Friday, September 03, 2004

I am not cool enough for the Bill Evans Trio. I have never visited a
nightclub wearing pearls and gloves. I do not like martinis, or other drinks
defined as "cocktails". I do not smoke. I have never sat in a below-street
club with blue spotlights and a coat-check girl. I have never held hands
across a small round table

There are some recordings that evoke an inescapable sense of emotion.
Mozart's Requiem, for instance, must cloak you in nostalgic melancholy. Some
create a sense of time -- "Eve of Destruction", for instance, will always be
the Vietnam War. But "Something for Debby" creates a sense of place. It can
only be New York. Specifically the New York of black before it was a fashion
statement, ever-honking taxi horns, steam rising from underground grates,
waiters in white coats, and women in red lipstick.

I am not cool enough for the Bill Evans Trio. But I "get" it in a way that I
hadn't ever really listend to jazz before. Perhaps because the multiple
tracks beg for repeated listening and comparison. Why is one version of a
song 15 seconds longer than another? How do three separate instruments
happen to sound so harmonious and yet so distinct? And why have I never
heard this music before?

This is jazz in a way that invites you in for a drink. So my assertion that
I'm not cool enough doesn't stem from the music's treatment of me -- rather
my assessment of the music. The quirky, beautiful, perfectly matched sound
is like something I want to be when I grow up. Unlike jazz that slaps you
with its uniqueness...and reminds you that you will never be a part of it;
this invites you to the party. It's your own fault if you lean against the
wall and feel only slightly like an imposter.

I want to belong to this music. I want to be one of those people
clapping in the background. I want to like drinks with olives in them, and
to close my eyes when the bass gets going. This music should accompany the
perfect romantic dinner at home. It's made to be listened to, closely, but
it won't be offended if it becomes a backdrop for conversation.

This is music to play on the stereo when you take your dream car for its
first ride. Music to cook to, before breaking into a spontaneous waltz in
the kitchen. Music to take you to New York, put you into that smoke-filled
club, and hold your hand across that small, round table.

There's only one problem with this music. I'm not cool enough.
For Fo, with love.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

White Chicks Can't Dance
While watching the closing ceremonies for the Olympics it occurred to me, not for the first time, that I have no culture.

I’m not talking about Chopin-listening, poetry-reading culture, I’m talking ethnic identity culture.

Like many Americans, I’m a mutt. I’m a little French, a bit of Scots, a tiny bit of Irish, maybe even a pinch of Native American. But I’ve never identified with any of those cultures, and so I have no cultural identity. I’m a white chick, and we have no history.

I envy my friends who have tradition. The Passover Seder. The Cinco de Mayo festival. Chinese New Year. I have no childhood foundation of traditional foods (unless you count Thanksgiving), traditional dances (I shall glaze over the years my parents took Disco lessons at the local Rec center), or traditional forms of dress.

I only speak English, much to my embarrassment. I cannot share with others a heritage of music and feasts. And, in spite of being raised Catholic, I don’t have any real holiday feelings – although I do love both the giving and receiving of gifts at Christmas. Especially the receiving bits.

There is something missing in my life, but it’s a gap that I find I am powerless to fill. I’m just not the kind of person who can adopt other people’s traditions just because I want to. It would just feel false, which is not what I’m looking for.

I just wish I had more of a culture. Oh sure, as an American, I can point proudly to jazz and the blues….but little else has arisen that can be called “American,” and that fills me with any sense of belonging. And even those, while among some of my favorite forms of music, hardly compare with what my more culturally rich friends have to offer. When was the last time you saw an ad for “The Annual White Chick Festival?” (And no, Lillith Fair doesn’t count.)

When I’m surrounded by Greek Festivals, Carnival parades, Cherry Blossom festivals, and the other glories of the wonderfully multi-cultural San Francisco Bay Area I must confess to feeling woefully inadequate in the heritage department.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Flip Flop Flap
What am I missing here? The Republicans keep bashing Kerry because he "flip flops." Oh dear. That's dangerous. What we really need is someone who forms an opinion and never lets go of that opinion even when the facts prove that the opinion is wrong. Yes, we can't have someone in office whose mind is open to change, who re-evaluates a situation based upon new evidence, can we? That would be suicidal.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Down with Reality! (TV)
Recently I spent a great deal of time watching NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. It was the most time I’d spent watching network television since the last Olympics. Frankly, I hate the quality of American television, and the ads I saw in-between sports did nothing to alter my opinion.

Whatever happened to scripts? What happened to good writing, actors who get hired for their talent rather than their hair, and plots? What’s so wrong with a good plot?

And what exactly is the appeal of so-called “reality TV?” Tell me, whose reality involves being given a million dollars to live in a mansion with 50 supermodels? My reality isn’t like that.

