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The Good Life:
I'm Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. Kasher

The Good Life's Tim Kasher enters the second act of his creative life.
story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: October 11, 2007

The Good Life
w/ Georgie James, Zookeeper
Oct. 13, 9 p.m.
729 No. 14th St.



The Waiting Room is an old-time lounge reborn, a retooled regulars bar that's been fixed up by a couple of young, edgy entrepreneurs, and is now a hot music venue in one of the hottest music scenes in the country. The scene inside is chaotic bordering on riot, the room jam-packed with 20-somethings out for the evening. Some of the men are dressed trendy and hip like an Urban Outfitters catalogue come to life; others wear traditional jeans/T-shirt/sneakers, looking purposely dumpy, while all the women are dressed to the nines, conscious of every eye on them. All are drinking, almost all are smoking. A haze hangs over the room, making the spots on the empty stage glow like fog lights. Suddenly the house music drops and a stir of excitement makes its way through the crowd, which suddenly erupts…

The opening credits slowly present themselves on screen as the band, The Good Life, takes the stage.

ROGER, a shortish 20-something dude, carries a pair of drumsticks. He's the kind of guy who's always smiling because there's always someone around that he knows. He acknowledges a couple friends in front of the stage with a nod, his dreads cascading over his plaid-shirted shoulders as he climbs behind the drum set.

STEPH, a cute woman in her late 20s or early 30s with short hair reminiscent of a young Liza Minnelli or an Easter Parade-era Judy Garland, wears an A-line skirt and colorful top, and grins like someone who works a service job during the daytime and actually likes it. She picks up her bass and drapes the strap over her shoulder.

RYAN, a bookish, late-20s early 30s guy, he's thin and wears glasses. With his beard, thinning hair and rigid posture, he looks like he should be wearing an Amish hat; his western-cut shirt hangs untucked over his denims. Quiet, polite and unassuming, he saves it all for the stage, though he never looks comfortable doing it. He pokes at pedals with his foot while he tunes his guitar.

TIM, the last to climb on stage, the singer, songwriter and leader of the band, he looks more like someone you'd find standing on the 30th St. off-ramp holding a cardboard WILL WORK FOR FOOD sign. Wearing an untucked, wrinkled dress shirt, jeans, and a 5-day-old beard, he doesn't acknowledge the crowd at all, instead smiling at his band mates, saying something that can't be heard off stage while he also fiddles with knobs on his guitar. He leans forward to the microphone:


Hello everybody.
(pauses, the crowd cheers).
We're all in this together. We can get through this together.

The comment seems cryptic, but somehow, the crowd understands. He plays the opening chords to "A Little Bit More" off the new album, and then Roger kicks in on drums and the song begins…





Two weeks later, the band is on the road, in Boston. Their van is parked next to The Middle East, the night's venue, and TIM, as in Tim Kasher, stands outside and talks on his cell phone to a music journalist in Omaha, a town he'll be passing through this Saturday night for a gig at Slowdown, another of the city's hot music venues.

"We're happy to report that the record is being well received," Kasher says while a parade of sirens blares in the background, "and for a Good Life album, that's a real shock. It's hit a lot higher than anyone expected."

Help Wanted Nights is the band's fourth full-length, and arguably, their best. According to Saddle Creek Records executive Jason Kulbel, the record sold 3,383 copies during its first week, more than first-week sales of the band's 2004 release, Album of the Year. "That's great, given the state of the industry," Kulbel said, adding that few records these days -- whether on Saddle Creek or not -- outsell their previous releases during the debut week. The album also marked the first time that The Good Life broke into the Billboard 200, clocking in at a modest #194.

Could the album's sales have anything to do with Kasher's movie?

See, Help Wanted Nights is actually a sort of soundtrack to an unproduced script of the same name. Written a few years ago by Kasher, it's the first script that he's actually tried to get produced. Now living in Los Angeles for reasons that have nothing to do with the film industry, Kasher seems to be on the verge of seeing the script come to life… maybe.

