Friday, December 16, 2011

a christmas story

When I was seven or eight years old, me and all my friends wanted G.I. Joes for Christmas. Joe was a toy soldier doll—the one I wanted was black with black fuzz on his head that was supposed to be hair. And on Christmas morning, when we opened our presents, there he was—my new G.I. Joe.

But the real Christmas day toy soldier action was up the street. My friend Keith was probably the loudest boy in the neighborhood. Whenever he opened his mouth, a shout came out. And Keith had a peculiar way of playing with his G.I. Joes. He would pour gasoline on them, set them on fire and then throw them into the air as high as he could.

One Christmas, his parents gave Keith an entire battalion of G.I Joes: not just the dolls, but also G.I. Joe jeeps and tanks and ships. This was a mistake. And by noon on the 25th, Keith had burned, exploded, melted or otherwise destroyed his entire G.I. Joe army. What a show.

I haven’t spoken to Keith in years, but I’ve heard that when he grew up, he joined the navy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Baby It's You (part 2)

(The second part of my latest piece for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung)

Lady Gaga and company exhibit a particularly American perspective: each of them assures their listeners that they are all superstars, gangstas, or in Perry’s case, explosions. Many Americans go through life certain that one day, they will be rich, or famous, or both. For us, being “okay” means being “super.” Normal, unremarkable self-esteem is-- like leaving Afghanistan-- not an option. Put another way, American self-worth is worth more.

Speaking of money, might it be that all of these pop odes to empowerment have something to do with the fact that the US economy is in the toilet, and Americans are feeling, well, a little weak? In desperate times, pop culture often morphs into something more escapist or consoling—think about The Wizard of Oz (1939), or Star Wars (1977). As if in response to the mere suggestion that the dollar is down, Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” practically pole-vaults out of radios, televisions and computer screens, and roars, “We will never be, never be, anything but loud.” To underscore the idea that the USA is back and better than ever, the video clip for the song features images of both Uncle Sam and Rosie the Riveter, the WWII American factory heroine. At times, “Raise Your Glass” seems to be addressed to some sort of outcast “you,” a rebellious, marginalized “nitty, gritty, dirty little freak,” but then Pink, like Ke$ha, switches to the royal “we.” So this, at last, is what truly underlies empowerment pop: Narcissus.

Last April, Dr. Nathan DeWall, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, published the results of a computer analysis of pop music lyrics from 1980 to 2007 which claims to show that the narcissism (and anger) of the form has significantly increased in the last thirty years. Two of the study’s co-authors had already beat him to the punch by publishing the 2009 book, The Narcissism Epidemic. Is it foolhardy to draw generational conclusions from a study of the wit and wisdom of Beyonce, Eminem and the Pussycat Dolls? Yes. Yes, it is. But do take a look at Pink’s video for her second (!) recent empowerment anthem, “Fucking Perfect.” In the last scene, a once-troubled woman tucks her younger self into bed, and gives her a tender kiss on the forehead. The singer intends this to be a song to oneself, a kind of message from the future, when everything will be Okay, Pink pretty, pretty promises.

In one of the few essays to explore why Pink et. al. seem to be hitting the same note, Pitchfork pop critic Tom Ewing made a surprising connection to the recent rise of social media. While search engines like Google can make you feel overwhelmed and lost in a universe of information, Facebook and Twitter make you feel special, unique, even Important. These days, he writes, “We are all born superstars: permanently consulted, endlessly special, but perpetually vanishing into the datamass too.”

This is not a particularly American quandary, but imagine what must run through a poor little pop singer’s head these days when she sits down to write, or in Ke$ha’s case, to text her next song. “How can I please my audience, please myself, and continue to make tons of money?” Which brings us back to that US flag dress she wears in the video for “We R Who We R.” As my Austrian wife is fond of reminding me, Americans are some of the only people in the world who signal their national identity with the word “we.” We Americans do love a good flag dress. In fact, it may be that for us, the only thing more empowering than empowerment is patriotism.

This year, the insightful US journalist and computer programmer Paul Ford published an essay entitled The Web Is a Customer Service Medium. Empowerment pop may only be a sign that popular music is no longer a medium of guitars, slick production and catchy lyrics, but instead, simply a matter of customer satisfaction.

