Happy New Year!

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This hasn’t been much of a year for me.  It’s been an unbelievably bad year in terms of politics and celebrity deaths.  I’ve been sad for pretty significant portions of the year.  I’m hoping for something else in 2017.  And I think old Ludwig had the right idea on this one.

I wish for nothing but joy for everyone this year.  I’m not holding my breath for it, because that would be childish and silly.  But I wish it nonetheless.  Joy and peace and happiness and love.  Absolutely.

“Rothko Chapel”

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Considering that I used to go visit my dad in Houston pretty regularly when he lived there, I am saddened that we never went to the Rothko Chapel.  In my own defense, I had not yet discovered the brilliance that was Mark R0thko and his use of color block paintings to convey transcendental emotions.  In this sacred space are the final paintings Mark Rothko completed before his suicide, a series of black tones on huge canvases.  You would think they would be sorrowful and empty, but everything I’ve seen of the chapel conveys something else.

Rothko’s work brings a peace to my mind that nothing else has ever done.  It is the closest I’ve ever come to true silence in my head–no mean feat given the hamster wheel consistency of my brain.  These paintings are to me the Zen concept of nothing mind in color.  And the light, oh my stars, the light!  I will never know how he did it, but Rothko captured light in a way that I cannot describe as anything but pure.  Even his darkest paintings–and those in the chapel qualify–convey a sense of the depth and gradation of light.  The dim brightness of the sunrise, the gentle wash of the sunset.  It’s all there, and it is a miracle.

So imagine my surprise and joy when I found out there was music composed to accompany the Rothko Chapel paintings.  The chapel opened not long after Rothko’s death, and they commissioned his friend Morton Feldman to compose a piece.  It is perfect.  I don’t mean perfect as a piece of music, although I think it is very, very good.  I mean that is matches these paintings perfectly, complimenting their monochromatic atonality and diversity, creating a space for meditation and quiet while simultaneously honoring their spirituality.

I’ll get back to Houston one day and see the chapel in person.  Until then, I can listen to it.

 

“Ode to Joy” (sort of)

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Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is one of the single most incredible musical achievements.  Ever.  It is the crowning moment of the Ninth Symphony, and possibly of his entire career.  It is stirring and inspirational and utterly breathtaking.  This is not that version.

I was thinking that it was time to post a little Muppet music, and did a search on YouTube for something fun.  I had originally wanted something from one of the classic Sesame Street albums I’d had as a kid, Bert & Ernie Sing-Along, and there were a couple of good moments from that.  But honestly, that’s an album that actually needs to be heard as a whole; if someone had posted it in its entirety, then I never would’ve done a search.  Which would’ve been a shame, because then I wouldn’t have seen this little comic wonder featuring everyone’s favorite lab assistant, Beaker.

This made me smile like not many things do, a smile of pure uncomplicated joy.  Innocence and happiness.  The fun of being a kid, or a kid at heart.  That’s what Muppets will do to you.  It’s also what “Ode to Joy” will do to you, except for maybe the kid part.  It is music that means to uplift your soul, and Beethoven accomplished that quite nicely, thank you very much.  But this version also makes it something that makes you laugh.  And there’s nothing more uplifting than a laugh just when you need one.

 

Freaky Repost: Einstein on the Beach

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There are still tickets available for this.  I’ve been so topsy-turvy lately, I just now checked for availability.  Maybe it’s time to call the BFF.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that the Los Angeles Opera will be performing Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s 1976 opera Einstein on the Beach as part of their new season.  Now, I’ve been reading a lot about Glass in Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, since those few years were formative for him.  I’ve been intrigued about the descriptions of Glass’s minimalism, but I’d really never heard anything by him.  I just know him by reputation, so I figured this announcement was further cosmic reinforcement that maybe I ought to give Glass a chance.

Minimalism is a style of music that relies heavily on repetition, and Philip Glass is considered one of the masters of it.  I can understand why people would find his work boring or difficult; this stuff is not for the faint of heart or the easily bored.  But there is something compellingly hypnotic about this music.  The repetition forces you to pay attention.  Every change in tone or rhythm is amplified–you simply notice everything.  But it’s lulling as well.  You get caught up in the repeated mantras and notes that when something does change, you’re startled out of yourself.  Another interesting aspect is that the repeated words begin to seem like they’re a foreign language.  There’s clearly something deeply unique happening here; there’s also something deeply strange.  What I think Einstein on the Beach accomplishes is to take the everyday world and make it new.  This is to music what Modernism was to Literature, what Cubism was to Art: a new way of seeing.  There’s also a very Zen quality to all of it, which appeals to me greatly.  If I can find anyone I think will be able to handle it, I think I’d like to go see Einstein on the Beach when it premieres in October.

