Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Chad Ocho Cinco

Screw the Presidential race, this is the story of the year in my book.

Bengals wide receiver changes last name to Ocho Cinco
Associated Press

CINCINNATI -- Maybe receiver Chad Johnson can go by the name that his head coach hates.

The Cincinnati Bengals receiver has legally changed his name to Chad Javon Ocho Cinco in Broward County, Fla., a switch that became official this week. Johnson, who lives in Miami, didn't return a message left on his cell phone Friday night.

"It's something I don't think anyone has ever done before," he told the team's Web site. "Have I ever had a reason for why I do what I do? I'm having fun."

Two years ago, Johnson gave himself the moniker -- a reference in Spanish to his No. 85 -- and put it on the back of his uniform before a game. Quarterback Carson Palmer ripped it off before the kickoff. After the season, coach Marvin Lewis -- who dislikes Johnson's attention-getting stunts -- referred to the receiver as "Ocho Psycho."

Bengals spokesman Jack Brennan said the Bengals had no comment on the matter.

Johnson has been a concern for the Bengals this season. He unsuccessfully lobbied for a trade in the offseason, threatening to sit out if he didn't get his way. When the Bengals refused, he relented and showed up for minicamp, but complained that his right ankle was bothering him.

He had bone spurs removed from the ankle and was limited at the start of training camp. In the second preseason game, he landed awkwardly and temporarily dislocated his left shoulder. Johnson is wearing a harness and expects to play in the season opener against Baltimore.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

I don't think any of my commentary can possibly improve on the facts of this story except to reiterate how much I love Chad Johnson. I mean Chad Ocho Cinco.

Friday, August 29, 2008


In the quiet between conventions, as we ruminate over Obama's magnificent Thursday speech and await the McCain camp's VP announcement, a couple thoughts:

Dear Democrats: Please stop denouncing your opponents as too rich. You're all rich. You can't move in the circles of upper-level national government without being rich. You can't afford to run for federal office without being rich.

Not only that, but I want you to be rich. Wealth is one of the surest sign of success in a capitalist society. I want people in office who have demonstrated that they have achieved success in the private sector, in business, law, and industry. I want people who have turned a profit; they would seem--seem--less likely to run a deficit. I want our leaders to be successes. We've seen what happens when you elect a serial failure.

Dear Republicans: Please stop denouncing your opponents as too elite. You're all elite. You can't move in the circles of upper-level national government without being elite. You can't successfully debate ideas and perspectives on the federal level without being elite.

I want my elected representatives to be smarter and more educated than I am. I want them to be thinkers and dreamers, and I want them to have advanced degrees. I want them to have the widest vocabulary of words and thoughts possible. Salt of the earth is valuable, but advanced degrees and deep thought are what's called for here. We're not hiring someone to run a corner fruit stand. I want our leaders to have master's degrees and PhDs. Higher education doesn't necessarily disconnect you from the common man; it can (and often does) put you more in touch with humanity. It's okay by me if my elected leaders think the country needs things that I don't understand.

On a personal note, I've been justly criticized lately for claiming centrist views that my writing here doesn't really reflect. (Kind of like MSNBC.) In my defense, I know that most of the people who read and comment on this blog tend to the left. There's been plenty to criticize the GWBA about for the past several years. I just really didn't want to be yet another theatre artist bitching about conservatives and/or praising liberals. I've endeavored to be a questioner, a discussion-starter, and a devil's advocate. I want to raise issues and perspectives that those reading this might not seek out otherwise.

That said, as I look back on my previous political posts, I find that I have written almost nothing about the liberal causes I feel strongly about, and much less against the GWBA than I have felt. I'm going to shoot a bit more toward "fair and balanced" than I have, starting with this very post.

EDIT: Sarah Palin? Really?

As much as Biden is the safe choice for Obama, Palin is an unsafe one for McCain. She's an interesting woman, a social conservative, yet she exercised veto power to assure rights to same-sex partners. She's been a reformer in the face of corrupt Alaska politics. And she has two years more executive experience than Obama, Biden, and McCain combined.

But I said it about Obama and I'll say it about Palin: she'd be a really interesting candidate in a 2012. If I'm concerned about Obama's lack of experience, I'm terrified of Palin's.

