Diva, Drama Queen, Dictator – It’s always about Power


Isadora DuncanAs a young woman, growing up in Alberta and Quebec, I loved drama. I yearned to be on stage, wowing the audience, making sweeping gestures that would evoke memories of Judy Garland or Isadora Duncan. I wanted to wear fabulous clothing, clothing so stunning that people would stop dead in the streets to watch me as I sashayed along the pavement with my scarves twirling in the breeze,  and my skirts trailing behind me like a bridal train.

The fact that, at this stage, I was only raw material waiting to be shaped into something better, totally escaped me. Children have no power beyond that which their parents allow them. My desire for fame was a comforting consolation to circumstances yet to be under my control.

Even as a fledgling muso in the eighties … and what a time that was to be dramatic! … I was wholeheartedly in sync with the stage mindset, and the need to be in the spotlight. I shunned the whole blue jeans and flannel shirt ethos of most Canajuns, preferring to be seen in spandex and Danskin bodysuits. All of which was totally acceptable, even reasonable, given the times and my career in the entertainment world.               

irreplaceable CocoMy goal was to be a Diva, a Drama Queen whose whims and pronouncements were acknowledged, and even accepted as truth. Who wouldn’t want to be the one whose outrageous outfits and still more shocking antics kept others talking about her in hushed, and often respectful, tones? I wanted the power that comes from being predictably unpredictable.

Alas, my dream was hampered by a stark reality;  I’m a fairly level headed person. Years of practicality and living in a sometimes stark environment had made me a rather sensible, responsible, and empathetic human. In order to think myself superior to others, I would first have to believe that others were inferior to me.

 Divadom was just not in my skillset.

unlimited powerTo be the Diva, the Queen, the one that must have all of the attention all of the time, requires an exhausting amount of maintenance to ensure that the public remains engaged in following even the most mundane of acts.  It’s a hard position to maintain, requiring a persistent  but oblique scrutiny of those expected to slavishly serve, and a constant pulse-taking to ensure the attention never flags. And of course, to keep the interest fresh, it requires that new and ever more shocking behaviour be always on display.

It is draining to those who orbit this satellite, who must shove aside their own needs to serve the one who has demanded their attention. Those who follow those who must be served and obeyed, abdicate a full responsibility for their own lives, in the pursuit of abject servitude to another’s.

drama queenThe Diva is having all the fun. Oh, they may occasionally frame a petty or inconvenient moment of discomfort as being equivalent to a circle of Dante’s hell, but it will be made clear that they alone are emotionally capable of suffering the tortures of the damned. Your job loss or cancer diagnosis pales at the spectre of their badly timed broken fingernail. Your real job is the alleviation of the Diva’s melodramatic – and often imaginary – pain.

The Drama Queen excels at public adulation; it is the symbol of their public finally affording them the attention and adoration they honestly feel they deserve. Crumbs from the public display may be magnanimously bestowed upon the most fortunate of their sycophants and supplicants. But always with the corollary that the best and most precious of what is available is only for themselves.

It is the essence of power, writ small or large.  Drama, excitement, egotism, the shock and awe of unbridled narcissism … chaos.

Now the thing is … we humans do like a bit of drama in our lives. It’s why we gossip, and stir our own pots of personal theatre. And we all would like a little power, please and thank you. From the lowliest beggar in the lowliest gutter to  dictators and heads of countries, most of us are all looking for a little more control and power, some magic wand allowing us to claim that we are better and more valuable than someone else, and therefore deserving of more of whatever it is that we prize. Human nature. A base desire to be found worthier than another, and an insistence of  public acknowledgement of that importance, by words, deeds, or offerings.

power corrupsThat need lies at the heart of every power struggle in human interaction in history; the only difference being in how far that desire for control is taken.

From the labourer who is afraid to talk back to his boss and so comes home to yell at his wife, to the megalomaniac who commands despotic power over a company or a country, the thirst for power and control is only limited by the one who craves it.

inertiaBut we humans also need stability, security, and the comfort of habit. Most of us embody Newton’s first law of motion – sometimes referred to as the law of inertia. “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

People in the civilized world tread a familiar path, day in and day out. They wake up, go to school or work, spend the majority of their time doing a job they’ve done the day before and will do the next day, and then go home, have a meal, watch a little TV, and finally, go to bed. The next day, they do it all again.

Within that majority are some who want and need to break out of that routine. But for most of us, it may be a rut, but it’s our rut, and we’re inured to it. To abruptly have to grapple with chaos and change on a regular basis asks us to suddenly develop the ability to be mentally prepared, at all times, on a moment’s notice.

