Friday, September 28, 2007

Peter Wolf Takes Center Stage

Cornered in Union Square, the Tír na nÓg, a brightly colored club shaped like a of wedge of cheese is where Peter Wolf secretly performs. Wolf stands center stage dressed in black while he croons the blues doing a two-song cameo for a local rock group, David Johnston Band. He jiggles and jolts erratically as if he was receiving an electric shock. “ The crowd was completely into him, and they didn’t want him off the stage.” said Mark Arnold, 24 a bartender at the club. Wolf knows how to move his audience from his 17-½ year run as lead singer of the J. Geils Band. Wolf would perform in sold out arenas across the world. At 60, he still plays hard. But since his last solo album, “Sleepless,” five years ago, he has remained out of the public eye, only performing in small clubs around Boston. The audience is dancing, while Wolf sings his heartbreak directing his attention to the prettiest girl in the audience.
First Passion’s Art, Love, Music
“Performing is something like …being very attracted to [someone] and kissing them,” said Wolf. While his legions of fans may think of him as a born rock star, music isn’t what brought him to Boston.
Wolf or as he pronounces it “Woo” said in his teens, his first passion was for creating art, which led him on a journey from college to college where he passed as a student in order to gain access to art supplies. “I just hitchhiked around schools and became a student because no one was asking for IDs back then,” said Wolf. During his travels he sent some of his drawings to the Museum School of Fine Arts College in Boston. Shortly, afterwards he was accepted into one of their art programs. “When I rolled in[to Boston], I was an art student” he said. “I was only concerned about one thing, which was painting. Music was an inspiring catalyst to get me further into painting.”
While the solitary role of the painter fulfilled his passion for visual arts, Wolf sought new outlets of creative expression through performing. He is best known for his theatrics with the J. Geils band, transmuting his legendary monologues to his audience-filled arena. He would preach to his screaming fans, “Love comes once and you better grab it fast.” Despite heartbreak he doesn’t have any regrets about grabbing the one he loved.
“I grabbed it fast, but it had a tragic end because that person died,” said Wolf, referring to Edie Marie, who was a dominant figure in his life. They were both art students who lived together until Marie’s untimely death from a car accident in 1972. Wolf did try to love again. He married actress Faye Dunaway, but their marriage lasted only five years. “I’m single, disengaged and double-parked in the highway of love,” he said.
Early Career
After Marie’s death, Wolf abandoned his dream of becoming a visual artist and focused on his love for music. Wolf’s rock star status virtually fell into his lap; at a house party Wolf was asked to take the place of the lead singer who was too drunk to perform. He was well received and shortly after became lead singer of The Hallucinations, an untamed band of art school dropouts. “We were neo punk R&B rocked out wild manic bunch,” Wolf said, “Our first gig was backing up John Lee Hooker and later we played with the Velvet Underground.”
Wolf’s voice exploded onto the Boston music scene not through his live performances, however, but through his midnight radio show on WBCN. “ The Woofer Goofer Mother Toother]” show brought rock ‘n’ roll to Boston’s airwaves in the 60s. Since TV went off at midnight young people looking for entertainment would switch on the radio to hear this fast-talking deep voiced DJ. “I would bring boxes of 45s and play lots of John Lee Hooker, The Five Royals, Loretta Lynn, anything goes, said Wolf, “It had no beginning, middle, or end it just had this kind of mania to it.”
The Woofer Goofer notorious for his interviews with famous musicians would electrify young Bostonian rock fans. “People of the night would randomly drop by, including regulars like Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker,” he said. The Boston music scene had a voice, which lasted until the 80’s even during his career as lead singer of the J. Geils band.
Richie Bezjian, co-owner of Leo’s Place in Harvard Square has been a friend of Wolf for the past 30 years. He remembers Wolf from the beginning of his musical career. Bezjian while cooking breakfast for his customers said, “Not many people know that Wolf is a musicologists, some just think of him as in J. Geil’s Band, a party band, but he is so much more than this,” referring to Wolf’s personality and his radio show where he would play everything from bluegrass to the blues. Wolf is still a regular at Leo’s Place, he arrives in the evenings and always orders breakfast.
Working at the radio station and singing in one of the most popular American bands of the eighties was what this showman loved to do. When the other band mates asked him to leave because of artistic differences, Wolf was devastated.
Solo Artist
“It’s almost like a marriage that went astray, which is sad because real groups are hard to come by,” said Wolf, “I dedicated a lot of my life to the band, and now I’m sailing my ship alone because that’s what I do and what I chose to keep doing,” Wolf referring to his career as a solo artist.
Even though Wolf creates solo albums, he is far from remaining alone as a performer. Each of his albums has had a mix of talents, from Rolling Stones member’s Mick Jagger and Keith Richards all the way to Michael Johnson who created one of the first hip hop infused rock groups, The Johnson Crew. “I enjoy a group atmosphere,” said Wolf, “When you have a lot of creative people come together it works. It makes something special.”
Wolf has an intense connection with all of his six solo albums. “With each one it feels like I’m creating a new family,” he said. Rolling Stones magazine rated his 2002 album, “Sleepless” featuring Jagger and Richards, as being one of the greatest 500 albums of all time.
Five years after the release of “Sleepless,” Wolf is currently working on a new album. He is optimistic about the future. For his new album he experiments with slow and fast melodies. For some of the songs that will be part of the album, he will ask his favorite artist to perform with him. As for what the future holds he said, “Its, like the song said, ‘tomorrow quite never knows,’ I have my desires, just toast in a nice warm cup of tea and… the rest I’ll play by year.”

