloom has his moment by the sea. In the Nausicaa episode, we return again to the Atlantic Ocean as Bloom watches the fireworks and the girls playing in the sand. I also love the end of Lotus Eaters episode which also sets Bloom in a body of water, the bath: " He foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved. He saw his trunk and limbs riprippled over and sustained, buoyed lightly upward, lemonyellow: his navel, bud of flesh: and saw the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower.

Yesterday, I was discussing Ulysses with the charismatic actor, Jim Fletcher, who recently played the title character in Gatz, Elevator Repairs Service's unforgettable performance of the complete text of The Great Gatsby. He will be performing John Milton's poem about a shipwreck Lycidas on Radio Bloomsday, which is referenced several times throughout Ulysses by the students in the Nestor episode and by Dedalus in Proteus as he walks along the strand. Milton wrote the poem about his college friend, another aspiring writer, who died in a shipwreck off the coast of Ireland. It is obviously a favorite poem of Stephen's. He has emerged alive from the shipwreck of his life, not to be romantized as the poet who could have been but challenged to become the writer of his dreams. Can he do it? Even if his snarky friends keep him from being published in their literary journal. Who will help Stephen find his place on the literary landscape that is his destiny? No one offers to help him, it seems except Bloom, and Bloom can barely get Molly a singing gig once a year.

But Bloom has ulterior motives. He sees Stephen as a possible suitor for his daughter Milly. His wife Molly has her own designs on the young poet, however. As she says during her monologue fantasizing about being the muse of the handsome writer:

they all write about some woman in their poetry
well I suppose he wont find many like me
where softly sighs of love the light guitar
where poetry is in the air
the blue sea and the moon shining so beautifully
coming back on the nightboat from Tarifa
the lighthouse at Europa point
the guitar that fellow played was so expressive
will I ever go back there again
all new faces
two glancing eyes a lattice hid
Ill sing that for him
theyre my eyes
if hes anything of a poet
two eyes as darkly bright as loves own star
arent those beautiful words
as loves young star
itll be a change the Lord knows
to have an intelligent person to talk to about yourself
not always listening to him and Billy Prescotts ad
and Keyess ad and Tom the Devils ad
then if anything goes wrong in their business we have to suffer
Im sure hes very distinguished
Id like to meet a man like that
God not those other ruck
besides hes young

Tune in on Thursday, June 16th at 7pm to hear Stephen, Bloom, Molly and more on WBAI in NYC and KPFK in Los Angeles and on wbai.org from anywhere in the world!

Monday, May 16, 2011

One Month Til Bloomsday!

Today is Monday, May 16 - one month to go until Radio Bloomsday 2011 is broadcast live on WBAI 99.5FM in NYC and on KPFK in Los Angeles. Preparations are well underway on both coasts and several countries. In addition to our live performances, we have several pre-recorded segments as well. Last week, we recorded three fantastic actors at the KPFK studios in Los Angeles. Actor Marc Singer makes his Radio Bloomsday debut this year. Marc performs an excerpt from the Eumeus episode as a drunken Leopold Bloom supports an even drunker Stephen Dedalus through the streets of Dublin on their way home after a wild night. Bloom and Dedalus have spent the night carousing in a whorehouse where all of Blooms scatological fantasies were realized. He does a wickedly funny turn narrating the end of this very long day. Last years listeners will remember hearing Charles Busch perform the infamous Madame Bella Cohen practicing her sadomasochism on our heros.

Paul Dooley and Bob Odenkirk who both performed Bloom monologues last year, joined forces brilliantly this year to record several of the Questions and Answers from the Ithaca chapter of Ulysses. Written in the style of Catholic Catechism, this penultimate chapter of Ulysses consists of 309 questions and answers about the main characters in particular and the universe in general. This episode, known for its relentless details, pinpoints Bloom and Molly's location with lattitude and longitude, and includes an extremely long list of men who might have slept with Molly.

The poetic quality of Ithaca is impossible to ignore, however, in spite of its Catechetical format. It is in this chapter, that Bloom and Stephen stepping outside for a piss look up at the sky and see, "The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit" and a more detailed description of dueling streams of urine you would be hard pressed to find anywhere. Bob as Bloom compares women to the moon. Paul as Bloom remembers his favorite memories of his daughter Milly before kissing "the plump yellow smellow melons" of Molly's rump, a touching gesture that so enrages his wife as we will hear during her following two and a half monologue, performed in its entirety one month from today.

But first, I will leave you with Molly's outrage as another amazing actor, Radio Bloomsday regular, Jim Fletcher is on his way over for a rehearsal.

any man thatd kiss a womans bottom
Id throw my hat at him after that
hed kiss anything unnatural
where we havent 1 atom of any kind of expression in us
all of us the same
2 lumps of lard
before ever Id do that to a man
pfooh the dirty brutes

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spicey Books

On February 2, 1922, James Joyce's 40th birthday, his publisher Sylvia Beach, gave him the most wonderful present, one he had been dreaming about for many years. She gave him his first printed copy of Ulysses, together with bunches of blue and white hydrangeas matching the color scheme of the novel’s cover – the national colors of Ireland and Israel. Later that year, the Egoist Press published a run of 2000 copies, 500 of which were burned by the US Postal Service. In 1923, the Egoist published 500 copies in a third printing – 499 of which were confiscated by English Customs. It quickly developed a reputation for being a dirty book. In fact Sylvia Beach says of one of her patrons, "And of course its reputation as a banned book helped the sales. It was saddening, however, to see such a work listed in catalogues of erotica alongside Fanny Hill, The Perfumed Garden and that everlasting Casanova, not to speak of plain pornography like Raped on the Rail. An Irish priest, purchasing Ulysses asked me, “Any other spicey books?”

