Thursday, October 31, 2019

Tech’s Rendering of the Musical Ruthless: Ridiculous and Worth It

Opening the play on Halloween, with shows running through the Saturday of Homecoming weekend, Tennessee Tech’s Backdoor Playhouse unveils a spooky spoof, with director Mark Creter’s interpretation of Ruthless: The Stage Mother of All Musicals by Joel Paley and Marvin Laird. This madcap murderous musical mashup is sure to make most smile, if not make us a little bonkers in the process with all the plot twists and inside jokes.  

Many of the amazing plays that Creter has staged in his decades at the helm of Tech’s theatre program have relied on an over-the-top degree of artifice, producing the kind of plays where you know that the playwright is messing with the audience, the kind of plays where the dramatic art-form tests its boundaries and the fourth wall wobbles and finally falls, leaving the audience members asking for more or asking what just happened. 

Sometimes Creter experiments with drama, sometimes with comedy, and sometimes like now, with musical comedy. Ruthless fits right in Creter’s wonderfully weird wheelhouse, but in an entirely loony and light-hearted way. His musical director Mendy Richards, choreographer Megan Randolph, technical director Jeff Kean, stage manager James Alder, and the rest of the behind-the-scenes staff always deliver something strong, better than this cozy college town deserves. This show is a meditation on the idea of “talent” itself, but it helps that Creter’s cast overflows with talent.

A case in point of how crazy this play is and how great the cast are, this comes in the character of Lita Encore, played perfectly by Chelsea Holland  A theatre critic within the plot is not to be trusted, and Holland’s boisterous belting of the song “I Hate Musicals” makes its point clear. This play should not be taken too seriously; rather, it should not be taken seriously at all.

For all its stunning silliness, Ruthless offers wonderful commentary on the trickiness of talent and the snares of stardom, all behind the power of a predominantly female casteven Playhouse regular Andrew Neal plays a female character. 

The delightful yet disturbing mother-daughter dynamics between an excellent Erin Sullens and campy Caitlin McMahan as Judy and Tina Denmark are the core of the story. Samia Anderson’s sassy supporting part ends up playing a crucial pivot on which the entire plot turns, from slow-burn bizarre to completely batty. 

There are so many twists and turns in Ruthless, and while we have tried to avoid spoilers here, even reading this review might elicit too much anticipation. Be warned: this is not a play where you need to suspend disbelief long enough to get looped in, but rather, this is a play where belief and disbelief should both be left in the car before crossing the threshold into the theatrical space. Ruthless is ruthless in how it renders expectations ridiculous. Go, laugh, and have a blast.

-this review has also been submitted to Cookeville's daily newspaper the Herald-Citizen.

Performances of Ruthless at the Backdoor Playhouse in the Jere Whitson Building at Tennessee Tech will begin on October 31 and continue November 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, and 9 at 8:00 p.m. ; with additional performances on Thursday, November 7 at 10:00 p.m. and a special matinee performance on November 9, at 2:00 p.m.; tickets are $15 general admission, $12 for senior citizens and $5 for all students; the box office opens at 7:15 and takes cash, checks and credit cards. 
For further information call 931-372-6595 or visit our homepage at

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Writing About Your Relationship with American Music - An American Lit Assignment

How will you write about music? What do you need to say the songs that fill your earbuds and define your life?

I am asking you to write about music, because like writing poetry, writing about music for me has been a spiritual and social survival skill, and I want you to at least test this genre of prose for your personal life toolkit, making this more than just another assignment with a due date.

Surviving the strange emotions of love and adolescence with so many Beatles choruses carrying me through; putting myself to bed in elementary school with John Denver singing “Sunshine On My Shoulders” on the tiny personal turntable; watching and re-watching the movie American Graffiti with a special sentiment for the songs and especially for the DJ Wolfman Jack: performing Lennon and Jagger and Simon and McLean songs with my basement air-band The Rebellion; these and so many more primal memories remind me why popular music is not just the soundtrack of my mundane life, but the Holy Spirit choral lifeblood of a much more meaningful life.

What I want the would-be music critics in this class to get is permission to express how music has made and remade them as people, to place us inside the life stories that go with so many songs. While I am happy to entertain as much lyrical analysis as we had poetry analysis, I worry that if you only stay with the lyrics of your personal American songbook, we might miss on other aspects of how the music has infected our entire beings. 

For the deep-cuts, dedicated, and discerning music fans, writing about music, is not just like writing about literature. Good writing about music is a form of literature in itself that conveys an amazing depth of feelings, making music writing memorable on its own terms. Good writing about music possesses the power to turn others onto music that will also change their lives. 

There are long and winding stories that go with the songs so significantly, that for us as fans, the songs over time become inseparable from our stories associated with them. Perhaps this next blog will be an opportunity for you to weave your stories into our mental, emotional, and spiritual associations that go with particular songs. 

So in addition to the simple lyrics analysis, which remains welcome and comparable to the close reading we did with poems, allow this blog to be a testimony and a telling of your relationship with popular American music. Allow your imagination and passion to have fun with this, keeping in mind that the “professional” music writers invoked to inspire you felt led and called and even convicted to write about music. 

Perhaps you share some of that fandom passion on your own terms, or maybe just maybe, you can allow some of the creative passion from this section of the class to rub off on you and help you tell a story about music that might inspire your peers and your professor.  

