His back pages
by Roberto Friedman
Last Saturday night Out There attended the opening of performer Don Reed's new one-man show Can You Dig It? Back Down East 14th – the 60s and Beyond now showing at The Marsh SF. Although Reed is straight, he grew up with a clearly gay half-brother who features in the show. It's interesting to see this in 1960s & 70s Oakland, as part of a black family where Dad's a pimp and Mum a Jehovah's Witness. True to his milieu, the gay Tony, quite a character, greets challenges to his dignity by fighting back fervidly.
After his acclaimed East 14th and The Kipling Hotel, Can You Dig It? is the third installment of Reed's autobiographical yarn. In some ways it's a conventional coming-of-age tale – he impersonates family and neighborhood characters with glee, and ends with a plea for racial and sexual harmony. But Reed's charisma, talented musicality and dance, and appealing stage presence help his show transcend its genre. At the opening-night afterparty, Marsh artistic director Stephanie Weisman agreed with us that few other area performers move around the black-box stage quite so elegantly.
Dig It?'s cultural scope takes in both Dr. King and the Black Panthers, but at least as important to young Donny's mental development are James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Sly Stone. Don Reed is a Bay Area-bred luminary who brings it all back home. (Sat. & Sun. through Aug. 25; tickets: themarsh.org or 415-282-3055).
It's been a summer to remember, hasn't it? Earlier this month, we went to hear classic British prog-rock band Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson play the War Memorial Opera House, performing both his album-length work Thick As a Brick in its entirety for the first time since 1972, as well as his new album, Thick As a Brick 2.
With the first TAAB, one long, musically integrated piece, Tull helped broaden rock beyond limitations of the short-song format. Back in the 1970s, this was known as a "concept album." The 2013 concert turned out to be a theatrical showpiece, complete with video segments and vivid musical accompaniment (bassist David Goodier, keyboardist John O'Hara, drummer Scott Hammond, guitarist Florian Opahle). British singer Ryan O'Donnell also dashed around stage singing portions of the lead part, its high notes now falling somewhat out of Anderson's range.
"So! Where the hell was Biggles /when you needed him last Saturday?/And where are all the Sportsmen/who always pulled you through?/They're all resting down in Cornwall/writing up their memoirs/for a paperback edition of the Boy Scout manual."
TAAB2 answers the question, Whatever happened to Gerald Bostock, the fictional poet prodigy credited with writing the lyrics for TAAB? Anderson says writing the sequel gave him a chance to wonder "how we baby-boomers look back on our own lives, and feel an occasional 'what-if' moment. Might we, like Gerald, have become instead preacher, soldier, down-and-out, shopkeeper or finance tycoon?" Or flautist rock star?
The painting reproduced here is a work by Bay Area artist Donald Bradford, from his solo exhibition Love & War now showing at Andrea Schwartz Gallery (545 4th St., SF, through July 26). The gallery explains, "Growing up around the family-owned wedding chapel, Bradford's paintings reference his childhood memories of love and marriage. His childhood home functioned as a full chapel, set just off the kitchen, complete with pews, an organ, and stained-glass windows. The chapel was open 24 hours, and couples waiting to get married often spilled over into the living and dining rooms of the house. Bradford's paintings are influenced by the themes of love, weddings, and marriage. In his latest series, Bradford adds elements related to gay marriage. His paintings of bulletin boards and love letters blend images of traditional marriage with the iconography of social equality." It's an art offering that's timely indeed.