Like Beach's customer the priest, the novel's heroine, Molly Bloom is a fan of spicey books. In fact, in the Calypso episode of Ulysses, where we first meet the Blooms, Molly is reading just such a book by the improbably named Paul de Kock. Bloom stares at the cover and thinks to himself, "Ruby: the Pride of the Ring. Hello. Illustration. Fierce Italian with carriagewhip. Must be Ruby pride of the on the floor naked. Sheet kindly lent." During this year's broadcast, The Calypso chapter will be heard in its entirety narrated by one of my favorite writers, the Booker Prize winning novelist Anne Enright. The fantastic playwright and performer Wallace Shawn reads Bloom in a performance that is sure to be unforgettable by all who listen in on June 16th.

During this episode, we discover that Molly has finished her book and demands another. Even though Bloom knows that Molly will be reenacting her own erotic scene in their bedroom with Blazes Boylan later that afternoon, he agrees. Later in the Wandering Rocks episode of Ulysses, we see him at a porn shop dutifully carrying out his errand. In the bookstore with its onion breathed proprietor and dingy curtain, Bloom chooses Sweets of Sin for Molly. The brilliant comedian Marc Maron, host of the WTF podcast, will describe Bloom perusing the merchandise in this the tenth chapter of the book.

Later, while lying in bed thinking about her day, Molly Bloom critics one of the dirty books purportedly written by priest, perhaps Sylvia Beach's customer coming to check out the competition. Molly says "cant be true a thing like that like some of those books he brings me the works of Master Francois Somebody supposed to be a priest about a child born out of her ear because her bumgut fell out a nice word for any priest to write and her a--e as if any fool wouldnt know what that meant." The complete two and a half hour Molly monologue will be performed live in its entirety at the end of our Radio Bloomsday broadcast by Galway native, Caraid O'Brien.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What is Radio Bloomsday?

Every June 16th from 7pm to 2am, Radio Bloomsday brings together great artists from all over the world to record James Joyce's Ulysses and broadcast his words coast to coast on WBAI in New York City and on KPFK in Los Angeles. International listeners can hear us on wbai.org. This years celebration will include performers from New York, Los Angeles, London and Dublin. We reinterpret Joyce's words with contemporary voices to make his text accessible and exciting to modern audiences.

Joining us this year to throwdown with the master text monster are artists such as Garrison Keillor, Alec Baldwin, Anne Enright, Wallace Shawn, John Lithgow, Garrison Keiler, Bob Odenkirk, Paul Dooley, Marc Singer, Nick McDonell, Kate Valk, John O'Callaghan, Roma Downey, Con Horgan, Alec Baldwin, Marie-Louise Bowe, Aaron Beall, Shawnee Benton, Zeroboy, Conn Horgan, Janet Coleman, David Dozer, Mara McEwin, Mark Greenfield, Corey Carthew and Jim Fletcher among many others.

The evening ends with Caraid O'Brien performing the complete Molly Episode from 11.30 to 2am traditionally listened to by readers at home while tucked up in a bed.

More details to be announced daily via this blog.

The Music of Joyce

James Joyce's first dream was to be a professional singer, but after he placed second to the legendary tenor John McCormack in a school singing competition, he chose instead to focus on his writing. I like to think of the student Joyce mooning around Dublin, dreaming of being a famous singer while writing essays about Ibsen. He was not a man for whom second best was an option. He certainly draws from his musical training in his writing, however. The soprano Molly Bloom, with her gasping career and annual public performance, has as much in common with Joyce the singer as she does with his wife Nora Barnacle.

Readers often remark upon the musicality of his text and how it is infinitely more accessible once read aloud, not unlike the difference between hearing music and looking at a score. The Sirens episode of Ulysses is among his most musical and includes several musicians in repose including the sopranos, Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy, Molly's singing partner and lover: Blazes Boylan, Stephen Dedalus' father Simon, who was a great singer until his alcoholism destroyed his talent, Ben Dollard and several others. The chapter opens with list of sounds and phrases, the tap, tap of a blind man's cane, the impertinent snort of a bootboy, the shrill giggles of the sopranos, our hero's farts. It is an overture, whose excerpts are heard in context throughout the following pages. There is even a short musical score within the episode. Last year, Janet Coleman and David Dozer performed the overture followed by Aaron Beall, Tara Bahna James and Nicole Wiesner in a raucous scene from Sirens. Tara Bahna James also sung the traditional Irish revolutionary song The Night that Larry was Stretched.

In addition to presenting great artists interpreting Ulysses, every year we highlight different musicians, some Irish classics like the music of John McCormack, The Pogues and U2 as well as some completely new contemporary acts. When we recorded the great music lover Garrison Keillor last month he turned us on to the late singer Frank Harte (left), whom he performed with when he did A Prairie Home Companion in Dublin. We will be including some of Harte's songs in the broadcast this year.

We are also really excited to be playing for the first time on American radio the music of the fantastic new ensemble out of Dublin,
Tarab. Their Arabic name refers to state of ecstasy one enters into as a listener and their members hail from Italy as well as Ireland. Tarab brings together traditional Irish music with Jazz and Moroccan influences to create a completely original sound. The group is only a few months old and already receiving rave reviews. Bloom fantasizes throughout the novel about the Far East and Tarab's music is the perfect accompaniment echoing Joyce's deeply Irish but truly international exotic imagination. In a four starred review in The Irish Times, a reviewer writes "Not perhaps since Andy Irvine’s celebrated East Wind in 1992 has there been such a convincing reorientation of the Irish tradition." You can watch them perform live in the video above but dont forget to tune in to Radio Bloomsday on Thursday, June 16 from 7pm to 2am to hear Frank Harte, Tarab, Garrison Keillor, Alec Baldwin, Jim Fletcher and more!