‘The Heist’: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis rob your time for 10 thousand results

Ben Haggerty knows a thing or two about hard work. Taking a note from Malcolm Gladwell, who preached “the key to success is practicing a task for 10 thousand hours,” Haggerty pours himself into The Heist, his debut studio album.

Haggerty, better known by his stage name, Macklemore, raps about what it took to compile The Heist, which he and producer Ryan Lewis recorded between 2009 and 2012. “I put my skin and all my bones in everything I record right,” Macklemore raps in the album’s second track, “Can’t Hold Us.”

It shows.

The independently produced, 15-song album is moving and autobiographical, ranging from Macklemore’s obsession with clothing to his former drug addiction (he went to rehab in 2008). In his song “Wing$,” Macklemore raps about his battle with consumerism. His opponent: his first pair of Nike Air Macs. Macklemore says the shoes empowered his 7-year-old self to feel “like Mike”; however, the same brand that elevated him isolated him from his less financially stable peers. The song’s refrain — a chorus of children singing about broken dreams — is as haunting as his memories.

In “Starting Over,” Macklemore raps about his relapse from his three-year drug-free stint: “And you know, what pain looks like/ When you tell your dad you relapsed and look at him directly into his face,” he recounts. The steady rhythm and repeating chords illustrate the cyclical nature of his journey to recovery.

Macklemore, a white rapper from Seattle, also tackles other social issues in the hip-hop culture, ranging from homosexuality to racial equality. In “Same Love,” Macklemore acknowledges the stigma the word “gay” has in hip-hop: “If I was gay/ I would think hip-hop hates me.”

And in “A Wake,” he could be describing himself: “It’s always so refreshing to hear somebody on records/ no guns, no drugs, no sex, just truth.” It’s refreshing that Macklemore avoids degrading women in his rhymes and that his lyrics are about equality rather than misogyny.

Macklemore’s clearly enunciated words are poetic if not spiritual. “Neon Cathedral” compares the bar to a chapel; the ritualistic sharing of the wine becomes the routine trip to the bar, drinking “one or two more.” The transformation from a simple bar crawl to a prayer is as transcendent as the Pascal mystery.

Meanwhile, Lewis’ instrumental mix adds another layer to Macklemore’s words and rhythm. “Thin Love” sounds like multiple dial tones giving off different frequencies. “Make the Money” opens with what sounds like an echoing siren, before a repeating piano ostinato keeps tempo. The guitar in “Cowboy Boots” gives the track a Celtic feel while Macklemore sings about drinking at the bar — which is fitting to his Irish heritage.

Providing social and political awareness, The Heist is empowering. It shows a reformer who overcomes past regrets and the “10 thousand hours” it takes to achieve them.


Juan Gonzalez: A minority people’s history of the United States

250px-Juan_GonzálezWinston Churchill may have said history is written by the victors, but Juan Gonzalez urges people to take a closer look at the real writers: the journalists who provide the rough drafts to history.

“The instrument they report inherently serves as material that is mined by scholars who decode our history later,” he said.

Gonazalez — known as an anchor on “Democracy Now!” — spoke about his new book, “News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media” at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Ithaca College’s Emerson Suites. He uses this as an opportunity to give the audience a history lesson — one that historian Howard Zinn would have approved of.

Narrating the legacies of black, Asian, Latino and Native American journalists, Gonzalez works at making influential minority reporters — such as The LA Times’ Ruben Salazar, the Sacramento Bee’s John Rollin, and The Pittsburgh Courier’s Robert L. Vann — to be household names.

“What we do in the book is that all the major change is by the people,” Gonzalez said. “It’s the people who rise up and change it.”

Working as a journalist for the past 35 years, Gonzalez knows how to change history firsthand. He has covered stories ranging from economics and labor to crime and race relation during his tenure at “Democracy Now!” and at the New York Daily News.

“I question myself every day on how much I have censored myself,” he said.

Although Juan Gonzalez is a self-defined “hard news man,” he says journalism is failing because of corporate ownership, which control the media.

“Those who control the pipes are buying the networks,” he said. “The news is no longer The New York Times, ABC, NBC and CBS. It’s Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner.”

He said cable television is a gold mine for media owners who charge customers for their product.

“It’s not that there’s no money in media,” he said. “There’s just not any money in legacy media. But there’s money in cell phones and cable TV.”