The script's story takes place in the present inside The Sundowner, "a sleepy bar in a small town off a small highway in some desert in Southern California." The opening scene, overlaid with credits, describes Cliff, a 40-year-old loser, placing a handful of letter transparencies on the bar's marquee, spelling out HELP WANTED NIGHTS.

In the next scene, inside the Sundowner, we're introduced to Cal and Berty. Cal (short for California) is a 30-year-old on the lam from Nebraska, running from a relationship gone bad, while Berty is the 36-year-old woman who isn't so much the bar's owner as its captive. Cal's car has broken down, leaving him stuck in town while it's being repaired. He strikes up a friendship with Berty (much to boyfriend Cliff's jealous disapproval), and eventually takes the job at The Sundowner.

The rest of the script, which reads more like a stage play, revolves around Cal's friendship with Berty, Berty's screwed-up relationship with Cliff, and Cal's and Cliff's connection with Keely Aimee Duchamp, a 26-year-old "slender, 'loose' looking woman," who is the mother of bastard son and future baseball star, Christopher (who we never get to see).

Along the way, there's plenty of jealousy and regret, secrets and lies, a little bit of sex, and lots of drinking.

By the conclusion we get to know the characters so well that none of the little twists at the end come as a surprise (well, except for maybe what happens to Cal). Kasher paints a picture of sordid small-town America, with its tangled lives hidden behind the security of its picket fences. Anyone who grew up in rural Nebraska will find it all too familiar, in a disturbing sort of way.

"It's an effort to make a very quiet slice of life experience with something more sensational happening under the surface," Kasher said. "It's based on a lot of interests I have in strangers and meeting people and driving by houses and thinking of the dark secrets that may be happening there."

Kasher doesn't try to hide his literary influences, which include Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee -- two playwrights whose scripts and films he says he studied.

"I love reading stage plays," Kasher said. "During all the studying I did personally on screenwriting, I fell in love with specific people. Mike Nichols, who I loved all along, takes on some great plays, one being Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the other being Closer, which came out a few years ago. The Graduate (also directed by Nichols) is my favorite movie. I admire the sensibility of his films. I've also come to love Mike Leigh, who had some success with Vera Drake and Secrets and Lies from a few years ago. He's someone who I'm really excited about. His films also are written like plays, as far as I can tell."


















"It's an effort to make a very quiet slice of life experience with something more sensational happening under the surface."
























"There's a problem with Los Angeles where there are these callous people who live there. They're covetous of something very shallow and surface -- it's the entertainment industry."

Certainly that's the case with Help Wanted Nights. Kasher said it originally was written for the stage. In fact, early plans called for producing a version at The Bluebarn Theater that incorporated live performances by The Good Life.

"We talked about doing a few different things," Kasher said. "The most extravagant was taking it out on the road as a stage play. But we didn't know how much time it would take out of our lives or how much it would cost. The idea kind of came and went over a few conversations over cocktails."

Eventually Kasher decided to adjust the blocking on some scenes and cut 30 pages of dialogue, transforming the play into a film script. "I was trying to make as short a script as possible to ignite some interest," he said. "Cutting 30 pages mea ns the film won't be two and a half hours long or require extra days of shooting."

With the music already written and recorded, the band decided to go ahead and release it. "We thought we could put out the record and have The Good Life support it, and on the side, I'll push getting the screenplay made," Kasher said.

Omaha Vs. LA

Many thought that Kasher, who was born and raised in Omaha, moved to Los Angeles this past summer to be closer to the film industry.

"I'm really trying to separate moving to Los Angeles and anything to do with screen writing," he said. "Los Angeles was a decision that I made in my personal life, but the common thing is for people to say that I'm living in LA to write screen plays."

Anyone familiar with Kasher and his music knows how ridiculous that sounds. Throughout his career fronting both the respected angular post-punk band Cursive, and his earthier, more tuneful project, The Good Life, Kasher has made waves nationally without having to leave his home town, except, of course, to tour, which he does almost non-stop, bouncing between both projects.

