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The CD liner notes by Mimi Kramer
Traveler's Thanks

A 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 When 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.
(He also said, "Five words that pop into my head:  I could kill all of you!"  "That's six", someone pointed out.)

Actually, 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 of laboratory-theatre-cum-frathouse.

From 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.

The 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.

Not 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.)
Nor 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.

Rusty out 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.

The 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.

-Mimi Kramer

Dear Rusty,
Did 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.
All my love,