Because of the path journalism is taking, Gonzalez said it becomes more important to push change as well as remember the people who did just that.

“One of the things we tried to do in my book was to tell the story of these journalists because they are just as important as the Horace Greenleys and Walter Cronkites,” Gonzalez said.

Reader’s Theatre updates Mamet’s ‘Oleanna’

OLEANNA_PRESS_7914_BW_LR (2)They say to never leave your cell phones on during a play because it interrupts the actors’ concentration, but someone’s phone kept ringing in The Readers’ Theatre dramatic reading of Oleanna.

John (Tim Perry), the nearly tenured professor who is in the process of buying a house, is talking with his wife on his cell phone. Meanwhile, his student Carol (Darcy Jo Martin) competes for his time.

Director Anne Marie Cummings’ adaption of David Mamet’s 90-minute play begins like Britney Spear’s music video, “Baby One More Time.” Carol is sitting in the classroom with a clock ticking loudly. John’s phone conversations are boring her. This after-class meeting between Carol and John becomes the catalyst for John’s undoing. Carol, who says she doesn’t understand the professor’s book, solicits John for clarification on her grades, claiming she’s too stupid to learn. Accepting the challenge, John offers to give Carol an A if she meets him in his office. This compromising act puts John in a sticky position; in their next confrontation, Carol has filed a sexual harassment complaint about John to the university’s tenure committee.

Cummings modernized Mamet’s work by incorporating cell phones into the production. John is arguing with his wife on his cell phone while Carol is texting on her smart phone. The cell phone’s cherry ringtone becomes a clever device of comic relief, cutting the tension on the stage.

While Cummings chose not to incorporate music into this reading, the steady metronome of a clock creates an uneasy feeling. As each act progresses, the ticking noises grow quicker and more irregular until they finally disappear. The binary beats are reminiscent of those in Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “A Tell Tale Heart,” building a sense of foreboding and desperation as the story becomes more and more disturbing. However, just as the audience becomes comfortable with the familiar ticking, it stops. That silence becomes more unsettling than the timer.

Although Cummings’ Oleanna is a dramatic reading, the sparse props — a chair, bench and desk — make it seem like a play. Even the actors’ scripts become extended props, doubling as notes typically found in a classroom setting. From time to time, Martin uses the script as extended pointer fingers, jabbing accusations at Perry. At other times, the script takes on the role of Carol’s complaint. Martin and Perry utilize the scripts so skillfully and creatively that as the show progresses, you forget the actors hold their scripts in front of them.

While John and Carol could easily be hated, Perry and Martin mitigate the characters’ unlikability. John stutters through his conversations with his wife that his inability to finish a sentence makes him seem powerless. Meanwhile, Martin is so convincing as a victim that it’s jarring to see her as John’s prosecutor, destroying his credibility as a professor. While both characters are unsympathetic, Perry and Martin’s portrayal allows us to understand them — even if we don’t like them.

Although it’s been almost 11 years since David Mamet’s three-act play Oleanna first premiered on stage, Mamet’s words are still controversial, challenging thoughts on sexual harassment in the school environment. Cummings, Martin and Perry capture that tension, making it palpable to the voyeurs in the audience.

“Oleanna” was read by The Readers’ Theatre in Ithaca, N.Y., from February 22 to 24. It was directed by Anne Marie Cummings.

‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’: charismatic cast brings you down memory lane

I hadn’t though of that first day of high school in years, but I couldn’t help reminiscing while watching writer and director Stephen Chbosky’s film, Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Chbosky’s film — which is based on his coming-of-age novel — follows introvert and high school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman), as he befriends seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson). Charlie, whose best friend committed suicide in the past year before enrolling in high school, relays his story by writing in extremely personal letters addressed to a “dear friend.”

Like Chbosky’s book, Charlie is brutally honest, and that confessional narration allows the viewer to empathize with the protagonist. After all, can’t we all remember feeling like an outsider?