"After spending so many years doing music out of Omaha, I don't want to feel like I'd need to move somewhere else to make movies," he said. Screen writing is a solitary task to begin with, he said, as far as the business side is concerned, "You make contacts talking to people on the phone or meeting them on tour. Really, I moved to LA for the sake of living in a different place."

Los Angeles wasn't even his first choice. He and his girlfriend, Sarah Wilson, originally planned to move to New York City, a town she'd lived in for a few years prior to moving to Omaha. "We just kind of got cold feet," Kasher said. "New York is a city I love the most. I'm really excited about living there and want to savor the idea a little longer. If I hadn't moved to LA now, I probably never would have. I never had an interest in LA."

Sure, there are things he likes about living in Los Angeles -- the weather, the scenery, going to the ocean on weekends. "There are a lot of quaint little villages, a ton of them, actually. It's crazy."

"There's a problem with Los Angeles where there are these callous people who live there. They're covetous of something very shallow and surface -- it's the entertainment industry."

Kasher has managed to avoid that glossy world that consists of equal parts money and ego. "I've been so pampered in the music business," he said. "It's quite unfair to compare putting out records with a grade-school buddy versus working in a huge, high-dollar industry where so much has to do with returns rather than storytelling. That said, I'm meeting people who are just as wholesome as the people in Omaha. You have to sift through a lot things, and I'll probably get burned by it, too. And that's okay."

Missing from LA is Omaha's built-in sense of community and "knowing who I can call to grab a beer with at five o'clock," Kasher said. But since moving to Los Angeles, Kasher said he's assembled a solid team of producers for Help Wanted Nights. Many of them, surprisingly, are long-time Cursive fans. "That's been incredibly handy," he said. "Here and there, people catch wind of the project and want to meet. It ends up that they're Cursive fans and have a profile job in the business."

Still, Kasher admits that any filming for Help Wanted Nights -- if it happens at all -- is a long way away. "We've only had some agents and producers read it," he said. "I'm at the very earliest stages of getting it out. What we need is financiers and a cast. There's so much money involved. Why does it have to cost so much? I'm trying to do something with an incredibly low budget, but it still costs 10 times more than any record I've ever made."

That doesn't mean that he can't at least think about his dream cast. "It wouldn't be anyone that would actually be in it," he said. "I'm a big admirer of Catherine Keener. I imagined her in the role of Berty. I really like Dwight Yoakam for Cliff." I suggest Paul Rudd in the role of Cal, but Kasher says he's too comedic.

The fact is, if the script is ever green-lighted for development -- and then filmed -- the final product may not (and probably won't) resemble Kasher's original vision.

"The people I'm working with are so into not letting that happen," he said. "There's really no goofy, glossy company I'm working with. I've been the one saying I'm happy to have just written it, so why don't we find a director? But they've been pushing me to direct. They say it's more appealing if the overall idea stays similar to its original content. That's awesome, I'd love to do it that way, but I really just want to see something I wrote make it onto the screen."



If it never happens, at least Kasher can be content knowing that he and The Good Life made one hell of a record. With his band -- drummer Roger Lewis, guitarist/instrumentalist Ryan Fox and bassist Stefanie Drootin -- Kasher has taken a simpler-is-better approach, stripping songs to the very basics of melody, counter-melody and rhythm. Each short tune ends simply, concisely, without any over-the-top flourishes.

Taken as a whole, the CD is the least cluttered of anything Kasher has ever recorded, either with this band or Cursive, revealing a level of song craft that all-too-often can get lost in the din.

Kasher's still not sure how the music would be used in the film, though he's suggested which songs should be used where via notations within the script.