By the way, thank you for your attention. You’ve all been absolutely perfect readers.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Baby, It’s You

(I'm posting the first half of my latest assemblage of potshots and half-baked notions for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. As a subject, especially for US readers who have had to suffer through many, many playbacks of Katy Perry's "Firework," it may seem late. But they say that the best place to watch a parade is from the front and from the rear.)

The American pop star Ke$ha has been called many things, but “smart” is not one of them. Nevertheless, one of her recent videos features a revealing scene, wherein the singer, a fabulous disaster of glittery rags and mis-applied mascara, stops dancing long enough to change into a flimsy US flag “dress.” She then bleats the title lyric to “We R Who We R,” and … jumps off a tall building. It may be the most idiotic fusion of self-affirmation and self-destruction in a music video, ever. Or it may be something else.

Upon first listen, Ke$ha’s song appears to be a hymn to unashamed individuality, to the joy of being young, dumb and quite pleased with yourself. Despite her use of the first person plural, “We R Who We R” is just one in a remarkable string of recent US hit singles which all seem to say to the listener, “You are a beautiful, perfect superstar, everyday, in every way.” From Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way,” US artists have been injecting so much empowerment into the airwaves, it’s a wonder the whole planet isn’t hugging each other. This isn’t entirely unprecedented—who could forget Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All?”--but why is American pop music so decidedly encouraging at this moment in time?

For an answer, we should start with the songs and the singers themselves. And I have to admit that, although I like the way she looks in a cupcake bikini, Katy Perry’s “Firework” is easily the most annoying song in this wave of feel-good schmaltz. Her stut-ut-uttering delivery of the lyric, which builds to a bellow as the synthetic strings soar into the Fourth-of-July sky, is slightly more pleasant than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Ms. Perry has explained the song by saying that, “Everybody can be a firework, it’s just all about you igniting the spark inside of you.” Fine. Why does this sound so much like a cheerleader stooping to reassure all of the unpopular kids that they can, one day, be just like her?

“Firework” is fascinating musically, too, if only because it’s so difficult to discern exactly what is making the sounds we’re hearing—was there an actual guitar, piano or snare drum involved in the production? This is both typical and ironic: almost all of these pop songs about being yourself are—texturally—quite synthetic. The message is, ‘You are a unique human.’ The medium is uniquely inhuman.

Within the micro-genre of empowerment pop, as she does elsewhere, Lady Gaga tries to top everyone. “Born This Way” not only plagiarizes Madonna, it super-sizes her. The song isn’t just unapologetically disco, it’s indestructible-motivational-gay-pride-rainbow super-disco. It could be interpreted as a response to a recent wave of tragic suicides by gay Americans. But although it instructs the listener to “love yourself,” Ms. Gaga has never sounded more like someone else. Which doesn’t mean “Born This Way” isn’t a great song.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Okay I’ve Become That Parent

(Last Thursday, before Anette came home from the hospital, Adinah and V. got into another World War 4. After I waded in and disarmed the insurgents, we sat at the breakfast table and I brokered a treaty. I asked the two of ‘em, “What rules can we have in this house to make things better?” Then I wrote down what they said, and made them both sign it. I signed the damn thing as well. V. decorated the rules with little stickers of panda bears and surfing lizards. Adinah translated the document into German, then made a big sign that reads “Unser Regeln (Our Rules).” We taped the entire declaration up on the refrigerator door. Here are our Rules.)

1) We can be more quiet when Mom is asleep.

2) We can ask Mom what she wants (to do, to eat, etc.)

3) We can clean our room when Mom or Papa asks us to.

4) We will not be screaming at Mom (or Papa) (at bedtime or any other time.)

5) We can disagree, but we can solve our problems by talking about them.

6) We need to be gentle with each other.

7) We will listen to each other better.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Another Exotic Saturday

I dropped by Prosi, Vienna's best international grocery, to buy some taco shells and refried beans on Saturday. The street outside had been blocked off and a stage set up for the Prosi Strassenfest Exotic Festival. I scanned the stands selling food from Zambia and Ecuador, coffee and tea from Ethiopia, and cookies from, um, Poland. I had formed my plan for the day.

I took the subway home, picked the kids up, and got back there as fast as I could.

Just as we arrived, a tiny Indian dancer swept onstage, twirling around in a classical style mixed with a few Bollywood moves and yoga poses. "Watch her hands," I said as I squatted next to Adinah and V. She spun and fluttered them like she was letting loose magic birds.