That’s just not how the average person rolls. Most of the time, it’s enough for us to look forward to a long weekend or a raise in salary. There is comfort in habit, stability in routine.

Divas, drama Queens, and dictators are the unbalanced forces that unleash chaos on inertia, alter the course of lives, destabilize the comfortable, and consume all in their paths.

pod save americaIn some situations, chaos is welcomed, at least for a short period of time. Long term frustration and anxiety over things we believe cannot be changed can lead to a need for a saviour, for a liberator who will kick over the traces of what has been, the disruptor who will fly in the face of what we’ve been told is ‘just the way it is.”

But unbalanced forces have a limited life span. We may cheer the tearing down of a wall, but a small part of us knows that it is the rebuilding that will consume our reality for years to come. Although the unbalanced force can do great damage during its arc of influence, the simple truth is that modern civilization and our social institutions are based upon a massive inertia that tends to keep the quo in status, and seeks to balance the unbalanced.

Eventually, even the most easily amused of the masses begin to look for a justification of continued devotion. Power, whether it is wielded in a high school clique or at the highest levels of society, has to be shown to be warranted, and eventually validated by actions beneficial to the majority, not just those  temporarily blinded by the harbingers of fireworks, sound, and fury proclaiming the power seeker’s arrival.

 

The Luck of the Irish


If you didn’t get your chance to get your Irish on on Friday, March 17th, Torontonians will get another chance to do so today, when the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade starts at noon. The route begins on the corner of Bloor and St George, heads east on Bloor, south on Yonge, and west on Queen St, before finishing up at the parade reviewing stand at Nathan Phillips Square.

The parade is still a big deal for many of Irish descent .. and there are a lot of us! As of 2006’s census, the Irish were the 4th largest ethnic group in Canada, with 4,354,000 Canadians (or 15% of us all,) have full or partial Irish descent. And more than two million Irish Canadians are in Ontario!

st patricks day queenI haven’t been to the parade in years, though I did get to be one of the rabbit stole wearing girls waving from the back seat of a convertible many years ago as the “Miss Irish St Augustines,’ in Montreal.

When I was a teen growing up in Montreal, St Paddy’s was always a big day. My grandfather, whom I’d never met as he’d died before I was born, was literally “a man without a country.” His own parents had fled Ireland’s economic woes, and he was born, mid Atlantic, before they docked in New York‘s harbour. They stayed briefly in the United States, before moving to Montreal.

My family loved their Irish heritage. A musical lot, they were the sort to gather ’round the piano to play and sing the songs of the ‘ould country.’ I was brought up listening to a mix of classic Irish tenors, as well as the rebel songs, and of course, the  lighter ‘stage Irish’ fun songs peddled in theatre and film.

There were two sides to the Irish connection, in my world. On the one hand, I loved the singalongs, the funny accents, and the camaraderie, especially on the holiday itself, when I could be guaranteed a fine old time. On the other hand, and always present, were the realities of a divided Ireland and ‘the Troubles.’

My mother’s family were not prone to arguing over politics, which was a good thing, considering that my grandmother was British, and my uncle Dennis had married a Dubliner.  Hard-line rebel songs were strongly discouraged, but we’d always be in for a‘cead mile failte.’

There are some that look down upon the ‘stage Irish’ of the Irish Rovers, or even der Bingle’s portrayals of kindly Irish priests, but it must be remembered that the Irish faced a great deal of discrimination on their first arrival in North America.  Early Irish entertainers and newcomers could rely on getting a rise from a hostile audience by sending up their own people as friendly, ginger, alcoholics, quick with a joke and a laugh.

“Irish men and women both had a hard time finding skilled work in the U.S. due to the stigmas of being both IrishNo Irish need apply sign as well as Catholic. Prejudices ran deep in the north and could be seen in newspaper cartoons depicting Irish men as drunkards and Irish women as prostitutes. Many businesses hung signs out front of their shops that read “No Irish Need Apply“, or “NINA” for short. The initial backlash the Irish received in America lead to their self-imposed seclusion, making assimilation into society a long and painful process.”  

But the Irish played a significant role in American society, especially in teaching and policing occupations. Eight of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Irish descent. Irish Catholics have served in all layers of American government, in every capacity, from mayors to Presidents.

Ontario is rife with towns named after the places and last names of Ireland, including Donnybrook, Dundalk and Dublin, Enniskillen and Galway. and Tara and Waterford.

