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.

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