Details -1000 words absolute minimum;
must be about American music, could be about a song, an album, a concert, a scene;
your writing genre could be personal reflection essay/personal memoir about music;
as long as American music is featured prominently, this could be a first-person non-fiction narrative; Writing about gospel-blues, Gaye, Dylan, Dead, sixties music, etc of course is encouraged, but only if you have passion for those artists covered; these ideas can show up for one of your blogs this semester or they can be incorporated into the blog portion of your mixtape final.
Putting this out there to share with other instructors who might want to do a similar assignment.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Down In The Flood (TOTR 369)

Woody Guthrie – Pretty Boy Floyd
Dylan – Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie
Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues
Dylan – Tangled Up in Blue 
Flatt & Skruggs – Down in the Flood 
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Wanted Man 
Jeff Tweedy – Simple Twist of Fate 
Dylan – Hurricane
Dylan – Ballad of a Thin Man
Dylan – Maggie’s Farm
John Doe – Pressing On
Dylan – Isis
PJ Harvey - Highway ‘61 Revisited
Wyclef Jean - Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
The Staple Singers - A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
Joan Baez - Forever Young (live)
Grateful Dead - It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (live)

The complete audio archive of this show is here:

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Before Us - for Kurt Eisen RIP (TOTR 368)

"Before Us - for Kurt Eisen RIP" aired on WTTU 88.5FM in Cookeville, TN on Monday, October 21, 2019.

Photo of Kurt Eisen's locker in the Tech Fit, shared with me by a friend.

Jackson Browne - For A Dancer
Warren Zevon - Keep Me in Your Heart
Bob Dylan - Things Have Changed
The Verve - Bittersweet Symphony
Bruce Springsteen - Dancing in the Dark
Sarah Jarosz - When Doves Cry
Valerie June - On My Way/Somebody To Love
Conor Oberst - Lenders in the Temple
Bob Dylan - I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
Wilco - Capitol City
Wilco - My Darling
Wilco - Before Us
Simon & Garfunkel - The Sound of Silence
Grateful Dead - Brokedown Palace
Leonard Cohen - Waiting for the Miracle
Johnny Cash - In My Life
Tom Waits - Somewhere
Richard Thompson - Wall of Death
Bill Callahan - Lonesome Valley
Bruce Cockburn - It Won’t Be Long
Bruce Cockburn - Joy Will Find A Way (A Song About Dying)

Bruce Cockburn - Festival of Friends

audio archive is here:
For Kurt
3 September 2019

note: written in love
first by hand
in a Cookeville coffee place
I know that this is not all that 
there is
I know there is humor & hope too
next time I will write that poem


I wanted to write you something
sweet or profound
but nothing comes quickly
not to pen or tongue or typewriter

there’s nothing sweet or profound
about this painful diagnosis
this palpable distance
what a long way we are

from the parties at the Osburns 
on Maple in the aughts
or your once pilgrimage
to Pumpkin Hollow

we’ve both wandered & traveled far
but your journey 
these last years
seems bent toward a different distance

landing in a gap
between the worlds
between this life &
whatever heaven awaits

of course I pray 
for a sweetness sometime
even a reason something 
anything to explain the suffering now

but it’s hard to get the head
from here to there
when pondering the already
arbitrary awful of 

a disease meeting a body
a body begging God for 
a different outcome even
a different world for

a better reality than this bitter brew
even in this same broken world
in all its tender broken beauty
love is still a world of

global warming
gun massacres & 
maddening cancers
all the arbitrary suffering 

that is just not
supposed to happen
to people
like you

Kurt, after a dream 

There you are 
we are at the door
of what must
be our work

you are stronger

our conversation
isn’t long
but I am 
surprised to 

see you
looking so good
but when
I wake

from the dream
it is 4am &
I am 

the only thought
that remains
after the dream

is that I have 
resurrection body

I don’t want
to wonder when
or wait to 
get the news

that you are gone
but part of me
just has to believe
the promises of God

we are just holding
you at the banks
of a special river

waiting for the 
boat that only
now you must 

crossing over 
has come for you
as it will come
for all of us 

one day
and I have to 
believe that when 
you get on that boat

that something better 
and more beautiful
waits for you
on the other side



Saturday, October 19, 2019

Love Is All I Am - Best of 2009 Mix (TOTR 367)

This best of 2009 mix originally aired on WTTU on Monday, October 7, 2019.
This is the link to the audio archive:

The Very Best and M.I.A. - Rain Dance
Akron/Family - Sun Will Shine
Florence + the Machine - Dog Days Are Over
Dirty Projectors - Stillness Is The Move
The Flaming Lips - I Can Be A Frog
Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks
Passion Pit - Sleepyhead
Passion Pit - Moth’s Wings
Animal Collective - My Girls
Muse - Guiding Light
U2 - Unknown Caller
U2 - I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
The Avett Brothers - The Perfect Space
The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You
Dawes - Love Is All I Am
Dawes - Peace In The Valley
The Decemberists - The Hazards Of Love 2 (Wager All)
Woods - Born To Lose
Wilco - Everlasting Everything 
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros - Carries On
Pearl Jam - Just Breathe

The Swell Season - The Rain