Canada has had our share of notable Irish-Canadians, in every field, from the arts, to sports, and politics. Writers like Morley Callaghan and W.P. Kinsella have explored the many facets of Canadian lives, as have my cousins Rita Donovan and Michael Donovan, while Stompin’ Tom Connors and Denny Doherty have shaped how we sound. Add to that list my husband, musician Shawn O’Shea, also of Irish descent, who’s even born on March 17th! (In a bizarre coincidence, two other members of the heymacs, Kid Carson and Carlyle Walpola, were also born on March 17th.)

I can’t picture Canadian comedy without the stylings of Mary Walsh, our Amazon Warrior. And what would the world of show biz be without Mack Sennett,  producer, director, writer, actor and founder of Keystone Studios?

Politically, Irish Canadians have been integral to the country since the days of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of the Fathers of Confederation, while Louis St. Laurent, Sir John Thompson, Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney have all served as Prime Ministers.

In world entertainment, the Irish have always had a strong presence, and there’s no shortage of musical talent exported from the Emerald Isle, with memorable stylings and poetic imagery flowing from U2, Enya, Gilbert O`Sullivan, Sinead O`Connor, the Cranberries, Van Morrison  and Thin Lizzy.

The Irish in North America have come a long way from the days when thirish_blessing_cottageey stumbled off the boats, fleeing famine and political strife. Many of those marching in St Patrick`s Day Parades today have no interest or stake in the politics of modern day Ireland, but the urge to celebrate their heritage remains strong.

And the rest of us, in our green wigs, and drinking green beer, just wish we could have a little of that fabled Irish luck and good humour, if just for one day.

 

Time Travelling 101 with Janis and Jan


Some people think it would be great fun to be able to travel back in time to their youth, where they could relive the golden days of radio, nickel bags, and mega concerts where tickets ran you less than the cost of a TTC token today.

hippiesAnd certainly, there were good times to be had in the 60’s and 70’s, and I have tons of fond fuzzy memories of elephant pants and go-go boots, Sassoon haircuts, and Mary Quant and Twiggy makeup tips.

But for all of the good recollections … Let me just say that, if you ever do get a chance to go back – make sure you’ve got a way to return to the present. Especially if you’re a woman, or a person of colour. Trust me on that.

Even with the Cheeto Jesus now in possession of the nuclear launch codes, this time in history is actually one of the best of all ages. And hopefully, the positive changes will not come to a screeching halt, despite the Republicans’ best efforts.

When someone opines wistfully on the `good ol`days,` and how much better life was then, they always have one corollary – they’d like to be able to go back to their early life, but as a healthy youth, and with the wisdom they’ve acquired since those callow days. Otherwise, they’d just make the some mistakes over again.

But that’s how being young works. Yes, you get the hair, and the energy, and hopefully, a nice fit body that can see and hear pretty darn well … but you also get the `stupids.`  That’s the deal.

janis-joplinOne of my favorite memories of my own misspent youth is of the first and only time I saw Janis Joplin perform live. The Montreal Forum, November 4, 1969. It was every thing I had hoped for – and more.  I was first struck dumb by her presence and energy, and when that had passed, I rushed, like the thousands of others in the audience, to the stage front, to try and capture just a hint of that glorious essence by being closer to her.

She wailed, she flailed, she spun like a dervish, laughing hysterically between songs, chugging from the ever present 26er of Southern Comfort. She held us all, willingly, in the palm of her hand.

 

I had played her album Cheap Thrills, released in  ’68 with Big Brother and the Holding Company, until the grooves wore white. I not only knew her every word and inflection, I could even whistle the solos. I was a bona fide, dyed in the wool, Janis freak.

A piece of my heart died when she did, on October 4, 1970. Just 27, she had crammed so much life into just a few years, left an indelible impression, and then … she was gone. Although many have tried to imitate her trademark sound, few have come close. That voice was powered by a wild soul that nothing could tame, and no amount of stage magic can reproduce.

Just as with all of the other wonderful artists we’ve lost, you can’t help but wonder if they would have become even more remarkable as they aged, and as time and experience tempered their spirits. What would Janis be like, were she alive today?jan-kudelka-janis-tranzac-4-jan-18-17

Jan Kudelka, another lifelong Janis fan, wondered the same thing. But her ponderings went further, launching a series of performance art pieces over the years, including last week’s Janis Joplin’s 74th Birthday Bash.