In short order, we saw a demonstration of a homegrown fusion of African and Shri Lankan dance, then a Viennese Samba troupe, and then a batch of belly dancers with huge, Theda Bara-style capes. V. loved all this boogie. Soon she was swiveling her hips, grabbing her crotch, and giving the world her best Johnny Rotten sneer. This is how V. rocks out. One day, she will be onstage with Justin Timberlake or Lady Gaga, whichever lasts longer.

For about the fortieth time, I asked the girls if they were hungry yet. Adinah gave me a barely enthusiastic, 'Yeah,' and we were off! I steered the posse to the nearest stall, which turned out to be Tanzanian. Adinah is usually a pasta-bread-rice gal, but she surprised me by asking for a spicy beef turnover. I snapped up a roasted chicken drumstick. V. just wanted the sweet vanilla fritters. Uh uh, real food first, I insisted.

We spun over to the Indian booth, and Adinah got her (curried) rice with chapati, which V. also nibbled. I got the spicy chicken and lemon pickles. Ouch. Then V. got those fritters at last.

Then it was henna tattoo time. At that stand, the girl in the sari, who looked like a member of the Upper Austria caste, explained that if she put a design on the girls' hands, they'd have to keep their hands still for two hours. HA HA HA! Also, she only had a dark brown henna, which didn't look like it would be visible on Adinah's chocolate skin. We did it anyway. And just as Ms. Sari finished up with them, it started raining.

We were afraid the rain would wash off the dye, so both girls covered their tattoos as we ran for the subway. Two hours later, Adinah and I scratched the henna off her hand. Underneath was a pretty brown rose.

Then we giggled as we climbed into V.'s bed, where she was already sawing zzzzz's. We scratched off her henna--somehow she'd kept it basically intact--and now she had a nice new rose, too.

It was a nice day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Top Ten Cures for What Ails ye

(in no particular order)

1) Tenderness

2) Chocolate ice cream, preferably something of comparable potency with Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk or Chocolate Fudge Brownie.

3) A good comedy (I'm partial to Austin Powers I, Midnight Run and anything by Charlie Chaplin.)

4) Sea air

5) A walk around the block (or over to the barn, depending on your circumstances.)

6) Talking to a friend (with or without alcohol.)

7) Writing it all down in your journal

8) Music (sad, happy, loud, floatey, whatever you got)

9) Making something: a photograph, a cookie, a baby

10) Understanding

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

No Guilt Allmans

(This is a guest cross-post I wrote for Vampire Blues, a blog which my friend Steve also sometimes writes for. Thank you very much.)

I was a teenage stoner metalhead, and I was a Texas country punk devotee. I’d even listened to a Willie Nelson record or two, but I was never an Allman Brothers fan. No. Hippies with muttonchops “jamming” with the blues was a bridge too far.

Then I met Her. She was a Marxist history major with a bitchin’ bod. When she strapped on more than one gin martini, she was trouble. But before she left me to become a lesbian, she hipped me to the wonder and beauty of the Allman’s “Blue Skies.”

“Blue Skies” is basically two long guitar solos pasted together, with a Walt Disney-damaged lyrical chaser. Duane Allman’s playing would pierce the heart of a goddamn Republican. It is a gorgeous, utterly perfect piece of music.

And for many years after Her, I had no interest in hearing anything else by the Brothers.

Last summer, I was stealing some music from an old Austin punk rock friend, and some Allmans ended up on my iPod. My friend swore it wasn’t his, and blamed a mutual acquaintance who is a New York journalist and jam rock apologist. (I have heard that upstate New Yorkers love Southern rock in general, and the Allmans in particular.) Nevertheless, I vowed to give the muttonchops one more chance.

First I listened to Eat a Peach. I liked it! (Except for the nearly forty-minute “Mountain Jam.” ) I had always heard that this album was the Allman’s masterpiece. I had heard wrong. Peach was actually a stopgap odds and sods collection, released just after Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident as the rest of the band was still reeling from the loss. But it has “Blue Skies,” and it has “Ain’t Wasting Time No More,” one of the best songs ever about not feeling sorry for yourself. Also, Gregg Allman seems to be singing around a mouthful of chewing tobaccey. Somehow this pleases me.

I wanted more, so I got Beginnings, which is notable for being a repackage of two albums with really terrible cover art. The cover of Beginnings is even worse. But the music!