In all Seriousness- When Comedians Take on Serious Roles.

[Paragraph1] The thought of Will Ferrell taking on a serious role may make us laugh, even if this isn’t his intention. Mr. Ferrell, whose resume is filled with roles cast to reveal his bottom side, has decided to take what has become the familiar exit from comedy in his newest performance in Stranger Than Fiction. These days there are but a few in the world of comedy that don’t take a detour into serious drama. Most comedians aspire to playing it straight by taking on these somber faced roles that highlight their talents as actors. This transition has been seen many times before; Robin Williams went from a zany alien (Mork & Mindy) to a murderer and stalker (look up title). Again we see it with Jim Carrey from a dumb guy with a bull hair cut (Dumb and Dumber) to an earnest lover (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind). In a notable conversion, Tom Hanks struggles from doing silly comedic roles (Big, Splash) into being seen as a quality actor in his dramatic roles (Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan). Even at the top of his comic career, Mr. Ferrell is the newest comedian to transform into this realm of seriousness. But the question is, why convert?
[Paragraph 2] Comedians commonly strive toward the more reputable career path of dramatic acting. Those who have prospered on their talents in comedy normally desire to be taken more seriously. This evolution begins with a comedian taking a risky choice of casting generally in an independent film or with a Hollywood newcomer like in Stranger Than Fiction, which features first time screenwriter, Zach Helm. If the comedian is successful, those many years of making funny faces in the mirror or working on impressions get tucked away in their portfolios. A dazzling gift for nuance can be bloomed from their knack of good comedic timing, which can be transferred into dramatic timing to form prosaic actors.
[Paragraph 3] Mr. Ferrell has gained a cult following by those with a taste for his particular comic creations. Viewers can appreciate his labor in creating impressions that are filled with frequent outbreaks of crying or laughing. These comic tendencies amount to his winning formula for producing characters deemed funny by the general public. In his first big screen motion picture, A Night at the Roxbury, Ferrell played Steve Butabi, a spoiled side kick to fellow comedian Chris Kattan (Doug Butabi). This persona of an unbalanced man-boy is one of the character types he has created. Synchronizing head bops to dreadful techno and showing brotherly love in times that really count, such as when he is rejected by woman after woman in posh Hollywood clubs. This kind of character proved to be the beginning of his career as a typecast comedian. Mr. Praised by a younger demographic, Mr.Ferrell performed similar characters in years to come like Frank the Tank (Old School), Ron Burgundy (Anchorman) and Ricky Bobby (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby). It seems that to consider Mr. Ferrell in a dramatic role, viewers would have to take a complete leap of faith.
[Paragraph 4] Perhaps, Mr. Ferrell may feel a need to return to his career’s foundation, which was of acting and not comedy. Ferrell attended the University of Southern California, graduating with a degree in sports information. Following graduation he started off as a sportscaster on cable television. Ferrell decided that he wanted to follow his dream of becoming an actor. He enrolled in some acting courses at a local community college, but when he joined a small improvisational group his career took a turn towards comedy. There he was an instant smash as a comedian even from the beginning. His interest landed him an invitation to the famous improv comedy club called The Groundling in Los Angeles. Mr. Ferrell’s dream of acting was side tracked by his career as a comedian, but now he has a second chance to establish a career as a serious actor with his newest film.
[Paragraph 5] However, for most comedians, it takes a great effort to escape being cataloged as a comedic actor. For one famous example, Tom Hanks struggled to transition from a comedic actor to a romantic actor and finally to a dramatic actor. Remembering Hanks in drag as a costar in the 1980’s sitcom Bosom Buddies is a strain. Nevertheless, through this experience he developed his comic timing and unique witticism, which are crucial skills in his subsequent acting career. Hanks started off making many unsuccessful comedies but, finally became celebrated when starring with Daryl Hannah in the Disney comedy Splash!. This role became a hit and introduced him to future leads. It wasn’t until he starred in Sleepless in Seattle, that he earned acclaim for his transition to a romantic role. By the mid 90’s Hanks had earned critical respect for his roles as an AIDS patient in Philadelphia, where his career as a funny man disappeared in a flash. Hanks recent movies have low critical appeal, but Empire Magazine as 17th out of "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" in October 1997 for his wide range of many different ranges of acting.
[Paragraph 6] Other comedians, like Adam Sandler (Little Nicky, Happy Gilmore, or Billy Madison), have been less successful, possibly because we don’t want them to escape these endearing goofball roles. Director of Punch Drunk Love, PT Anderson, perhaps saw the darker side of Sandler, expressed in his comedic chatter, and wanted to show that these could be transmuted into a dramatic role based around all of his eccentricities. Although, his dramatic role as a maladjusted loner with an anger problem in Punch Drunk Love was critically praised, he still struggled to transfer over to more dramatic roles. Because his performance in Spanglish was a flop, critics forgot about his dramatic talent. When casted appropriately Sandler sails, when he is not, like in the movie, Spanglish, we see no flexing of his talent. Through his role in Punch Drunk Love we know that Sandler’s claim to fame lies in his sweet, tender, loving, and sometimes-comedic fury, which he will be forever pigeon holed in comedic roles.
[Paragraph 7] While Sandler has the talent to escape comedy, Jim Carrey may not. In brief, his talent as a comic is seen through the roles that exhibit him as a gleeful menace. His defining showcases for his definitive humor include Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and his maniacal role as cable repairman in The Cable Guy. Carrey attempted to increase his appeal to his viewers by taking on his first serious role in The Truman Show, which undermined him in being a suitable a serious actor. Even in Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, his best movie to date, revealed that his acting range was minimal. If nothing else, Carrey takes on interesting roles that serve to maintain his credibility as a performer.
[Paragraph 8] Perhaps the medium is the problem of the modern comedian. Whether it is from stand-up to improvisational comedy, the comedians of the past 30 years may be not properly suited for expressive versatile roles. It seems that quick wit would be not useful in the silver screen and more appropriate in late night appearances or sketch comedy shows. Some of this generation’s funnymen may simply not have the artistic expression of cinematic television.