And Biden is going to eat her alive in debates.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Inner Revolution

I've had an Adrian Belew song in my head this weekend as I've striven to turn the corner. It's called "Inner Revolution," from the album of the same name, and I thought I'd share the lyrics:

So welcome to the real world
Where there's nowhere to hide
From the pain and hurt,
You've got to take it in stride
You say you've got your big problems,
Baby, join the club
You won't find the solutions
With a gun or a drug

Inner revolution, shake it up baby
There's something in your life you don't like,
You got the power to change it
You can't fix it with a drug, can't kill it with a gun
Inner revolution, that's the way it's done

So welcome to the real world
Full of pain and hurt
Where there's a million excuses,
And you know what they're worth
You say you've got your big problems
Like everybody else
You won't find any answers
Until you find yourself

Inner revolution, shake it up baby
There's something in your life you don't like,
You got the power to change it
You can't fix it with a drug, can't kill it with a gun
Inner revolution, that's the way it's done

When you face yourself; and you look inside
You see there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

Inner revolution
You've got to shake up your life
You've got to make it work out
Inner revolution, you've got to do it yourself

Inner revolution
Shake it up baby

Yet again, DC < Marvel

From Friday's Wall Street Journal:

Emboldened by this summer's success with "The Dark Knight," Warner Bros.' movie studio is setting a new strategy...

...Warner Bros. also put on hold plans for another movie starring multiple superheroes -- known as "Batman vs. Superman" -- after the $215 million "Superman Returns," which had disappointing box-office returns, didn't please executives. "'Superman' didn't quite work as a film in the way that we wanted it to," says Mr. Robinov. "It didn't position the character the way he needed to be positioned." "Had 'Superman' worked in 2006, we would have had a movie for Christmas of this year or 2009," he adds. "But now the plan is just to reintroduce Superman without regard to a Batman and Superman movie at all."...

...With "Batman vs. Superman" and "Justice League" stalled, Warner Bros. has quietly adopted Marvel's model of releasing a single film for each character, and then using those movies and their sequels to build up to a multicharacter film. "Along those lines, we have been developing every DC character that we own," Mr. Robinov says.

Like the recent Batman sequel -- which has become the highest-grossing film of the year thus far -- Mr. Robinov wants his next pack of superhero movies to be bathed in the same brooding tone as "The Dark Knight." Creatively, he sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.' DC properties. "We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it," he says. That goes for the company's Superman franchise as well.

So let me get this straight, Warner. You're rebooting Superman just four years after the previous film, and you want to make it "dark?"

Do you know what Superman is?

Jackholes. Here's a crazy idea, Warner. Rather than rebooting the entire franchise, just make the next movie really good. See Star Trek II for a template; like Superman Returns, Star Trek: the Motion Picture is a generally good but deeply flawed film (for the record, I really like both films for all their faults). But Star Trek didn't get rebooted in 1980, it just got a great script, a great director, and great effects.

Here's the cure-all for Superman, Warner. Are you ready? Give it to Brad Bird. The director of Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and The Iron Giant is your man. And think about putting it in the 1930s.

Wow, I'm glad Iron Man was so good. I'd hate to have to reboot it in three years, directed by Luc Besson and starring Justin Timberlake.

EDIT: I just found AICN users also suggesting Bird and the '30s. Great minds...

Aint's It Cool link.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Okay, fine, some politics. Just a little.

I like the pick of Joe Biden as Obama's running-mate. None of the choices were very strong, and few of them were likely to deliver key states. As former chairman of both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees, Biden shores up a lot of the doubts a lot of Americans (like me) have about Obama's lack of experience. He's also a heck of a lot more centrist than Obama.

But what I actually like is the symbolism. Biden shot his mouth off last year about "clean, good-looking" Obama in a moment that was widely seen as the very end of his political career. He has also been extremely critical (again, like me) of Obama's foreign policy inexperience and naivete.

I have been highly dubious regarding the Obama campaign's claims of operating a new kind of electoral politics, but I have to admit that the choice of Biden says two things: 1) We forgive gaffes and refrain from the politics of disqualification by foot-in-mouth disease, and 2) We welcome our critics to the table. Those are perhaps the two things I believe the American political dialogue is most sorely lacking.

I still have many doubts and fears about an Obama presidency (and a McCain presidency, just so you know). But today I applaud the senator and his advisers on their choice.

(Then again, Cheney was supposed to shore up Bush's lack of experience, too...)

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Friday, August 22, 2008

If Lovecraft wrote ad copy

This is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever read. It's on, but I found it linked to at

Here are a couple excerpts from "Selections from HP Lovecraft's brief tenure as a Whitman's Sampler copywriter:"

White Chocolate Truffle

What black arts could have stripped this chocolate of its natural hue? The horror of the unearthly, corpselike pallor of this truffle's complexion is only offset by its fiendish deliciousness.

Dark Chocolate Fudge

Dark! All-encompassing, eternal darkness! Human eyes cannot penetrate the stygian blackness of this unholy confection!