The Tranzac‘s theatre was transformed into the perfect setting for Joplin’s return, as the ever faithful fans gathered.  Musicians Michelle Willis (keys), Tyler Wagler (bass), Martin Worthy (drums) and David Gray (guitar), ably laid down the groove to “Combination of the Two,” working the beat while Kudelka worked the audience, before swanning onto the stage.

For the next two forty minute sets, the audience sang along, hummed along, and happily lost themselves in Kudelka’s heartfelt interpretations of Joplin’s greatest hits, interspersed with thoughts, memories, and poesies on the singer’s short but incandescent life.

jan-kudelka-janis-tranzac-2-jan-18-17And in that time, we who were actually young when Janis was young, who first heard these songs on our radios or our portable record players or were in the audience when she toured, bottle firmly in hand, and wailed her way into our hearts, were able once more to revisit a time when everything seemed possible.

 

We – and the world – were young, wild, and free. Janis Joplin was the female embodiment of the wild woman spirit of the sixties. And we’d like to think that we had just a little of that wildness back then too. That’s what we want to time travel back to – and why it’s not possible. The world changed, and so did we. We can only move forward in time. If we are given the gift of aging, we must accept it as is, even when it comes with the baggage of becoming old.

jan-kudelka-janis-joplinBut the gift that  Kudelka gave us, by channelling Joplin’s spirit and music, was a chance to go back to our adolescence in our minds, to forget momentarily that, while we may be wiser, we are also greyer, stiffer, and a lot less supple than we once were. This Janis, then, a Janis Joplin that survived, and was celebrating a 74th birthday by once again sharing her talent .. this Janis relit the candle that aging, politics, and a general societal malaise seeks to extinguish in our hearts.

And damned if all of us in the audience didn’t leave the experience walking a little taller, feeling a little lighter, with a spring in our steps and a song on our lips.

A generous gift indeed, Ms Kudelka. I look forward to next January, and Joplin’s 75th birthday bash.

 

(first published @https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2017/01/22/roxanne-tellier-time-travelling-101-with-janis-and-jan/ )

 

Can Survivor Cure Cabin Fever? I’ll Ask the Cat


man freezingI’ll admit it – the frigid weather in Toronto is making me a crazy person. We’re having record low temperatures, my cats are in complete (and loud) cabin fever mode, and I haven’t left the house in days. For the first time since childhood, I’m even wearing a winter hat. Sometimes even indoors. This is serious cold.

dandelion smilySpring can’t come soon enough. I need to smell fresh air, and see green grass emerge from under the carpet of snow. I’m even looking forward to dandelions in the lawn. I just need a change of season!

There’s another reason I look forward to spring – the tv networks like to toss us a few new bones to chew on. Since April 2011, I’ve been doing recaps of television comedies, dramas and reality shows for an entertainment site called Starpulse. I’d trade off the unpaid writing as a way to legitimize my television viewing, and it has worked for us so far.

survivor borneoI’ve watched Survivor since the first episode, 15 years and 30 seasons ago. This year marks my ninth season of recapping Survivor episodes. What started as an exercise has become an obsession, it seems. I enjoy the show, and have many friends who do as well, so you might call it my ‘water cooler’ job; I get to chat about some of the sillier aspects, and sympathize with viewers when fan favorites are voted off the island.

A lot of people have nothing but disdain for reality television, and I’d agree that some networks manipulate the course of some series. But we love our scripted and unscripted dramadies.

reality show auditionsMany desperately want to be on a reality series. In our increasingly televised lives, there have been many ordinary people elevated to fame through constant television exposure. Some have done very well; others have crashed and burned.

renovate your wardrobe me and farley(I was on a reality show years ago called “Renovate Your Wardrobe.” It was a lot of fun. But alas, the public didn’t glom on to my smiling face. I got a renovated bedroom, closet, and some new clothing. Would do it again in a heartbeat!)

I’ve never enjoyed the ‘talent shows’ that feature wannabe musicians, dancers, and entertainers of all sorts, but I love the fact that those platforms are available for those who want them. Bless ‘em all for giving it all they’ve got.

sweeping-beach-pulau-tigaMe, I like Survivor, and shows of that ilk. And I am desperate to be somewhere hot and sunny, by a salty sea, even if only in my dreams.

Since I’m down a quart of blog for the week, here’s a link to today’s recap of Survivor: Worlds Apart, Spring 2015. Enjoy!

survivor worlds apart 2015

http://www.starpulse.com/news/Roxanne_Tellier/2015/02/26/survivor-worlds-apart-and-so-it-begin