[Paragraph 9] An example of success in both genres is Bill Murray. He turned to acting in more serious roles later in his career and has the luxury of not having to choose one genre at the cost of the other. Of all of the many performers to hurdle into films from television sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live, Mr. Murray has been most noted for shift into roles of both low-brow mockeries to clever adult dramas. Mr. Murray’s recent turn to dramas of midlife disillusionment has been lucrative. The secret behind this transformation is that the characters that he plays are much different than the roles in his previous comedic roles (Ghostbusters, Groundhogs Day etc.) The roles he plays in now (Broken Flowers, Lost in Translation) still offer insight into the being of Murray’s melancholy and unassuming charm of his straight-faced matter-of-fact humor. No matter what genre Mr. Murray plays the roles never lose their Murray appeal, but only add to their made-up lives.
[Paragraph 10] Which takes us back to Ferrell. In Stranger Than Fiction, there are still hints of the slapstick Ferrell, but they are few. Ferrell plays a solemn IRS auditor Harold Crick, who finds out through a dry British voice over that he is the main character in Kay Eiffel’s (Emma Thompson) novel entitled “Death in Taxes.” Eventually, the female voice declares that Mr. Crick will have to face his imminent death. The best scenes of Ferrell’s dramatic acting are those paired with Dustin Hoffman who plays a literature professor who is unable to counsel Ferrell, but instead is trying to figure out whether Ferrell is in a comedy or tragedy. Ferrell in these scenes shows restraint, basically making Hoffman seem like the comic and Ferrell like the realist. Ferrell’s tone of voice is calm and assertive, unlike any of his other characters on screen. He sits perched with perfect posture, answering poignantly the questions that Hoffman is using to determine if Crick will live happily ever after or die as a hero. Through Crick, Ferrell becomes to his viewers a normal man with obsessive compulsive tendencies of counting how many strokes he brushes his teeth, but he is well-spoken and expresses real human concerns for himself and the people in his life. The film may have a cliché message of live your life to the fullest, but Ferrell hits upon the fact he can excel when given the right dramatic role.
[Paragraph 11] Will Mr. Ferrell succeed in following Mr. Sandler’s or Mr. Murray’s footsteps with his future dramatic acting roles? We know now that Ferrell acting persona is well transmuted into drama. Though, it is hard to speculate until we see his next performance and whether or not he is poorly cast like Mr. Sandler causing him to be stuck in nothing but comedic roles. Stranger Than Fiction caused the critics to believe in Mr. Ferrell in dramatic roles. Perhaps now, there will be a good chance that his next movie will be his defining career masterpiece like what took place in Mr. Murray’s role in Lost in Translation. If Mr. Ferrell becomes the next Anthony Hopkins with any luck there will still be room for the man-boy roles we all have came to love.