More Cowbell


There has been a lot of hand wringing, panty bunching, and knicker twisting about Clinton’s loss in 2016 (as well as the failure of several Democratic candidates to win statewide races, mainly Senate races, in swing states).

First, let me say that serious ‘post-mortems’ are absolutely necessary after elections (win or lose) and, as Democrats, we need to do the same. And we need to make some changes, no doubt.

But if there’s one thing we learned, it’s the so-called ‘foundational’ models were the most accurate in predicting the outcome (though the national polls were ultimately, correct, if we allow a reasonable MOE, regarding popular vote totals). Nonetheless, Clinton came within a comparative handful of votes in three states in particular (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan) of winning it all.

So what if we allow ourselves to say, we just needed more cowbell in some key regions. That doesn’t mean criticisms are wrong. For example, that cowbell could have taken the form of additional Clinton appearances in those states. Maybe a tweaking of emphasis in the message. A lot of possibilities. But maybe we can chill a little, eh? Doesn’t mean we don’t need to follow the base and the energy which opposition to Trump (who, as president, now owns the GOP) has generated. Doesn’t mean we don’t need new blood. But these are commonsensical. We shouldn’t be freaking out about the future of our party right now.

We just need to make sure we have more cowbell next time.

On a side note, I have seen the Blue Oyster Cult in concert four times and I love that freaking song.

https://vimeo.com/55624839

Emmanuel Ax, Beethoven, Shakespeare


Last week, I cashed in one of my birthday presents – two tickets to see Emmanuel Ax play Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto at the Kennedy Center, followed by a Shakespearean themed program.

This was my second time hearing Ax play and, of course, he’s good; and he really seemed to enjoy playing such a youthful piece. I’m not a music expert and can’t even play the triangle, but it did seem to me that he had some rough moments during the first movement, but then really hit his stride, especially of the middle movement.

When they have stars like this, I wish they wouldn’t put them first, because, after hearing a great pianist play Beethoven, pretty much whatever follows is going to disappoint. I like Berlioz, but if one of his pieces immediately follows Bach’s Passion of Saint Matthew, well… it’s going to be a bit of a letdown, isn’t it?

The three pieces that followed were Erich Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing Suite, Richard Strauss’ Macbeth, and Antonin Dvorak’s Othello Overture. I liked Dvorak the best, but the Korngold was fun. Also, I found out that Korngold wrote the scores to two of my favorite Errol Flynn swashbucklers: Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood!

One of the cool things they did was have two actors who feature a lot locally come out and perform bits from the relevant Shakespeare. I lost the paper that told me who they were, but the man was someone I had seen in many, many plays at the Folger Shakespeare Library (off the top of my head, I’ve seen him in District MerchantsTwevlth NightRosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Mary Stuart. He got a great presence and a delicate comic touch that works even better, because he himself is such a big guy.

The Nickelback Theory Of Downballot GOP Candidates


Imagine you are the opening act for a popular band about to go on tour. Now, their most recent album hasn’t done very well, but they have been around for a while and one bad album won’t be keeping the fans away.

Unfortunately, they are touring at the same time as another popular band. But, you think, we are still going to get plenty of people coming to our shows. Also, even though we are only the opening act, we have our own fans who will come to see us, even if they aren’t very excited about the headliner.

And then it happens.

The headlining act announces that, for this tour, instead of playing their hits, they will play nothing but Nickelback covers.

So, sure, in some locales, where there is not much competition for entertainment dollars, you will still do okay, but basically, you are about to get your clock cleaned.

And you can tell yourself that you still have your fans, but your fans have just found out that you are touring with a Nickelback cover band and they’re going to think that you must a Nickelback fans, as well, and they ain’t coming to see you anymore.

The opening act, of course, is a symbolic of downballot GOP candidates and Trump is the Nickelback cover band.

 

‘The Flame Of Life’ By Gabriele D’Annunzio


I bought this book in complete ignorance of anything buy visual and tactile beauty; as a physical object. But I wasn’t wrong in guessing that I would enjoy what would surely be some wonderfully overwrought prose.

The plot is wafer thin (Monty Python reference) and driven by issues and concerns that seem positively ridiculous. A dionysian poet named Stelio enthralls a lushly imagined Venice with his wild declamations on art and beauty. Among those enthralled a beautiful actress (former courtesan, too?) alternately called Perdita and La Foscarina. Their love (and presumably, their passionate sex, though that is never mentioned nor described) is voluptuously erotic, but it is haunted by La Foscarita’s greater knowledge of impending knowledge. Yes, she is a nearly decrepit thirty-four (I’m guessing the young genius poet is in his mid-twenties). I’ll admit, those concerns pulled me out of the narrative a bit. Maybe if he had been twenty and she was thirty-nine, I’d have seen the problem more clearly… She is also haunted by the memory of a beautiful and, needless to say, virginal singer named Donatella. Poor Perdita believes that Donatella is destined to be Stelio’s life partner.

But it’s not about plot. It’s about lengthy digressions on art and poetry and architecture and Richard Wagner’s death (which bookends the novel; placing the action around the year 1883). It’s about painfully decadent prose stylings that you will either love or that will force you set the book down before the fifth page.

‘Iraqi Nights’ & Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here


On a Wednesday, I saw Dunya Mikhail at the Hill Center, where she was interviewed/conversed with the Post‘s Ron Charles. Sadly, it was the most disappointing of these events that I’ve attended. Whether it was the language barrier (Arabic being her first language and the one she writes in) or something else, the conversation never quite took off. Ron couldn’t seem to get an extended reaction nor dialogue out of her. It didn’t help that she wasn’t very familiar with the English language translations of her poetry that Ron was reading from.

