The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Where's The Magic, Sam?

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Sam Shepard is the playwright/ movie star that everyone loves. He looks cool, and he's a real, rugged man's man who writes "meaningful" plays. Debuting last month at San Francisco's Theater on the Square is the latest production of Shepard's play "The Late Henry Moss." It stars some heavy hitters from the film and TV world -- Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, James Gammon and Cheech Marin -- and reunites Shepard with the Magic Theater. The other night (Wed., Dec. 6, 2000) I spent a few hours in Sam's world. It's not a pretty place. He's got two hard-drinking brothers (Penn as Ray; Nolte as Earl) and Henry Moss (Gammon), their abusive, longtime alcoholic father, now dead. There's a lot of yelling and bickering. The acting, particularly by Penn and Nolte, is powerful. It's really something to see these particular stars, up close, walking the tightrope of theatrical performance without a net. Despite some sharp dialogue, though, in the end the play left me wondering about the point of this. After all, we know that a family with an abusive, alcoholic father often ends up dysfunctional and, well, fucked up. And that the sons of the father often follow in the father's footsteps. So where's the revelation? Where's the magic Sam Shepard twist, the new insights to make this more than just a rehash of the same old same old? Uh oh! Sam didn't have 'em! It seemed like maybe the cast had also realized that this wasn't the kind of play that will go down in history. Sure, they delivered professional performances, moving at times, but they seemed to be holding something back. It was as if they were participating in something hip and edgy because Sam had asked, and because of the cred for their careers, but their hearts weren't really in it -- 'cause it's a pretty good play, but not great. All the star power in the world can't hide that.

Datastream: Just when I'd pretty much given up on tribute albums, along comes Rage Against the Machine's Renegades, in which one of the great rock bands of our time covers songs by the MC5 ("Kick Out the Jams"), Eric B & Rakim ("Microphone Fiend"), Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force ("Renegades of Funk"), Bob Dylan ("Maggie's Farm"), Devo ("Beautiful World") and a bunch more -- and they make every one of the songs their own. In addition to the 14 studio tracks listed on the back cover of the CD, there are two live tracks recorded during the group's performance outside the Democratic National Convention this year: "Kick Out the Jams" and "How I Could Just Kill A Man" with Cypress Hill guesting. Members of the band, along with producer Rick Rubin, talk about the songs at the Rage Web site. Here's guitarist Tom Morello, who explains that when he moved to L. A. in 1986 he had to work a "shitty Job," on "Maggie's Farm": "'s a real anthem for everyone who has suffered in a soul-crushing job with a cruel boss. Sometimes I'd be painting in an office with no ventilation for months at a time with just a cruel, cruel boss and you spend like your 15 minutes of your break just in the restroom just shaking, going, 'I am a man, I am a man.' You know, it's a song for everyone who realizes that they are more than the shitty job they are stuck in. Much like the character, the thing, you know, I had a lot of ideas in my head and it was a shame the way they were making me scrub the floor. So this song is both -- is sort of a personal vindication as well as a great rocking track."

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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