Peanut Butter Cup

In 1856, a fisherman from a tiny hamlet on the New England coast made a terrible pact with serpentine beasts from beneath the sea, that he might create the most delicious sweet seen upon the Earth since the days of the great Elder Race. Thus was forged the satanic pact between peanut butter and chocolate that resulted in the mutant offspring you see before you!

Toffee Nugget

Few men dare ask the question "What is toffee, exactly?" All those who have investigated this substance are now either dead or insane.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

A(wk)ward nomination

It was only a matter of time before someone called me on it, but it happened much faster than I thought it would.

In the post on Richmond Shakespeare's blog where I wrote the announcement of the company's eight Richmond Theatre Critics Circle award nominations, an anonymous writer (hereafter referred to, Strong Bad-style, as "Nonny") remarked:

Andrew, I'm surprised that you would tout the awards here, considering your previous quote:

"I hate all award shows. I'm just not down with a perspective of awarding one person's art as being somehow 'superior' to another's. I also resent the cult of celebrity in general. Can we please spend that money on something that helps people rather than self-aggrandizement? If I was nominated for an Oscar or a Tony I would very seriously probably not attend."

First of all, I made some comments about the anonymous post over there, and you can read those if you like. But the big thing is this: Nonny makes a very valid point: It's all quite easy to decry and criticize the awarding of art... until you're nominated for an award. It's also quite easy to have rock-solid principles right up until the point where they make you into a gigantic asshole.

One thing I have learned beyond the shadow of a doubt in this topsy-turvy 2008 is that I am dead-damn wrong about a whole lot of things I've been sure about for a long time, personally, politically, socially, and artistically. Change is good (except when it's not), and I've been taking a lot of my opinion changes as evidence that I'm doing all right as the listener I've been trying to be. But disliking the valuation of one person's artistic expression as superior to another person's continues to be an issue I'm entirely solid about.

This was all well and good until I found myself nominated for a couple of the damn things.

I write that with a smile. It's as if God and the RTCC conspired to say, "Hamm hasn't learned quite enough humility this year. Let's show him what challenging his ideas really is."

It's a cliche, but it really is an honor to be nominated; nomination is an award in and of itself. I'm flattered as all hell to be nominated, and am quite proud of the work everyone did for both productions of As You Like It. The spring show (the one nominated), in particular, was just a magical experience from start to finish, from the December read-through in my living room with the smell of simmering chili wafting through the room all the way through the April non-goodbye knowing we were coming back to do it again in the summer. The cast (Patrick Bromley, Frank Creasy, Sunny LaRose, Adam Mincks, Julia Rigby), the technical staff (Rebecca Cairns, Joey Fanelli, Annie Hoskins, Bryan Laubenthal), and the advisors (Jill Bari Steinberg, Christine Walters, Dave White) combined to create an ensemble feel I have never before experienced in the rehearsal room. It was also some of the most fun I've ever had on a show. I'm glad to know that the production merited this kind of notice. They deserve it.

But wait a second, Hamm, Nonny says, wagging his/her finger. I thought you said you hate these things!

I hate self-aggrandizing Hollywood spectacles that primarily serve to sell television advertising minutes and show all the little people how much money the glitterati can afford to spend on their clothes. That's not what the RTCC Awards are for. The event is black-tie, yes, but come on. Who in Richmond Theatre is going to be wearing a $300,000 necklace, a $100,000 tux, a custom-made six-figure dress? Perhaps the finest thing I can say about Richmond theatre artists is that they're genuine, honest, real people. They're also contributing to a worthy cause; all proceeds from the evening are going to the RAPT Theatre Artists' fund.

There's just no reasonable way I can apply my dislike of award shows to this event, which is so clearly a celebration of our community and collective achievement.

I shun glory and attention moments, sometimes to a level that is counterproductive. I'm not very good at self-promotion, compliments make me uncomfortable, and I often tend to under-block curtain calls (As You Like It had no contingency for extended applause or a standing ovation, and we had several opportunities for extra bows). I have a tendency to undervalue my work and my contribution. But there's no way I can look at the list of RTCC nominees and not feel enormously proud of my company's work, my friends' work, and the high level of quality produced by Richmond theatre artists and organizations in the past year. This evening is shaping up to be a glorious celebration of what we can do in Richmond, what we have done, and I am damn well going to smile and support it.

I'm also amazed that the circle critics were able to keep this all secret. Nicely done.