It’s a surprising set, if only in the way the songs shift between breezy and boozy. What really gets me are the headbanging moments, especially two spots where the Band seems to be literally nailing the groove to the inside of your brain pan. The first comes at the climax of “It’s not my Cross to Bear,” and the second, even more nailingly, at the climax of “Whipping Post.” These climaxes build and build until they overwhelm—two piercing, fuck-you-up guitars, two drummers wailing, the notes getting higher and higher. It’s no less slamming than certain Daft Punk tracks—the Allmans just kill with different tools.

As a matter of fact, you’ll probably find the sounds at the end of “Whipping Post”—and that feeling of something that is spiraling ever upward—in plenty of other, very different kinds of music. But I also like the fact that these are songs with a real End. “Whipping Post” climaxes like a Hitchcock film. Sure, non-narrative, ultra-abstract contemporary music with guitars, or electronics, can be good. But in these less-than-narrative times, the climax of “Whipping Post” is deeply satisfying.

“Dreams” is also really, really nice. Like a very hot summer afternoon. Put it on. Grow your own muttonchops.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Want to Rock and Roll All Night and Part of Every Day

An old Austin music scene friend updated her status on Facebook the other day by saying that her eight-year-old son is driving her crazy. He’s playing a KISS CD. A lot.

My first reaction was, “So what’s the problem?’

Then she added that she’s giving him all of her old “hard rock CDs” including some by Soundgarden, the Clash and the Foo Fighters, to try to get him to listen to something ”better.”

So my second reaction, logical for a rock critic, was, ‘Those groups are not hard rock.’

She wound up by saying her kid is not going for her music.


Everybody knows it’s a kid’s job to drive their parents bananas. It’s been that way since at least the nineteenth century, when young Bavarians started telling their folks, ‘Yo, Beethoven is dope.’ What’s more surprising is that my friend may have thought her family would be different.

Years ago, another musician friend of mine proudly announced to me that his sixteen-year-old son was listening to exactly the same music that he did. My friend had a noise band—they built their own instruments, which included electrified drainpipes and two-by-fours with guitar strings. So his teenage son was listening to the Pixies, and telling all his high school friends that hip hop and Christina Aguilera sucked. He was just like his dad. It was one of the creepiest father-son things I ever saw.

Besides, it’s all relative. My kids, Adinah and Ms. V., they love the Kiddie Contest CDs. These feature the music from an Austrian TV show in which a group of irritating rugrats and Celine Dion-damaged teens perform clever remakes of pop hits. One contestant turned Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” into “Handy,” a song about her relationship with her cel phone. Listening to that these last hundred times or so has been better than drinking Drano. But not much.

So I’d love it if my girls discovered “Detroit Rock City.” Or even “Calling Doctor Love.”

But do you see me complaining about Kiddie Contest?

No, you do not.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

the nightlife era

Steve Shelley was in Vienna last night. He’s taking time off from Sonic Youth to play the drums for a band called Disappears . They’re good—a real straight-ahead railroad charge of spiky and spacy guitars—and it was great to see Steve bashing hell out of his kit in a hammerblow sort of way.

I’ve known Steve for about 25 years, so it was fun to visit with him and exchange sightings of some of our more loony rocker friends. He is also an unabashed Classic rock head, so I could (relatively) shamelessly confess to him that I’ve only recently “discovered” the Allman Brothers and well, James Brown. He gave me a few tips about both, then promised he’d send me some MP3s. Oh boy!

I haven’t been in a rock club watching a live band in about a million years, so that in itself was cause for rumination. Everything looked the same: the fanboys bumming cigarettes from each other in the front row, the blond bartendress built like a fireplug, the looks of surprise and pleasure on the guitarist’s faces. The sweat. It’s a great world. I wonder how much longer it will last.

I just don’t know how bands can tour anymore—gotta be so expensive, and to what actual financial or public relations gain? Matter of fact, even local bands must be going extinct. It’s always been a young person’s game, and always financially iffy, but right now? Sheesh, how long can one put off earning a living, just to bring the heavy riffage to a niteklub?

As I watched Steve wacking the toms with the same boyish half-grin he’s always grinned, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to show this world to my daughters?’ But I don’t know if the rock club will still exist by the time they become old enough to enter one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

um, hello again....