Real reality TV would be extremely boring. One hour of watching someone grocery shop. A house full of a family doing homework and cooking dinner. That’s reality. Reality has nothing to do with eating maggots, getting engaged to a total stranger, or working for Donald Trump.

When I watch TV, I want to either be entertained or informed. Preferably both. And I see no entertainment value in reality TV. I wouldn’t want to meet these people, so why would I waste an hour of my life watching them on television? And why would I go out of my way to see obnoxious self-absorbed losers when there are so many that I can actually interact with in real life?

I want comedy that makes me laugh because the scripts and the situations are funny, not something that is billed as a comedy simply because it has a laugh-track and a lot of jokes about obnoxious kids. And I want dramas that believe there’s more to life than car-chases and emergency room scenes. I never want to hear the word “stat” again.

I have a brain. I like to use it. I presume others are also quite fond of their brains, and yet American television seems to feel otherwise. Oh sure, there are pockets of intelligent entertainment, thank god for cable, but mainstream television, frankly, sucks.

Personally, I think it’s all part of the downward spiral of American culture. Fat selfish people raising fat selfish children on a steady diet of McDonalds, SUVs, and television programs that teach people that you will be rewarded for lying and backstabbing. Wonderful. Great lessons for our kids, don’t you think.

In an era when the word “hero” has come to mean someone who gets paid $15 million to play basketball it’s no wonder that so much of our entertainment seems to be about money, sudden fame, and the rewards that come from being selfish.

Monday, August 30, 2004

And so I rear my head once more...
I've been silent for far too long, I know, but I'm back. I needed to be isolated for a bit, figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Ever get that way? Like a sick animal that just wants to curl up in a cave by himself. That was me, broke and freaking out about it, trying to get the taste of that awful place out of my soul and wondering what the heck to do next.

So, on to today's thought...

I am a fashion conscientious objector (as opposed to victim), and as such, I’m proud to say that I just don’t get it. I simply do not understand how women can pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of torturing themselves with uncomfortable articles of clothing and footwear that will be out of style in a year. I fail to see the attraction of it all. And, personally, I just cannot believe that I will be mesmerizingly more attractive to the opposite sex if I wear shoes that I cannot walk in, jeans that I cannot breathe in, and sweaters that cost more than a month’s salary.

Nor do I understand the creative rationale behind fashion ads. Why do photographers insist on putting models into situations where the clothing they wear cost more than the entire building? Are derelict warehouses that conjure up the remembered scent of old urine and fresh vomit the natural landscape for hand-tooled Italian leather boots and English cashmere sweaters?

Do $300 dollar bathing suits get shown to better advantage against a graffiti-littered brick alleyway as opposed to, oh say, a beach perhaps?

Don’t they realize that the kinds of individuals who typically haunt these decrepit locales are highly unlikely to have platinum American Express cards – and the kinds of individuals who can easily drop $1000 on a blouse or a pair of shoes rarely find themselves surrounded by rusted chain-link fences, weed-spattered parking lots, and broken concrete?

Perhaps that’s what the “victim” in the phrase “fashion victim” means. Someone who, if they appeared wearing that clothing in that setting, would become a victim. A statistic. A “hey, I’m wearing more on my ass that you own in your whole life, so why not come over and rob me” kind of victim.

It just doesn’t make sense. Oh sure, a few marketeers actually put their models in the appropriate setting. Perfectly air-brushed androids posed majestically against one Hampton or another. Lounging languidly on a yacht. Sipping something frosty on a sun-dappled terrace in the south of someplace.

But all too frequently fashion ads resemble nothing more than crime scene photos, minus the chalk outline. Looking variously bored or miserable, anorexic mutant babes lean poutily against a scarred brick wall. Strong-jawed men, like show dogs, slouch into a chair with ripped upholstery in a tawdry motel room with an acid neon glow. Pseudo lesbian melodramas enacted with a freaky tableau vivant flair in empty and cracked swimming pools.

Like the hidden morality in 17th century Dutch still-life paintings, this emphasis on so-called beauty in the midst of decay seems to serve as a twisted commentary on life. But whereas the Dutch saw the presence of a rotting peach as a reminder of the fleetingness of beauty and the importance of a moral life – here the condemned warehouse seems to say “hey, life is short so you might as well blow an obscene amount of money on killer boots.”

In addition, it adds a touch of class to poverty that further removes the conspicuously conspicuous consumer from the homeless, the hopeless, and the just plain poor. After all, how bad can it be to live in a deserted garage if it’s good enough for Ralph Lauren? And how easy to walk by some hairy, cart-pushing bum when he’s walking past a building that could, at any moment, be filled with well-built, oiled-up young studs in $50 boxer shorts?

Nope, I just don’t get it. And I’m damned glad about that.