For example, at the conclusion of a scene early in the screen play, after Cal tries to explain how he was driven out of Nebraska, Cal almost flirtatiously asks Berty why she wears her hair so long. Is it out of respect for her deceased mother? The resulting conversation is overcast with both a sense of anticipation and longing, as we see the characters drift closer together knowing they're destined to be apart. Here, Kasher suggests the warm, lonely ballad "You Don't Feel Like Home to Me" as the scene fades to black.

At the beginning of another scene -- where Cal and Keely are getting to know each other over drinks, while Cliff and Berty argue about them behind their backs -- Kasher suggests the upbeat, youthful pop rocker "Keely Aimee," that lightens the moment while providing a contrast to the forked dialogue.

Though the music's tone and melodies set the stage for what's about to happen, the lyrics rarely follow the storyline. Instead, the album stands on its own as another collection of Kasher heartbreakers, where the men rarely are in control of the situation, having either just been dumped or are about to be, but never destined for happiness except for that short-lived moment of a one-night stand that precedes a cold-light-of-day reality that it won't be anything more than that. In that context, there is a fitting connection with the script, at least in terms of the overall desperate tone.

"I think it's pretty important to not force the songs onto the film," Kasher said, adding that his notations in the script are merely suggestions. "I can see how the songs and the film would work together, but I certainly don't want to push it."

Strangely, after reading the script, it's impossible not to think of the characters whenever listening to the album, not unlike recalling a music video whenever you hear its music on the radio. Kasher said he also thinks of Cal, Cliff, Berty and Aimee whenever he plays the songs on stage.

"For me, the songs come to life so much more when connected to something visual," he said, "That's how I got into Simon and Garfunkel, after seeing The Graduate; and Aimee Mann after seeing Magnolia. The music became so much heavier."

Film Vs. Music

Those of you wondering whether Kasher could ditch his bands to focus full-time on scripts have nothing to worry about. He says he's not walking away from music any time soon, preferring life on stage more than any of his artistic endeavors. Still, he enjoys the writing process despite its inherent loneliness.

"There's something fairly defeating about the amount of isolation involved in writing," he said. "But I enjoy it quite a bit. I find screen writing to be the most difficult thing I'm doing these days, but it's also the newest thing for me."

After the tour that brings The Good Life to Omaha, Kasher said he'll head back to Los Angeles, where he'll do another edit of Help Wanted Nights as well as work on a new screen play he wrote over the summer. At the same time, he continues working with his pals in Cursive, who will fly to Los Angeles to practice between Good Life tour dates.

Cursive already has written seven new songs since the release of Happy Hollow late last year. Kasher's delicate juggling act between his two bands seems to be much more effortless, compared to a few years ago, when rumors were constantly circulating about the demise of one band while the other was releasing a record and touring the country.

"I don't struggle too much with it these days," Kasher said. "After releasing Happy Hollow, I feel so much more comfortable with Cursive as a band. I've always felt comfortable with The Good Life, but with Cursive, it will continue to be a long, ongoing process to figure out what direction we're going as far as songwriting is concerned. I've been working on Cursive songs and never felt more at ease about it. Having Happy Hollow in our repertoire helps free us up even further to go into new directions. But that's never been a problem with The Good Life."

While Kasher wrote the words and basic chord structures for all the songs on Help Wanted Nights, he said the music doesn't come together without the band's full input. "I bring the songs and they work on their respective parts and build the arrangements," he said. "It all makes sense to me, but somehow it gets misconstrued that I write all the music and they just play what I write, which isn't the case at all."

The success or failure of any Good Life album is a shared experience. That isn't the case, however, with his screenwriting career, and that has left Kasher feeling a bit naked, and alone.

"With the script, the over-arching fear is getting publicity for something that hasn't been made," he said. "That's a positive thing in that it forces me to stick my neck way out there. It makes me feel the pressure of producing results."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Oct. 11, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Top photo, Copyright © 2007 Bill Sitzmann. Used by permission.











"I've always felt comfortable with The Good Life, but with Cursive, it will continue to be a long, ongoing process to figure out what direction we're going as far as songwriting is concerned."