This Blog is Stolen Property

Thursday, December 21, 2006

One Man's Journey Through Interfaith Confusion

I was running errands today in my neighborhood and I saw this posted on the sign outside the Congregational Church:

Ideology divides us. Dreams and anguish unite us.

Is it just me, or is that a weird sentiment? Quite possibly true, but the phrasing is just so odd. "Anguish"? Just in time for the holidays...

But I'm willing to cut them some slack, signagewise. Protestants are a minority in my neighborhood (which is mostly Jewish and Catholic), and I've always got a soft spot for the underdog.

But anguish? Couldn't we have something a little more hopeful? Couldn't we get all unite-y without the anguish?

Then, I was walking past the shul, and it has this enormous iron Chanukkiyah outside and all the lights are lit up. And I start to panic, thinking that I've maybe blacked out for a couple of days or something.

But then a car drove by with a giant rooftop candelabra with two lights yet to be lit, and I felt slightly reassured.

These cartop Chanukkiyahs always crack me up, though. But you gotta do something to represent, I guess.

Then I was walking back home, and I noticed that several of the houses that have the year-round yard shrines--you know the ones I mean? the bathtub Madonnas?--don't have any Christmas decorations. That strikes me as odd.

Anyway, Happy Chrismukkah one and all!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Soft Rock

After my last post, I dug out a recording of Idomeneo, to remind myself that it is beautiful and that no one gets beheaded.

That's what I've been listening to all day. So why do I have "Have You Never Been Mellow" stuck in my head?? And does this make me the very whitest person ever??? And also possibly gay??? Have I even heard this song in the last 25 years? How did this happen?


I wonder what the process is by which songs get stuck in one's head. I know I've blogged about this before, but this time it's personal. Fer Chrissakes, this time it's Olivia Newton Freaking John.

Many years ago, in another lifetime, I worked in a bar with the very worst juke box EVER. I mean it--if there's a Hell, and Hell has a jukebox, it would have the same playlist.

When I tell you the The Scorpions was the best selection possible, you'll get some idea. There was no high point. But the lows were just punitive. There was the Andrew's Sisters singing "Beer Barrel Polka." There was "How Much is the Doggy in the Window?" which some of the more ironic drunks would play, and then stand by the tobacco streaked window and bark along with. It wasn't really funny the first time. By the 101st time, it was....well, see above, re: jukebox in Hell.

I was a great employee, honest and hardworking, I really was. But one night I kind of snapped. I opened up the jukebox, pulled the 45 out (45's--days gone by, huh?), and busted it. I just couldn't take the barking anymore.

The really hellish bit, though, was "I've Never Been to Me," [click at your own risk] which was played by either asshole college kids or maudlin floozies who would then tell me that they used to be beautiful.


18 years later and still, STILL, every once in a while I will find myself singing "I moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo..."

I get some funny looks.

So what freakin' brain mechanism lets this happen? This goes against either Intelligent Design and evolution. What would the evolutionary advantage be to wanting to blow my brains out?

"Have you never been happy just to hear your song?" Not this song, Olivia. Not this song.

Just in Time for the Holidays, It's Pointless Sacrilege!

Did you ever see the movie version of Richard III with Ian McKellen? Brilliant! It was a heavily edited script set during WWII in a fascist-sympathizing England. The updated setting worked. The blackshirts provided an interesting context for Richard. More importantly, the update brought out an uncomfortable political truth: that brutality and megalomania are still with us and emerge even in putatively democratic nations. The updating was thoughtful and artistic.

I saw another Richard III at the Globe a few years ago with an all-female cast. It wasn't the least bit gimmicky; it was fantastic. It brought forth how much of the play is about masculinity and the imperative to constantly perform one's masculinity. The all-female cast created a marvellously wry tension that highlighted something important about the play without overwhelming it. It was a suprisingly subtle effect.

Think of Ran, and how the Samurai setting both complemented and reimagined King Lear. Or Throne of Blood with MacBeth. Or Clueless with Emma. Or Cruel Intentions with Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Radically reimagining material can make a powerful artistic statement.

But there has to be something organic and thoughtful about it. Otherwise it just feels arbitrary (I saw a production of Das Rheingold once set in some futuristic wasteland. I still don't know what the point was) or worse, just polemical.

And polemics are fatal to decent art.

Which is why I cringed to hear about the Deutsche Oper's new production of Idomeneo. This opera tells the story of star-crossed lovers and a god who demands a painful sacrifice. It's set in the aftermath of the Trojan War. The Berlin company has chosen to add Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus to the pantheon of Classical gods and--as I'm sure everyone knows--they are all beheaded.

This takes all the subtlety out of the opera. Rather than suggesting that obedience to religious authority can be dangerous or injurious, Deutsche Oper beats us over the head with THE POINT. It's inflammatory without being thoughtful.

Now, I'm not opposed to a using a classic to comment on current event. And I'm not opposed to a little sacrilegious art. But there has to be some thought behind it. Polemicism is the absolute death of art. There's no tension in polemic, which there has to be in art. Part of the tension that drives Idomeneo, is that the painful sacrifice is actually due to Neptune. Is it pleasant? Is it merciful? No, but it's contractual. That's what makes it interesting--the dramatizing of competing sets of values, each of which have some legitimate claim.

I just don't get what the tension is in this production. It's message-y, not artistic (well, I'm guessing, I haven't seen it).

Plus, Buddha and Mohammed aren't even gods.

I wish I were in Berlin, though.