lot of thought went in to naming this CD. Not the "Sweet Appreciation"
part: that phrase, from the song that inspired the evening, was always
a given. The question was, what should come after it. How to
capture the essence of what turned out to be crowning event of an entire
Broadway season and possibly the greatest party of all time: the
Worlds Collide black-tie surprise pre-birthday bash for Rusty Magee
that took place at the West Bank Cafe in New York City on May 19th, 2002.
Tribute seemed imprecise and ineffectual, gala too formal. For a
while there was talk of calling the CD Sweet Appreciation: The
Calumny, The Lies, The Deception, which was one of the things Rusty
said when he walked into the West Bank at nine o'clock that night and found
250 of his oldest and dearest friends standing and applauding.
also said, "Five words that pop into my head: I could kill all
of you!" "That's six", someone pointed out.)
there were only 100 or so people on their feet upstairs. The other
150 were below in the Laurie Beechman Theatre, the performance space where
so many New York performers got their start back in the early Eighties,
when Steve Olsen, Restaurateur Extraordinare and the West Bank's proprietor,
turned it over to Rusty, Lewis Black, and Rand Foerster to run as a sort
Lewis' gracious opening remarks it will be clear that a lot of the old
West Bank crowd was there that Sunday night. But there were representatives
of just about every other creative group Rusty's ever been involved with
there too, as well as people from every conceiveable period or area of
his life. One of the amazing things about Rusty is the sheer profusion
of friends he has and the number of disparate words his universe encompasses.
The object of the party was to bring them all together-hence the idea of
calling it When Worlds Collide.
whole thing came about because of a song Rusty had written for a musical
adaptation of Spoon River Anthology that Moonwork had done that spring.
A setting for a Walt Whitman poem called Thanks in Old Age, Alison
had fallen in love with the song, and, sitting around one night with Max
Torres, Rebecca Luker, and Gaylen Ross, she'd got to talking about how
beautiful it was, how it surpassed anything Rusty had ever done before.
And she started fantasizing about putting together an evening of Rusty's
work. The talk got wilder and wilder, and as the drink flowed, the
daydream got more and more elaborate-putting out a CD; doing it as a birthday
surprise; getting people there from every area of Rusty's life; filming
the whole evening. One thing led to another, and in the end that
was exactly how it happened. Steve Olsen made the West Bank available
and Alison got Rebecca and Mary Testa to join her in performing a cycle
of Rusty's songs. She got Lewis Black to host the evening and Chris McGovern
to provide piano accompaniments, and Nancy Giles and Cindy Kaplan organized
a late show along the lines of the old wildly popular Midnight Free Shows
at the West Bank had always been famous for. And Gaylen Ross brought
in her crew to film the event. What no one could have predicted,
of course, was that Rusty himself would get up onstage and improvise a
brilliant little one-man show.
everything that happened that night is on this CD. (Among the things
you miss is Steve Olsen's opening salvo, where he reassured the audience
that he, Rusty, Lewis, and Rand are all technically still fire marshals
and, glancing around the room, pronounced with grim satisfaction that they
were definitely over capacity." Nor do you hear Nat Magee chirping
"Just us kids!" when he walked into the restaurant.)
do you really get a sense of the full sweep of Rusty's work and the unique
combination of warmth and wit that informs it. How could one, though,
with nothing from the score for Ubu Rock, or any of his settings
for the Moonwork production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and What
You Will, his hymn to Feng Shui, his cultural history of the LP, or
his explication de texte of the 1970's father-and-son songs? What
chiefly defines the Rusty Magee ethos is the continuous layering of love
upon mockery and mockery upon love. It's a non-stop zigzag of moral
and emotional experience: music that elicits deep feelings juxtaposed
with lyrics that recognize the folly inherent in whatever that feeling
is. It's this quality in Rusty's work that makes you want to laugh
and weep wildly at the same time and make you feel like you could.
of context is only really half the story. Which is why it's such
a hell of a thing that he was in the form he was that night. From
the spontaneous portion of the evening, something of the inherent doubleness
in his nature comes across. You hear it in the popular song medleys
he concocts hat have you singing softly one minute and blushing fiercely
the next, in the half-naughty, half-sentimental patter between songs, in
the faux-elegiac musical account of his life thus far, and most of all
his mind-blowing No-Reason-At-All-To-Sing-The-Blues Blues, with
its glancing references to cancer and the recent death of his brother Bobby.
other thing I think you hear on this CD is the doubleness of the meaning
of that phrase "sweet appreciation" and the reason Alison had such a tough
time following it up. We all thought, when we showed up that night,
that we were doing something for Rusty, showing our appreciation of him.
What makes the Whitman poem so beautiful, though, is the reciprocity of
the term. Listening to this CD it's possible to glean something that
none of us really got at the time. That party was really for us.
It gave us all a chance to just sort of sit back and let Rusty's loving
impudence wash over us and, well, appreciate him.
worlds collide? Yes, in sweet appreciation of all that
is past and all that is yet to come. What an amazing experience
it was to here and see all that you have become in your 46 years
of this earthbound journey. I think that this sweet appreciation
opportunity was a moment in time when it stopped for all of
us to relish where we have been, and open the doors to what
is yet to come-this time, actively in each other's lives and
dreams-for a second, we paused, we appreciated each other for
the roles that we have all played in our individual dramas-so
that we can move into the second half of our lives more full,
more loved, more aware amd more sure of where we go next.