Sunday, January 29, 2017

Amateur Our

Every winter  I interview prospective freshman for my alma mater.  It's a rewarding task; it enables me to pay back a little for the really stellar education I received, and it allows me to connect with these amazing young women who are eager for knowledge and skills to change the world, to solve problems, to heal the wounds of humanity and make a contribution.  Most of them come from poorer families and need financial aid.  They are prepared and bright; they are enthusiastic and compassionate.  Few of them will win admission, but most of them deserve this, and all of them will go on to have productive lives, I am quite sure.

To support the mission of diversity, many of these girls are from immigrant families.  For some of them,  they are recent immigrants, and English is a second language; they have overcome challenges and have seen things most American kids can only imagine.  This week several of them happen to be from countries on the new 'banned' list.  While I am a kind of ambassador for my alma mater, we are now confronted with confusing issues and worries I cannot wholly facilitate.  Politics is not a subject on the interview agenda, but this year we cannot help but acknowledge current events.  I feel apologetic and ashamed of my country.  The real irony is, 18-year-olds whose native language is Farsi and Arabic have been studying government and American history-- requirements to embark on a higher education program.  All of them are better versed in constitutionality and American justice than our current president.  What kind of world is this?

My friend is tall and statuesque, and looks like a model.   She loves music.  She is even married to sort of a rockstar.  She sings; she gets up on amateur stages and wails.  She has all the great moves and gestures, but she is truly a terrible singer.  So she got it in her head to try her fortune at the Apollo Theatre.  I have to give her points for guts; she stepped out on the stage with all confidence, and every man and woman in the place was taken with her appearance.  But then she opened her mouth.  The audience, in reaction, opened their mouths in disbelief.  It took about 45 seconds before she was booed off the stage.  Democracy.  Did she learn something?  She is still making recordings, taking lessons from people who are quite willing to take her money, trying to jump onstage with people.  In her favor, she is hurting no one; fooling no one.

Night after night, I play alongside other bands of all varieties.  Some have great ideas and lack the musical skill to execute; some are well-practiced and derivative.  And some have absolutely no clue what music might be.  A classical orchestra requires auditions, a level of achievement and a competitive field of music students who are ready to make the leap to professionalism.  But re: rock and roll and pop-- it seems all bets are off.  Last night a combination of people took the stage who seemed to have no common thread except an umbrella band name.  No one played their instrument with any competence; the songs were formless and the performance was not even comical.  Technical issues and lack of experience kept them onstage far longer than their allotted slot.  No one booed, no one turned the power off.  I guess they had some friends in the house… but it was a true 'Little Miss Sunshine' moment.  I've witnessed altogether too many recently.  What happened to the 'hook' by which I mean not the song, but the stage removal device?

I have recently been to a few young art galleries.  At one, the director started a conversation with me about abstract expressionism, the New York School, etc.  She consistently mispronounced names and
misstated facts.  She seemed to have no frame of reference or context, no sense of art history or even contemporary culture… yet was exhibiting at art fairs alongside established, experienced gallerists, selling student-ish derivative paintings for $20-50,000.  P.S…. she is very attractive and well dressed.  But who are her buyers?  Her next show is 'pre-sold', she bragged.  I couldn't help thinking this was the kind of smoke-and-mirror game we used to play when some guy called us and we claimed we were busy, night after night… until he finally swore eternal allegiance in exchange for one dinner.

Next week is the Superbowl--- an American institution, an athletic contest with a huge audience and the significance of a kind of annual war-game.  Plenty of athletes may not have leadership qualities, but they are fierce and well-trained.  No one suits up for pro football who has not spent thousands and thousands of hours in drills and scrimmages and grueling exercise.  The game itself has a certain number of variables, but either team has hard-earned the opportunity to compete.

Maybe the best man doesn't always win the American presidency, but never before has the reality-show culture usurped our politics.  This is a serious job, with serious repercussions.  It is a position of leadership and power.  Kings and queens in history have on occasion inherited an office for which they were unsuited, but never has the collective consensus of a nation been so willingly corralled into idiocy.  I have had enough.  A week's worth of incompetence, blatant inexperience and bad decision-making has awakened even the most soporific of dreamers and optimists into a reality check.  The inauguration felt to me like a kind of funeral and after 9 days of mourning, I'm sick to death of the cult of mediocrity and amateurism.  I refuse to sell out my fellow countrymen to what is not a compromise but a dangerous regime of lunacy.  One man's hyper-extended fantasy of narcissism and abuse of office is not going to deflate and sicken the platform of civil rights and humanitarian ethics that has defined much of my generation's decency.   I've never been a patriot, but it's damned unAmerican and way past time for the proverbial 'hook'.  Time for the sound of one hand clapping… and as the emcee says, 'NEXT...'




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