Category Archives: Martha’s Vineyard
my current internet living situation is one where there is no connection in the house. so I have resolved that this summer’s blogging will be down to one post per month.
The summer has brought a welcome continuation of being directly involved in theatrical productions – this time here – and I’ve been able to keep up my filmgoing in a slightly modified form, given that most films reach this small island (especially this year with two additional cinemas reopened after an unfortunate hiatus) but some do not.
The best film of the summer so far for me was easily Love and Mercy, an intimate and sharply focused biopic looking at the life of erstwhile “Beach Boy” Brian Wilson. Actors Paul Dano and John Cusack shared the lead role, playing Wilson at different times in his life, and were supported by a game team of skilled actors. Elizabeth Banks appeared in Cusack’s timeline as a new girlfriend who becomes increasingly important in his life, and Banks rose to the challenge well with thoughtful dramatic depth.
My most notable film experience of the summer came about by attending a special sneak preview of the new film Southpaw, which went on general release this weekend. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal was in attendance for the screening, and in addition to giving a question and answer session about the film, he ended up sitting directly behind me for the entire length of the film. Definitely the first time I have ever had the star in the audience and in such proximity while watching a film.
And what else? I kicked things off with Mad Max: Fury Road, quickly followed by Tomorrowland, and then it was… an encore screening of Ex Machina, followed later by Ted 2 and then Inside Out and most recently Trainwreck. So, not as many films as I might think – but a good selection of product.
As for the theatre, we’ve been having a very full summer. Most of my time is spent on an ongoing outdoor production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged (Revised) – and if you’re reading this on Martha’s Vineyard, you should come by.
Singer, erstwhile Martha’s Vineyard neighbor/charitable resident, and all-around accomplished artist Carly Simon starts a new decade today, which makes it an appropriate moment to re-post an entry I wrote last fall about her enduring appeal.
I’m also glad to be posting this while on Martha’s Vineyard!
I’ve never posted about the #WCW (Women Crush Wednesday) social media trend, but this seems like an appropriately random time to start. The natural starting point for me at least is the enduring appeal of singer – songwriter Ms. Carly Simon, whose music I grew up with, and was semi – fixated on for a time in my younger years. (I acknowledged that in a solo performance a few years ago and was surprised by the warm reaction.)
Anyhow, Simon recently posted a picture on her Instagram account that exemplified her continued aura of beguilement, at least for me. The picture shows her on Lambert’s Cove Beach on Martha’s Vineyard, not far from her home. That beach is also a favorite destination for my family members and I when we can get in – usage is generally restricted during the high summer season. In the picture, Simon seems to strike just the right pose of slight amusement and satisfaction, clearly enjoying the moment but not gloating in it. (It would be a perfect album cover shot for her if she had an upcoming release waiting in the wings.)
This picture perfectly fits Simon’s role in my current musical tastes – someone whom I “come back around again” to from time to time, to paraphrase one of her well – known lyrics, but don’t fixate on with regularity. Nonetheless, her music and persona continue to be emblematic of Martha’s Vineyard, the family homestead, for me, and presumably in a similar way for others. I didn’t shy away from occasionally watching her 1987 concert at Menemsha if I’m feeling homesick, and her song Never Been Gone remains the most iconic example of being home in Massachusetts. A handful of her songs have additional family or home region associations for me.
So that picture brought a brief resurgence in my appreciation of her work, which has been more on the periphery recently as she has maintained a lower public profile over the last several years. Her children Sally and Ben now take the lead in the family business, which she often supports during their Vineyard shows, and I last saw her join Ben onstage three years ago in Edgartown.
Her music remains emblematic of a certain special or cherished time and place, and I’m sure it will always be that way for my family members and I.
The recent death of Mike Nichols, well-chronicled in various newspapers, but most notably to me in a Vineyard Gazette article, reinforces a feeling I’ve had over the last few years.
Martha’s Vineyard’s celebrity gatekeepers – those who come to the island and value their privacy, aren’t intruded upon, but are also willing to stand up for community causes and events when they choose – are disappearing. In his passing on, Nichols joins Art Buchwald, William Styron, Mike Wallace, Katherine Graham, Walter Cronkite, Patricia Neal and others of the literati/glitterati set who were known for their visiting/residing and support of the Island.
To me as a lifelong part-time Island resident/visitor, these were all people who appreciated what the Vineyard has to offer. More importantly for the locals, they weren’t shy about using their cache to improve the life and resources of those who are there on the Island full – time, which was and is perhaps best seen in the long-running Possible Dreams Auction for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.
But who will take their place? Others remain, with Carly Simon perhaps seen as the primary standard bearer.
But there aren’t really many people my age, or a little older than me, who are taking up the mantlepiece as the celebrity statesman. I don’t know if that’s a pro or con for an island that values its own individual community. But I do know that it’s a change that will continue to be subtly felt.
I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to write some commentary on Ben Taylor‘s performance at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, MA, on August 14th. Since I’ve included previous concerts for this year in my show tally, this was show #45. I was very happy to return to Martha’s Vineyard (and conclude my Cross Country 3 journey) just in time for the concert that evening. I had attended his similar concert in 2010, also at the Old Whaling Church. Ten years ago, almost to the day, my mom and I were also in attendance for his sister Sally‘s concert there. Of course, their family history with Martha’s Vineyard is no secret, and contributes to the appeal of the Island in some people’s eyes.