“I Am Woman”

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It’s still today here, so I’m not missing my regular post.  It won’t be tomorrow for about two hours.  But I apologize for being late.  Like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

I did take some time to unwind and watch an episode of American Masters on PBS about the great Billie Jean King.  A lot of people only remember her for that stupid “Battle of the Sexes” match with professional blowhard Bobby Riggs (he was a good tennis player, but his ridiculous stunts eclipsed that fact).  But she was responsible for a lot of the advances women made as athletes in the tennis world and beyond; they named the complex where they play the U.S. Open the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, fer cryin’ out loud.  She is an icon for women’s and gay rights.  She also played a pretty mean game of tennis.

Anyway, they played Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” during the show.  It’s a song that was hugely popular, and became sort of a theme of the Feminist movement of the 70s, but it gets ridiculed today.  What struck me was not how cheesy it was (although it is kind of cheesy), but how good it was.  It’s anthemic and empowering.  And I think maybe we need to give it a listen again, because it’s still relevant today.

“Yes, I am wise, but it’s wisdom full of pain.  Yes, I’ve paid the price, but look how much I’ve gained.  If I have to, I can do anything.  I am strong.  I am invincible.  I am woman.”

Just One More . . .

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My father had a wide and varied taste in music, everything from Rachmaninoff to “Far Away Eyes” by the Rolling Stones.  I learned to like some of it, and tolerated the rest.  Although it was really hard to be tolerant when you’re a 16-year-old girl being forced to sit and listen while your father blasts this throughout the house at top volume.

Richard Wagner was never to my taste.  He’s just a bit too bombastic.  But Daddy loved this, so I’m posting it in his honor.  I’m even listening along right now.  I figure one more time won’t hurt.  As long as I keep the volume at a moderate level, anyway.

May the 4th Be With You!

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Oh, come on!  Y’all had to know I was gonna go there.  If you didn’t, you clearly don’t know me as well as you think you do.

I decided not to risk the wrath of the combined Evil Empire of Lucasfilm-Disney, and didn’t even try to find the opening credits from one of the films; that’s just more trouble than it’s worth.  But this clip of John Williams conducting my favorite film theme of all time with the Boston Pops, one of the best orchestras of all time, is pretty fun.  I really love this music beyond reason.  I sometimes even find myself getting a little teary-eyed over it.  I always, always smile when I hear the opening.

I was 8 when Star Wars came out.  (I refuse to add the subtitle, since when it came out, the title was simply Star Wars.  If you refer to that, everyone knows what you’re talking about.  If they don’t, then they’re either way too obsessed with the movies, or they were born sometime in the last decade.)  Initially, I didn’t want to see it.  My choice for the family trip to the movies that week was Close Encounters of the Third Kind (also an awesome movie); I even called my aunt who’d seen it to ask if it was an okay movie for kids to see, in an effort to convince my parents that we should see that instead.  But Mom and Dad’s minds had already been made up, and we trekked off to our local movie house to see Star Wars.  I’ve never been happier to be overruled.

I was the perfect age for this wondrous adventure.  At the time (long before Lucas started tinkering with it), Star Wars represented the pinnacle of special effects.  They even gave it a special Oscar for the hard work of all those technicians (but nothing else, damned Academy).  Sure, the dialogue was kind of cheesy, and some of the costumes and sets seemed a little cheap (hey, they had to cut the budget somewhere).  But the story was classic: the hero’s journey.  George Lucas was highly influenced by the work of Joseph Campbell, so it made perfect sense that he based his masterpiece on the classic archetypes of Western culture.  The following sequels added more depth and complexity to all the characters, but they were fully formed and compelling.  The actors fit their roles so beautifully, it’s hard to imagine anybody else even auditioning for the roles.  It was enchanting.

It still is.  Everything about it seems a little dated now, but I still get happily lost every damn time I watch the original movies.  When I was out of work back in the early 90s, I watch my VHS copies constantly, at least one a day.  I’ve bought the original trilogy at least three times (possibly four, I’ve lost track of how many copies are floating around my house).  It’s money I’ve never, ever regretted losing.  For many people in my generation, Star Wars represents a defining moment, possibly the defining moment.  We might be the first generation that has a lower standard of living than our parents, but we’ve got Luke, Leia, and Han.  That’s gotta count for something, right?