Lerman captures Charlie’s earnest charm. He’s awkward as he shies away from attention in class or at a dance, and naïve as he mistakenly swallows marijuana-laced brownies at a party becoming the butt of a prank. But his underdog status is part of his appeal. Lerman’s face is open and easy to read; yet subtle gestures convince the audience of his honesty. His lips tug upwards in a genuine grin as he laughs. His fingers drum nervously as he confesses traumatic experiences, although his voice is as nonchalant as if he’s talking about the weather. Lerman has grown up since he played Ashton Kutcher’s younger, seven-year-old self in The Butterfly Effect eight years ago, but Lerman retains a sweet innocence as the upperclassmen introduce him to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and dating. Although Lerman had a more explosive role as a smart aleck in The Butterfly Effect, Lerman’s nuanced performance in Perks of Being a Wallflower is certainly as memorable.

Yet Lerman isn’t the only charismatic young actor in the cast. The loving friendship between Patrick and Sam is palpable and infectious that one can see why Charlie sought the two. Your eyes are drawn to Miller, who can be flamboyant and outspoken, and Watson, whose smile is incandescent. As the two tease and banter with each another and welcome Charlie to their group, the viewer vicariously feels invited. Both Miller and Watson enrapture the viewer that you soon forget their past résumés.

While Miller also played a high school student in Beware the Gonzo, he appears naked in Perks of Being a Wallflower — serving his vulnerability on the silver screen as he relays his experiences of trying to sustain a relationship with a closeted, gay football player (Johnny Simmons). The fact that Miller tries to joke around as he’s holding back quivering tears makes his performance more genuine. It’s sad but realistic that you feel yourself grabbing for tissues as tears stream down your face.

Meanwhile, Watson transforms from the bushy-haired girl from the Harry Potter franchise. Her short hair and American accent further separate her from Hermione. While it’s hard to see Elijah Wood as anyone other than Frodo from the Lord of the Rings series, Watson shows that she can be independent of the franchise that gave her her fame. She’s spunky as Sam, and while she’s authoritative as the high school upperclassman (and nowhere near as bossy as Hermione), she is also vulnerable as she cries, “I want people to like the real me.”

Besides the impressive acting from the talented 20-something-year-old cast, Chbosky’s film has that same relatable quality that endeared his book to quiet and confused high school wallflowers. You realize that you’re falling in love with Lerman, Miller, Watson and Chbosky’s words. And as the script provides the time capsule to your high school self — that even though you may “forget what it’s like to be 16 when you’re 17” — Perks of Being a Wallflower reminds you that for “right now, these moments aren’t stories” and you’re alive.

“Perks of Being a Wallflower” was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky based on his novel.

‘Sound City’ built on rock ‘n’ roll

If you look at the amount of groveling you might have to do and the royalties you would have to pay to sample the songs of rock greats like Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benatar, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, Fear, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, the Foo Fighter’s and the Beatles in a widely distributed documentary playing in theatres, “Sound City” would be a producer’s nightmare. Imagine paying for the songs and enticing their respective artists to star in your film? Even more unlikely, right?

But that’s not a problem if the producer is Dave Grohl — the Foo Fighters’ and Nirvana’s drummer. Grohl, who paid more than $75 thousand for Neve’s signature recording board, uses that piece of equipment to sign big name rock stars, including Paul McCartney, to appear in his documentary, “Sound City.” The 108-minute documentary narrates the rise and fall of Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, Calif., throughout the 1970s to 2000s.

Sound City Studios is a dump, producers, studio managers and band members repeat again and again. “I would say you could piss in the corners and no one would complain,” producer Joe Barresi says.

But besides the fact the studio smells like beer, it has character. It’s the kind of place where Barry Manilow would pull up in his beat-up, run-down car with cops trailing him during the ’70s. It’s the kind of place where band members were half in love with the studio’s secretary, Paula Salvatore, asking her to sing backup vocals in their songs. It’s the kind of place that stubbornly recorded on analog tapes rather the emerging digital technology formats of the ’80s to present day. The place that’s saturated in history — from the records on the walls to the people who trudged through its doors.

Although “Sound City” offers insights into the character of the studio, the documentary becomes an extended commercial for “Sound City: Real to Reel,” Grohl’s collaborative CD with other artists who also attributed their success and stardom to the Van Nuys studio. With each person saying the same thing sound bite after sound bite, his or her words become redundant, making the film sound like an expensive public relations feature with a rocking soundtrack. While rock ‘n’ roll fans will appreciate Grohl’s tribute to the birthplace of Rick Springfield’s “Working Class Dog” to Nirvana’s “Nevermind,”  others will see the documentary as just noise.