I later discovered that this concert was in fact Part 2 of a family double bill, coming immediately on the heels of a concert on Nantucket which Ben’s mom had played just the previous day. She made a special cameo appearance during the new song Worlds Are Made of Paper, which I’ve embedded below in a recorded version they made soon after (or just before?) this concert. Needless to say, the crowd went wild for her backup singing, with many smart phones swinging in to action to capture brief live recordings of the song. Meanwhile, many if not all of the supporting musical artists were featured in similar or slightly different roles to how they had performed on Nantucket. The one exception was Ben’s Aunt Kate, who was visible in the pre-show crowd and joined him onstage for the traditional closing family song, Close Your Eyes.
I wondered if the double-header nature of this concert might have contributed to my feeling that last year (2010)’s concert was the superior evening. It’s all in my guesses and assumptions, but I felt that the performance energy may not have been as focused as 2010. There was definitely more of a workman-like feeling to the evening, moving through each song and trying to stick to a schedule. Ben himself did not stick around for autographs as he did in 2010. He featured the same opening act, Julian, who had me feeling strong deja vu as he performed identical songs with the same introductions he’d given last year. However, it does make me consider the performer’s lifestyle and choices – how do you keep something fresh that you have performed hundreds of times or more?
The presence of Ben’s family friend Arnold McCuller definitely enlivened the evening. He brought soulful and enthusiastic vocals to all of his solo tunes, and willingly shifted roles between supporting and lead singer. The Vineyard Gazette published a detailed interview with McCuller in their weekly issue coinciding with the concert, but I see they’ve now made the article available by subscription only.
Despite my mixed impressions of the creative and technical side of the concert, there’s no denying that it was the perfect way for me to come home to Martha’s Vineyard and conclude my cross country journey. I thought frequently during the concert about my lasting appreciation of the Island’s First Musical Family, and felt a sense of gratitude to be able to hear (most of) them in action again.
The first question of the blog challenge.
WHAT WAS YOUR BEST TRIP IN 2010?
I didn’t travel much in 2010. In fact, I stayed more tightly local in 2010 than perhaps any other year of recent years, or ever. For example, I went just over six months between visits to Sonoma County, my northern neighbor (about 20 miles away) between April and October. I did make a point to go back up there again quickly in November, though only to Petaluma, the closest town to Marin County. Similarly, I visited Pacifica, a coastal town just south of San Francisco, as part of a school field trip in April, but did not go there again until November 1. This is in contrast to my connection to both those places in 2009: I went to Sonoma at least once a month, and i visited Pacifica several times over the course of the year, often passing through on the way to a more distant locale (from Marin) such as Half Moon Bay or Monterey.
But what was my most memorable trip in 2010? The answer seems very easy, though somewhat predictable… the Family Reunion trip to Martha’s Vineyard in August.
The Vineyard trip was part of a larger East Coast/homeland summer vacation. Nonetheless, there was something special, almost timeless, about being back on the Island. I have referenced the experience multiple times this fall in conversation and personal reflection. It was the longest amount of time I’d spent on the island since 1999. The trip was arranged by special circumstances: my grandparents celebrated 60 years of marriage on August 9. Six days later, my grandmother had a birthday, and since my grandfather’s birthday followed soon after in September, the day became a joint birthday party. Those family elements ultimately became just one piece of a larger jigsaw puzzle or collage of island adventures.
I reconnected with places that have a warm spot in my heart but not much relevance to my modern life, such as Edgartown and West Chop. I made peace with certain elements of those places and where/what they are now in relation to my memories of them … specifically, walking by my father’s family’s homestead, which was torn down shortly after he sold it in 1999 and rebuilt as a very large house. This was the first time in several years that i had visited the site, and the first time I could look at it with an open mind and without a sense of regret. I looked at the summer tourists with some bemusement and appreciation. I checked in at several local businesses, including my favorite local bookstore Bunch of Grapes and favorite lunch counter place, the Menemsha Galley.
We navigated the high flying summer social/event scene with ease. For a few nights, I felt like I’d mastered the experience of enjoying pricey events for no cost at all. Over several memorable summer evenings, family members and I experienced Livingston Taylor and friends reading music and literature, joined a kirtan practice under a full moon in Chilmark, enjoyed Opening Night of Eat Pray Love at the Island Theatre in Oak Bluffs (first visit to that charmingly quaint single screen cinema since 1999), attended an Arts District stroll in Oak Bluffs, dived into the Built on Stilts dance festival in Oak Bluffs, and, as the climax, attended an acoustic evening performance by MV musical son Ben Taylor and several of his talented family (Sally, Kate) and friends (John Forte) at the sonically perfect Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. Of course, his mom, Carly, chose to perform at the later in the summer concert at the former Hot Tin Roof, but her absence from our show did not significantly detract from my positive impression.
In retrospect, this Vineyard trip was a perfect alignment of family and friends at an ideal time. I took a breather between the first and second years of grad school, and a change of geographical pace from my California centric life of the past few years. I came home again to a beautiful island that has changed somewhat from my youth, but retains a magical aura of possibility and community. I made the most of a fixed length experience, only being on Island for a set length of time, making every moment count and strongly stand out in my memory.