I started this blog with the admittedly ridiculous notion of documenting my transformation into a "European." In the last few months, I slowed down then finally stopped posting to it, but not because I've finally, irrevocably, become a Euro-like me. Instead, it's just that, to paraphrase Big Daddy Kane, bloggin' ain't easy.

For instant gratification and quip exchanging, Facebook is better, more zipperless. Maybe Twitter is better still, but I'll never know--I just can't stomach the idea of joining a revolution which could elect Ashton Kutcher king. Magazines are so old hat (so why do I still drop everything else when I have a chance to contribute words or pictures to them?) And having a website is just dopey. (So why am I building another one?)

In short, I am mediacentrically mixed up. If this is an Attention Economy, I've confused my paper money with my small change.

I've also been really fucking busy.

Anyway, I definitely am more Euro-like now. I believe, for example, that lo-cost, hi-quality childcare is a right. I don't drive. I appreciate good bread and smelly cheeses.

But my friend Rich will be glad to know I also still shower or bathe regularly. (He must have had a traumatic encounter with a French person.) And I think about the USA a lot. I miss my homeland terribly. I just don't miss the bullshit....

Speaking of the Tea Party, I was thinking of them the other day as I read The Downfall of Fascism in Black Ankle County. That is a short chapter in the most excellent Up in the old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell. It was writen in 1939, as Americans were really coming to grips with the nature and implications of Nazi Germany. Mitchell documents the very short career of the Ku Klux Klan in his small North Carolina hometown. In just a few pages, he paints a picture of the KKK as hilariously inept and almost pitiable douche-lords, and he goes a long ways towards draining them of all of the fearsomeness they so clearly desire. This is a lesson I hold close to my heart: humor is the Death Star for assholes.

I'll try to remember that when I see pictures of Rand Paul and Governor Rick Perry.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Classical for Dudes, part Zwei

(Here is the second part of my latest outrage. I got hate mail from a conductor in Munich. Mein Gott!)

On the other hand, some of this "classical" music is totally exhausting. For example, I checked out Schostakowitsch at the Wiener Konzerthaus. The Orchester des Mariinski Theaters St. Petersberg, conducted by Valery Gergiev, was playing his Seventh and Twelfth Symphonies. I thought, ’Jesus, there sure are a lot of sounds to be heard at a concert hall.’ It was amazing to be in this big-ass hall—all gold-trim and funky chandeliers—and to be able to hear every little squeak the musicians made. You could hear a tiny drum roll, or a little ripple of strings on somebody’s fiddle--you could even hear if some guy across the room rustled his program. Because everyone was totally silent and listening super carefully to the music! It’s amazing that in the time it took me to write one sentence, the orchestra could go from way-quiet to full-on wailing. It was also amazing how much better people smelled there than they do at a Machine Head concert.

After they started playing “the Leningrad”--which is called that because Schostakowitsch wrote it when there was a war or something going on-- watching the orchestra was like watching a really weird fungus grow. They sort of evolved and shifted, then they boiled and bubbled. The symphony started out sounding like a nice day in Lenin-town, but then it got really agitated, totally ballistic! When a melody from the Allegretto came back at the end of the Moderato, it was all lame and fucked up. Maybe it had a Fatal Accidentato.

Anyway, after awhile, I felt kinda pummeled. I had really enjoyed this concert, but I couldn’t handle anymore crescendos. I thought, ‘That guy with the cymbals needs to stop!’

Finally he did, so I went home. But I had to listen to Iron Butterfly for awhile just so I could fall asleep.

I went back to the Konzerthaus to hear the singer Georg Nigl and pianist Gérard Wyss rock some songs by Mahler, Berg and Pascal Dusapin, who is a guy who is still alive. It was awesome. Nigl can go from honey-sweet to raging bull in about four seconds, and when he bellows, his face gets really red, way redder than Henry Rollins. Wyss was also pretty smoking—it seemed like entire carnival and calvary charges were coming out of his piano. Whenever the two of them paused, the whole audience would exhale.

Sometimes classical music is like a one night stand, because you might not remember any of it in the morning. I thought, ‘No way am I going to be able to whistle any of these songs after the show.’ But I guess that’s okay. Pop music plants hooks in you, but classical is more like art. I’ve gotten used to music that’s like a sledgehammer, but some music is more like a ghost. It bothers you for a while, then it comes back later to bug you some more. And that’s pretty cool.

