Monday, August 22, 2011

Influences and Inspirations : Garth Ennis and Violent Morality

"The guy who taught me to fight was the same guy who shot my dad in front of my eyes. That will tend to focus your concentration."
- Jesse Custer, in Garth Ennis's "Preacher"

Violence is at the heart of "Absolute Beginners", and it's a narrative lesson I learned from Garth Ennis. It's easy enough to let the extremes of violence push a narrative forward. There is no shortage of books and movies that show violence at its most extreme and most casual, but it's the work of Ennis, who writes primarily in the realm of comic books, that best conveys the fluidity of morality at a crisis point.

Ennis's protagonists are complex, ranging from a hitman who only kills criminals, to a soldier, haunted by the memory of discovering Auschwitz, manipulating world events and racking up a lifetime of dead bodies, to a preacher on a mission to make God pay for abandoning his creation. Every single one born or reborn in brutality but driven by a strict moral code. That's what makes his stories work, and it's what I'm trying to bring to the characters in Absolute Beginners, the idea that a morality that finds its beginnings in violence is a morality that's most easily compromised.

The brothers (and best friend) in Absolute Beginners act out of a desire to protect their family/tradition/neighborhood and in doing so, cause untold chaos because at the heart of each thing they're trying to protect is immeasurable brutality and cruelty.

One of the greatest characters Ennis has ever written for (though it's not one he created) is John Constantine, a man who fancies himself a defender of humanity against all of hell...

“I’m the one who steps from the shadows, all trench coat and cigarette and arrogance, ready to deal with the madness. Oh, I've got it all sewn up. I can save you. If it takes the last drop of your blood, I'll drive your demons away. I'll kick them in the bollocks and spit on them when they're down and then I'll be gone back into darkness, leaving only a nod and a wink and a wisecrack. I walk my path alone... who would walk with me?"

…who has managed to kill off every single friend he’s ever had (and more than a few lovers), and that’s what makes him, and characters like him, so compelling.

The deals and the mistakes, the blood and the horror, all of it in service to a greater good, but even that good thing is flawed.

The best moments of literary or theatrical violence come when everyone is trying to be the hero, but nobody succeeds at being noble.

- Stephen

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Absolute Beginners - Cast

The cast has been finalized for this month's D3C event:

Sean Meehan as Sean Ballard
Matthew Ferretti as Pat Ballard
Charle Everett as Bobby Shannon
Jennifer Skura as Mary Conry
Carol LoPorto as Kathleen Conry

With special guest musician, Ridley Parson. 

Absolute Beginners is a never-before-seen play about violence as family tradition and self-destruction as cultural heritage. 

It's about New York Irish Gangster in the mid-80's and siblings who take very different paths toward redemption. 

Dialogue with Three Chords
Downstairs at Mr. Dennehy's Irish Pub
63 Carmine Street, NYC

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dialogue with Three Chords Playlist: Avail

The D3C Playlist: What we're listening to this week. 

I'm revisiting Avail right now, a 90's band that fit neatly into the Punk Rock/Positive Hardcore sound pioneered by bands like 7 Seconds and Gorilla Biscuits. No dogma, just honest, heartfelt lyrics for us kids who missed the first (and second wave) of Hardcore but still felt earnest, dammit.

Their first two albums, Satiate and Dixie, didn't leave my stereo for two solid years. Their songs absolutely raged and swung: aggressive post punk guitars (the bass line that begins Bob's Crew is an obvious nod to Public Image Limited) mixed with a heavy crunch, the clear but slightly hoarse vocals, and goddamn, the build-ups and breakdowns just demanded you move. Try and sit still during Connection.

I was lucky enough to see Avail tour to support Dixie, and what made it even more amazing was that they were on a bill with two of my other favorite 90's Punk Bands: Rancid and The Queers. It was during NYC's CMJ fest, so I remember standing on a ridiculously long line outside of The Wetlands (a long defunct venue) while journalists, insiders, and people way hipper than I'll ever be filed in before us. (Much to the grumbling of the skinheads and guys in Poison Idea shirts ahead of us.)

The Queers opened and were great, and, in fact, are probably one of the only bands to pull off the "we sound just like the Ramones" shtick with anything approaching style and good humor, but when Avail hit the (too damn small) stage, it was the first time I felt like I was in an audience that functioned as a unit, that sang and danced as one. A feeling that has only been replicated for me two or three times since then.

Satiate was a blast of catchy Punk Rock, but Dixie was more aggressive, musically complex, and dealt, lyrically, with issues that not many Hardcore bands touched on, notably, body image:

As an alienated Punk , already uncomfortable  in his own skin, that song resonated with me, so much so, that I bought one of their t-shirts. A bold move for a fat kid, since the only shirts they had were white.

Of course, I never wore it, too damn self conscious, so instead, I cut off the front image, and pinned it onto the back of my jacket, after carefully lettering these lyrics from Model onto it:

                      Big is a scar; you'd better get thin; the tanner you are, the more you fit in 
               Bullshit! You've got a disease. You follow the trends like the rest of the sheep! 

Defiant enough, I felt. 

Energized by that experience, I returned to my teenage dream of fronting a band. I wrote a bunch of lyrics that, looking back, weren't completely embarrassing, booked some studio time, and screamed my lungs out for a couple of years in the mid-90's. Nothing came of it, but it was an action at a time when every single thing in my life demanded I "sit down and shut the fuck up." 

Punk and Hardcore taught me to be contrary, as Crass so brilliantly put it, "Punk was once an answer to years of crap, a way of saying 'No!', when we'd always said 'Yes.'", but it also taught me to think bigger and broader and that there was a network of kids out there feeling the same way, and at the time, they all wanted to create something too, to find direction. There were scenes, of course, and dogma crept in, but the central maxim at the root of it all was: "Yeah, you can be a part of something, but isn't it better to start something?" 

- Stephen 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

This Month!

Two brothers bear witness to the end of a bloody family tradition as their neighborhood slowly becomes unrecognizable.

This new play by Stephen Gracia is set in the Hell's Kitchen of 1983. The Westies are falling apart, gentrification is coming on quick, and there's a dead body in the bathtub that someone needs to atone for.

Join us on August 25th at Mr. Dennehy's Irish Pub, 63 Carmine Street for this never before seen staged reading.

Start time: 8pm.

Cast and guest musician to be announced.