I read her collection, Iraqi Nights and enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. The idea that this was a poetic take Iraq’s travails through the lens of The Arabian Nights never quite came through and some of the poems bordered on being just pithy lines.

On the following Saturday, I dragged a semi-reluctant friend for an event honoring the ninth anniversary of the bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad’s ‘Street of Booksellers.’ Poets and musicians, including Dunya Mikhail, were there.

Unfortunately, there was a solid forty-five minutes of self-congratulatory back slapping by some white people that was just… too much.

This is Washington, DC and the year 2016 and we don’t need to be told that Bush’s invasions were colossally incompetent, misguided, and deceitful farces not worth the tiniest amount of the blood and treasure they cost. If you really want to drive this idea home, though, the best way would be to get out of the way and let the Iraqi artists speak through their works.

The last part of the event was a musical performance that sounded almost liturgical in chant-like signing accompanied by an oud and a piano (and wind chimes), but I left early, not because the music wasn’t wonderful (it was), but because those ridiculous opening ceremonies/lectures/chidings/backslappings had left a wound that festered and drove me out.

Fortunately, I did get to see a short video while I was still there – a video the showed the pointlessness of the opening lectures by older white people. It was a simple video. Some footage of the street, including archival footage from before the bombing, but mostly it was just focused on a man who owned a cafe on the street and had lost four of his five sons and one grandson in the bombing. Absolutely heartbreaking, especially once you realized that when he was talking about his son missing a leg, he wasn’t saying that his son was now crippled. He was saying that they couldn’t find all of his son’s body parts. When a man is telling you that story, you don’t need an anti-war lecture.

Power & Pathos & Trios


Next weekend, I’ll start working for my better half for the foreseeable future, which made using Sunday well more than usually important. At the National Gallery of Art, an exhibit called Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World was going to be winding down and having blithely ignored numerous opportunities to see it, today (or, rather, that day) needed to be the day.

00309897001_HI’m sorry, but I was disappointed. There were some wonderful pieces (a weary Herakles leaning on his club and the head of a poet), but only one that was truly powerful (a statue of the god Pan) and more than a few ‘meh’ pieces and, certainly, I didn’t feel much power nor pathos (besides alliteration, what was the ‘pathos’ supposed to be?).

You still try to get a nugget of something interesting from any exhibit and for me, that was the head of a poet. It was labelled a poet because his hair was longish and his beard full and those were the signs of a poet. philosopher, or intellectual (and, in the late ancient world covered by this period, an intellectual would frequently also be a philosopher and poet; there wasn’t so much parsingDancing-Faun of the difference back then). The idea was that they were less influenced by vanities, so let their hairs grow out. So, the idea of the shaggy poet or thinker wasn’t an invention of Parisian bohemians, nor Greenwich Village poets, nor any other group from the last two thousand years, but dates all the way back to ancient Greece.

After finishing the exhibit, I kept wandering around the museum, stopping in some galleries to look at some nineteenth century landscapes. I walked towards one of the atriums when a woman walked in front of me, handed me a program and asked me if I was here for the concert.

Naturally, I said, yes.

Apparently, the National Gallery of Art had spent the previous two days doing several concerts a day in order to complete a cycle, as it were, of Beethoven’s trios. This particular concert would be his final string trios (which were actually early works; he moved on to string quartets after composing these).

The first one was a string trio in G Major and the players ended the trio so abruptly that we (the audience) was stunned into sudden and sustained applause. It was a very odd moment, as if a long silence had been ended by an invisible man suddenly clapping in our ear. We kept to our feet not because the performance was good (though it was), but because shock impelled us.

The second trio, in D Major, had a menuetto as its penultimate movement and I just loved it. Beethoven should have done more dances.

The third, in his famed C Minor key, was surprisingly upbeat for a chamber piece in a minor key.

The acoustics felt good, which is not always the case in there. The sound was clear and very, very bright, with the inevitable echo being an inconsequential factor.

Just an awesome coincidence that I walked in on it.

Chinese New Year Concert


The Shenzen Symphony Orchestra played at the Kennedy Center for several nights of performances to ring in the Year of the Monkey. Honestly, I bought the ticket because it was immensely cheap, but it turned out to be a great night.

ShenzenSome music based on regional folk music by Yuankai Bao was a great listen. Bucolic, pastoral, folksy. Very enjoyable. The Yellow River Concerto by Xinghai Xian left me a little underwhelmed though.

Violinist Dan Zhu was absolutely amazing. He played in Carmen Fantasie (if you’ve heard that famous Carmen music on NPR, it probably wasn’t from the original opera, but one of two orchestral arrangements on themes from Carmen; this was the one by Franz Waxman) and his bowing was wonderful powerfully and masculine.

The Peony Pavilion is a Kunqu Opera. I’d never heard of it either. It’s something between western opera and Chinese opera and musical theater. Some of the singing by the male lead was done in a falsetto that sounded odd to my ears and to many of the other in the audience (but that doesn’t excuse some of the juvenile responses; thought folks get a pass for giggling at some of the lines: Let me shower your thirsting flower is not subtle innuendo).

And then there were excerpts from Turandot. Even if you’re not an opera fan (and I am an opera fan), it’s hard not to be moved by a stirring, romantic aria by Puccini. It goes right to your heart and makes you want to stand up and pour it all out.