I’ve noticed that men at the opera houses here like to walk around with their hands clasped behind their backs, like extremely serious monks. It must be contagious, because now I’m thinking I’ve been over-thinking this whole Classical versus Pop deal. Opera and ballet and twelve tone music isn’t more important to Europeans than to Americans. Stravinsky isn’t less important in the twenty-first century than he was in the twentieth. You don’t have to choose between Bela Bartok and Cradle of Filth. That would be like making a movie called King Kong Versus Godzilla. And who would do that?

At the very beginning of his book, which by the way is called The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross relates this scene where George Gershwin came here to Vienna to visit that old sourpuss Alban Berg. Gershwin started to play Berg some of his jams, but then he got all nervous because he was afraid Bergie wouldn’t think his songs were heavy enough. So Berg looks at him and says, “Mr. Gershwin, music is music.” In other words, it’s all good, G.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Classical for Dudes

(Yours truly just published his second article in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung [South German Newspaper]. here is the first part, second part soon to come....)

Some people say that Americans have no classical music tradition. This is not true. We all listen to classical music—classic Beatles, classic Springsteen, classic Clapton. We cherish the meisterworks of the Eagles. “Highway to Hell” is one of our most sacred texts. We love Dance too: the Moonwalk, the Hippy Hippy Shake, the Rock Lobster.
But when Europeans talk about classical music and dance, they mean something else, as I discovered when I arrived in Austria few years ago. They mean strange old sounds. Without electricity. Violins, tutus and mezzo sopranos. Fantastic contraptions, like the Triangle, which I find particularly unnerving. I have always preferred the dulcet tones of a nicely distorted wah-wah pedal.
Nevertheless, I’ve tried to have an open mind about operas and such. My wife took me to the Bregenzer Festspiele—it was a lot like Professional Wrestling. I took in a minor Verdi at the Staatsoper in Wien: at the end of the show, everyone gets stabbed. Just like a Scorsese film. On a lark, I paid for a ticket to the Ballet. I liked it! I liked watching them stand on their pointy little feet. A few days later, one of the ballerinas was fired when naked photos of her appeared in the local papers, but I thought, ‘Wow, now she’s a real star.’
It occurred to me that my American pals who love LaRoux and 50 Cent and Cradle of Filth might be missing out on something over here in Vienna. After a friend asked me to explain the plot of the Tschaikowsky-Pushkin collaboration Onegin, and I broke it down for her (Bookish Hottie meet Gloomy Gus--Gus does a diva act—blood is shed—Hottie says, ‘Later for this’), my friend said, “You ought to write ‘Classical for Dudes.’ “ So that is the title of the article which you are reading.

According to Alex Ross’ book, The Rest is Noise, which is a book that I have actually read, classical music blew up in the twentieth century. It got super noisy and weird. Then jazz and blues and the Beatles and hip hop happened, and people kind of forgot about der Mahler. Alex Ross says that symphonies and operas still matter though, because music is a “continuum.” This may be why I’ve always thought Eric Satie sounded like Brian Eno unplugged, and Krzysztof Penderecki like Sonic Youth with cellos.
But in Austria, on my journey of E-Musik discovery, I have found that there is one key difference between Bela Bartok and Deicide. You can’t do the dishes to Bartok—you really have to listen to every little ‘Kerrang!’ A few years ago, I saw a French orchestra performing in Bregenz. They did a little Beethoven, and I took a nap, but then they knocked out Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” and it pinned me to the wall. The violin players leaned forward like downhill skiers. I didn’t even know why I liked it so much. Later, I found out that Stravinsky himself said, ‘My music is best understood by children and animals.” That explains it.

A standing room ticket at the Wiener Staatsoper only costs three or four Euro, so it’s a pretty good entertainment value. And operas are often more interesting than Kate Hudson movies, even though she does have a nice rack. After I found out that it caused a big flap about a hundred years ago, I went to see a Staatsoper performance of Richard Strauss’ Salome. The program said it was conducted by Peter Schneider, and that Catherine Naglestad played Salome. Wow. I thought my family was twisted. The music always sounded like it was sliding downhill. Naglestad killed it—I felt pretty sorry for her, even though she told the King to chop off that other guy’s head. And when she did her dance, it made me think of that scene in Metropolis where the evil robot hottie dances for all those rich perverts. Seeing operas really puts a lot of things in perspective.

