Irons in the Fire: A Novel, a Film And Pueblo Christmas Concert
With his role as Tony Luhan in the new biopic Georgia OKeeffe, the publication of his first novel and his annual holiday concert, Robert Mirabal churns with a creativity that is positively combustive.
Running Alone in Photographs, ($19.95, Red Willow Press), chronicles the Taos two-time Grammy Award winners life through the voice of a female protagonist. In the OKeeffe project, he plays the Taos Pueblo husband of Mabel Dodge Luhan, the creative hostess who drew a galaxy of intellectual and artistic novas to Taos, with Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons. The movie is slated to run on Lifetime Television in late 2009.
Mirabals annual holiday show, Pueblo Christmas, pairs traditional carols with his own musings on 19th century history, including the tragic consequences of Manifest Destiny at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday at El Farol, 808 Canyon Road. Tickets are $65 and include a four-course buffet.
Theres storytelling involved, Mirabal said. Theres some unique and wicked renditions. The Native American flute is a minor instrument, so I had to be very clever in my notational style.
The film role came about when a friend alerted Mirabal the producers were considering casting a Hollywood actor as Luhan. Michael Cristofer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for the 1977 play The Shadow Box, penned the script; actor Robert Balaban (director of HBOs Bernard and Doris, and a veteran of Christopher Guests ensemble cast) is directing. Shooting is under way at Ghost Ranch and in Santa Fe.
I havent met my wife Mabel yet; shes Tyne Daly, Mirabal said with a chuckle.
The connection seems eerily symmetrical. Mirabal is a distant relative to Luhan on his fathers side. His grandfather helped to build the famed Mabel Dodge Luhan house in Taos, now a national historic landmark.
(Tony) was good friends with my great-grandfather, Mirabal said. They were from the same society. There were some interesting personal stories about him.
Luhan was already married when he met Mabel Dodge.
There was this really awful rumor about his wife selling her bull to Mabel Dodge, he said. And that Mabel Dodge really took care of her financially.
Mirabal is infusing his portrait of Luhan with a spirit of pueblo authenticity other actors might miss. As Mabel lured a constellation of great minds to her home guests ranged from OKeeffe to D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Martha Graham and Carl Jung Luhan mustered great internal strength to keep pace with the intellectual fireworks.
Tony almost had to be a rock star and create that kind of a persona, Mirabal said. I heard that he sang a lot and that he was pretty humorous. He would tease them a lot. Theres a certain way that Taos men tease non-Natives. Its a flirtatious thing and its done without smiling. And then the smile comes and theyre like, OK, OK.
Mirabal learned to drive a Model T to chauffeur OKeeffe and company around the sandstone cliffs. Multiple Academy Award-nominee Joan Allen plays the great artist.
I have a lot of scenes with Joan, Mirabal said. Its all in the facial expressions. Its her expressions, man the sincerity of that. And its the same with Jeremy Irons. Its a craft and a talent that comes from a higher place.
Ever the Renaissance Man, before his film foray Mirabal spent four years working on the book that would become Running Alone in Photographs. Spurred by a grant from the School for Advanced Research, he kept to a grueling writing schedule from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., starting again at 4 p.m., then working until 10 p.m. He wrote at home on the pueblo, on the road in Japan and in California.
Once I got into it, it had its own energy, its own powerful force, he said. To me, writing is one of the most amazing forms of expression because its so emotionally and physically draining. You realize youre letting go of pieces of yourself.
He billed the book as a novel rather than a memoir because he tells the story through the voice of a woman.
I didnt want to write about me, he said. So I created this character and it made it much easier to go beyond myself. I grew up in an all-women family and it seemed an honoring of the females I grew up with. The little characters, theyre people I knew and Ive embellished beyond that.
The book opens with touring musician Reyes Wind driving into St. Teresa Pueblo to attend the funeral of her grandmother.
She goes up to the mountains and remembers all the things she grew up with the stories, why her mom left her and why her dad left her.
Mirabals own father left when he was young. He lived with his grandparents while his mother worked.
She constantly reaches for photographs in her mind, he added of his main character. The title is based on what we have to do go back to the shadows and bring to light to heal, exorcised with love and light.
I really think that there is a sensitive side to me that was being devalued and thrown to the dirt, Mirabal continued. It helped me lift up a part of myself that needed attention. Ninety-five percent of it is me.
The flutist/composer will return to the stage for a holiday show in Santa Fe with keyboard player and vocalist Paul Fowler. Mirabal researched traditional carols to record his 2007 Pueblo Christmas release.
The majority of the songs were from the 1800s, he said. I wanted to create what was happening in America at the same time everything from slavery to Manifest Destiny to kicking the Indians out of the pueblos. I realized these songs were composed to create a holistic way of living thats a better way of living; to go deeper into ourselves into an interdependent existence.
Mirabal is the winner of two Grammy Awards for Best Native American Albums of the Year (2006, 2008). His 2001 PBS special Music From A Painted Cave remains one of public TVs most popular fundraisers.