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
Lazy-i: October 11, 2007
The Good Life
w/ Georgie James, Zookeeper
Oct. 13, 9 p.m.
729 No. 14th St.
WAITING ROOM LOUNGE - 11:30 P.M. THREE WEEKS AGO
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
credits slowly present themselves on screen as the band, The Good
Life, takes the stage.
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.
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.
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
(pauses, the crowd cheers).
all in this together. We can get through this together.
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
VAN -- EARLY EVENING
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.
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."
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?
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
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.
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."
try to hide his literary influences, which include Tennessee Williams
and Edward Albee -- two playwrights whose scripts and films he says
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."
an effort to make a very quiet slice of life experience with
something more sensational happening under the surface."
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."
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.
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."
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.
that Kasher, who was born and raised in Omaha, moved to Los Angeles
this past summer to be closer to the film industry.
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."
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
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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."
Published in The Omaha Reader Oct. 11, 2007.
Copyright © 2007 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
Top photo, Copyright © 2007 Bill
Sitzmann. Used by permission.
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."