Monday, January 24, 2011

something to think about

Yeah, that’s me. The guy in the long gray pimp coat hanging onto a pole in the U1 to Reumannplatz. The one with Southern rock –Georgia’s finest—blasting out of his pink iPod and spilling out all over a subway car full of down-gazing gray Viennese, Muslim moms with shopping bags that say Strawberry Shortcake, and maybe even some folks from the other Georgia. That’s me in the middle of that.

The other day I was pondering how much bad luck some people have, and also marveling at my inability to cherish my own good fortune. But this morning I did it. The cat woke us up with kisses @ 5:45, then the alarm clock woke us up again @ 6:20, with the floatey, dreamy music of Manuel Göttsching's e2-e4.

The kids tumbled out of the bunk bed on their own and in a sunny mood. I sprinkled extra granulated maple syrup on my hot cereal, and it tasted ‘Grrrrr-eeaat!’ The kids got dressed for school, even helping each other out—no screaming or biting at all! Anette threw a few extra things in her suitcase and said good-bye—easy, simple, no fuss. She’s off to teach in Belgium again this week. Then at kindergarten, V. said, ‘Geh weg!’ (meaning ‘You don’t have to help me take off my boots, Papa. Take off, you hoser. Go to work. I’ll be fine.’)

And I just thought, ‘What a nice family I have.’

Walking to the subway, I pulled out the headphones and stuck the Allman Brothers in my ears. I’ve never been a fan, but suddenly, as I listened to Gregg Allman’s words, I understood something. Though I scribble furiously and mope meaningfully, these guys really said it better a long time ago. Life’s too short. So I ain’t wasting time no more.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

...and now a word from the management of this theater

Something is definitely wrong with me. Last night, I watched The Horror of Party Beach, a 1964 black and white, zero-budget boogie-man and babes "film," and I found myself thinking, "This is a cinema-verite, lowdown, quasi-avante-garde classic!!"

But maybe that was the cold medicine talking....

Friday, January 14, 2011

black days

Whoa. Stop. I can’t take any more bad news.

Trouble has come to friends and family in the US, other countries, and here in our building, right up to our doorstep. I hear such sorrowful stories. The shootings in Arizona (and Sarah Palin’s hideous response) are terrible enough. But people I love are struggling with divorce, depression, sudden and not-so-sudden unemployment, medical traumas, and suicide.


Paranoids imagine that the world is conspiring against them. I put a Vegas twist on that: I worry that with such black times descended upon my friends, odds are that I’m next.

Then I swing to an equally instinctive, and selfish, gesture. I realize that some people have Real problems and life can be very, very hard. I think, ‘I should be thankful everyone in my house is okay, is healthy, and, if not always happy, then relatively able to make themselves happier.’

I think, ‘What have I done to deserve my stay of execution?’ I feel guilty. And I decide, ‘I’ll never complain about anything, ever, again until the end of Time.’

Then, an hour later, I find a fly in my soup. ‘Waiter!!’

What is that? Is that a human thing—are we genetically incapable of thanking our lucky stars? Is it a question of brain mass? I’ve always thought that most of us have trouble reconciling different or conflicting ideas. Maybe, as a species, we don’t have enough gray matter to stay grateful for more than five minutes. Because we so quickly start thinking again about all the stuff we don’t have, all the experiences we’ve missed, all the money Bill Gates has, and all the fun those young folks are having on all those reality tv shows. It could be that human beings have always been this way, or it’s possible that those ten percent of us who are blessed enough to have fast Internet connections and no net censorship, and live in middle class houses in Western Europe and the US, are mostly just big fat spoiled 21st century babies.

Ahem. Yeah, that’s possible.

Well, okay, maybe I’ll have to overcome vast societal, economic and technological forces, but Today I’m gonna try to live right and be thankful and have a satisfied mind. I can do this. I will do this.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

48 Hours with my Best Girl

1) That long walk through the vineyards and over to the next town.

2) The long walk back to our hotel alongside the reed marshes.

3) Making out like thirteen year olds.

4) Reading, reading, then reading some more.

5) The steam bath.

6) Listening to AOR love song radio last night, while she sat in bed reading Paul Auster, and I sorted a small bundle of stamps from Denmark.

7) Long conversations about her life and mine.

8) No conversations with or about our kids.

9) Trading smiles.

10) Sleeping till 8:30 am this morning.