As a final note, I like that the design awards are referred to as "Outstanding Achievement" rather than "Best," as in "Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design." I hope that the RTCC will consider applying this language to all the awards next year, such as "Outstanding Achievement in a Musical," "Outstanding Achievement by a Supporting Actress," "Outstanding Achievement by a Director," and so on. It sounds a bit clunky, but it's certainly much more truthful than the labeling of anything artistic as "The Best."

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Depression is

If you haven't experienced clinical depression, you know someone who has. It is the most common psychiatric disorder, with approximately a 10% lifetime risk rate. You should know what depression is.

Depression is not just sadness. It is the lack of happiness. It is anger, frustration, fatigue, and enormous guilt. Depression wakes you up in the middle of the night, shows you you're standing in a hole, hands you a shovel, and commands you to dig.

When it isn't keeping you awake at night, depression makes you sleep during the day. It makes unconsciousness seem like an infinitely more palatable experience than anything in the waking world.

Depression blames you for everything. Depression is very convincing. It makes you second-guess, then third-guess and fourth-guess.

It takes your favorite things, smears excrement all over them, and buries them in rotting garbage, then dares you to find them beautiful. Depression laughs at you like that grade-school bully you're still angry at. It encourages you to wallow, then mocks you for wallowing.

Depression gives you piles of work to do, then takes away everything pleasurable about doing it. It is the thief of joy that tells you it's robbing you, robs you, then shows you the precious possession it has taken as it walks away.

It requires you to ask your friends for help, then makes it impossible for you to ask anyone for anything. Depression knows that boldness and company are its great weaknesses, so it keeps you meek and alone.

It makes you hard to love, and tells you just how hard you are to love. Then it makes you repeat "I am hard to love" hundreds of times as penance for being hard to love. It promises that there is an "off" switch to this feeling, but that you haven't yet earned the right to know the secret.

Depression is the abuser who beats you bloody, then holds you and strokes you, promising to never beat you again because it loves you. It convinces you that the way you feel is somehow your own fault, that your feelings must be the results of your actions, of your own terrible, terrible choices.

Depression takes the joy away from your music.

Depression cannot be argued with or convinced. It cannot be reasoned with. When it's there, it feels like a permanent fixture. And when you have it, it feels like the only thing you have.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

What the internet needs is another Brett Favre story

So the juicy part of the Brett Favre - Green Bay Packers divorce has ended. Brett keeps his number and his Hall of Fame numbers, the Packers keep the Super Bowl trophy and Aaron Rodgers.

And the New York Jets, of all people, get Favre.

Look at this image, for crying out loud:

That's just wack. Wiggity-wack, not just regular kind.

The New York Jets' website, understandably, is all-Favre now, topped by the typically New York media headline "DO QB-LIEVE IT? BRETT FAVRE IS A JET." "Jet Favre" has cropped up everywhere in the New York media.

Team-wise, it's not a bad fit. WRs Coles and Cotchery, in particular, are good targets for Favre's playing style. But the Jets simply aren't one player away from being a great team, not even a quarterback, not even Brett Favre. Even if Favre totally revitalizes the team after last year's 4-12 record--which I don't expect--the best-case scenario is still looking up at the Patriots all season long. Two Favre-versus-Brady duels this year sound really interesting, though.

The truly bad fit, in my opinion, is Favre and New York City. Hey, I love New York; I lived there. But the only things more likely to eat their young than the New York sports media are the New York sports fans. Turning on their heroes after a single bad play is simply what's expected. Yes, they will turn right back and forgive if you do something spectacular--sometimes--but Favre is extremely prickly and sensitive (and that's putting it quite kindly). There's just no way he's passing for his 2007 totals of 4155 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only 15 interceptions in 2008. His TD-to-INT ratio with the Jets may be close to even, especially as he's learning a new system and new players. He's a mistake-prone gunslinger of a quarterback now playing in a market that inflates and obsesses over mistakes. And it's a town that doesn't have a great history of rewarding quarterbacks since Joe Namath.

Favre is from tiny Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and he played in tiny Green Bay, Wisconsin. Now he's playing in the largest media market in the world. I'm not worried about his learning a new offense, I'm worried about his learning how to get around in a town that discourages driving. I'm worried about his averting his eyes from massive pun-filled headlines exaggerating his last game-turning interception. I'm worried about his reaction to being booed at home for the first time in his career.

It would have been hard to come into a situation in Tampa where he was displacing a Pro Bowl quarterback in Jeff Garcia. This is going to be harder. Much harder. But these are the consequences of what was an emotionally-driven, impulsive retirement.

I wish Brett Favre well (except, of course, when they play the Redskins). But he may find that the game is the easy part of this transition.

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