Friday, February 18, 2005

I'm fast becoming an escapist;

losing any ability to connect with the headlines. I cancelled the subscription to the local newspaper months ago and haven't missed it -- and I'm a news junkie. I scan the headlines in the Washington and New York Posts daily, giving more attention to AlterNet and TruthOut, but skipping all but the editorial columns much of the time. At some point the day-to-day outrages have so fueled my fears that even the Six O'clock News fails to draw me in anymore. However, I never miss the Daily Show and Jon Stewart's outrageous satire. Maybe the indirect view is less frightening for me. It's so hard to tell the real from the unreal now, and made-up news is less crazy than what is coming out of the Capitol. The final blow was to discover that "made-up news" is also coming out of official sources and paid for by taxpayer dollars, at that. It's becoming even more difficult to tell where to place one's trust in news sources than ever before.

I continue to wait for reactions to come from leadership -- from anywhere; the arts, the state capitol, Washington, city hall, county seat. I'm beginning to suspect with increasing dread that much of the nation is precisely where I am; paralyzed with fear and no longer able to respond. And this is probably just as true for those blue cities caught in red states. This must not be!

I keep reminding myself that what is happening to us all -- worldwide -- is a runaway global takeover by hostile forces (yes, I know that's wild talk), and that crossing the point of no return on the environmental breakdowns can only be topped by the impending economic collapse, and the resulting panic and devastation of the planet. I also remind myself that such words would have been seen as hyperbole only a short time ago, but now are highly possible -- and my grandchildren will not be spared, nor will yours.

Today I will prod myself into acting somewhere beyond my self-imposed limits. Last night I was in the audience at Berkeley Arts Magnet school where my two youngest granddaughters are students. The innocence of those children, the hope shining from the faces of young parents, convinced me that giving up and continuing to cede power to forces beyond my control has never been a valid response. I must return to the old ways of acting on pure faith that invisible others are out there waiting for me to help to shoulder the burden of change as in the past, and that I'm still capable of doing so.

Whistling in the dark may be all we have left, but whistle I will! (At least until the next awful disclosure, appointment, or act of aggression.)

Oh, word has come from army recuit, granddaughter Jessica, from the South Carolina Boot Camp. She's terrified, angry, disappointed, and wants to come home. At 18 she is just one more youngster who yielded to the temptations set forth by the recruiters in the inner city, and exemplifies the new "all volunteer" army. This will take more than whistling... .

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Just a thought in passing (my computer):

Realized upon reading that last post that I'd coupled the name Vivaldi with Billy Strayhorne and Duke Ellington. Any reader might see that as odd, in a way. Surely these could not be seen as peers, or could they? In my world the answer is a resounding "yes!"

His daughter is a very fine musician who doubles as artistic director of a great chamber music group with which she performs. She plays viola, magnificently. Have attended her concerts and am struck by how disciplined and exact is European music; so unlike that which I've heard and/or participated in for most of my life. I was never serious musician, but surely possessed a knowing and educated ear with some small talent to match. I've been creating music since childhood, and performed with those with greater expertise than my own on occasion. Most of my own music comes from somewhere deep within; is not intellectual. Not learned. Simply "known." I'd always believed that what I knew, everyone knew.

For me, there is a clear difference between black and white cultures. White (European) culture seems to reward adherence to what has gone before. Faithful emulation of style and substance in the arts provides the measure of worth. The great masters have already made their brilliant contributions, and (like the bible to the Christian), are the paragons -- provide the template -- for what follows down through time. The "translations" are quite literal. Interpretation is subtle and can rarely be detected by the untrained ear, but only by those educated to the original presentation of a composition by the composer.

On the other hand, Black culture tends to reward originality,innovation, and creativity. We continue to set the pace in the arts (particularly music), and to create the road map for others to follow. Until recently, one would rarely hear any new black artist rise to prominence without having created some new sound or pattern or beat. The Billie Holidays and Duke Ellingtons and Charlie Parkers and Ella Fitzeralds each brought individuality (style) into the music, and set new standards for their imitators. It seems only since the world of black music has been effected by its commercial worth that this has changed. What can be "marketed" now dictates what rises to the top and not what is a strong new direction by some innovative vocal or instrumental artist. The marketplace is changing the criteria slowly but surely. But "the beat" within us will survive even market trends, I trust.

We're continuously creating and re-creating language from the streets, the music, dance, decade after decade, and having an effect upon the cultures of the rest of the world despite all. Hip Hop has replaced bebop and fusion of my time, and ushered in this worldwide phenomenon that the young people of every country now reflects back to us.

I cannot believe that any "great master" at any time in history could have -- as did choirmaster Terrence Kelly -- molded that choir at his illustrious father's funeral into the stirring "instrument" that could perform the thrilling soul-piercing original rendition of "Steal Away" that brought unshed tears that remained for hours afterward -- waiting for release and finding none. There are no words ... .

It's occurred to me in sitting in the audience in (middle American) Lafayette, that if my friend or his daughter has a deaf ear for or lack of understanding and appreciation of Jazz or Hip Hop they are seen as expressing their personal "taste" in music. On the other hand, if I have no ear for or understanding of chamber music or the symphonic works of Haydn, it tends to be seen as a cultural deficit -- a flaw in my education or training -- and surely indicates my level of sophistication.

This also may simply be associated with my declining interest in European cultures over the past several decades, since re-discovering more of African sensibilities. But it gives me some inkling into the distances still to be negotiated between worlds, and of my own need to continue to locate the bridges -- and cross them when possible.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Home again from a restful weekend at Mendocino... .

The contrasts in my world have always been somewhat extreme, but never more so that at this moment. Driving in a warm springlike rain into the Anderson valley with the two-lane road pretty much all to myself was a departure from the crowded freeways that I weave through day after day in the auto-polluted cities. Seeing bright pink blossoms of trees meant to bear and not simply ornamental as they are here just outside my door in Richmond. Fields of what I've always thought of as Scotch Broom but am told is a similar but highly invasive plant that is threatening to crowd out native flora all along the coastal plains and valleys, but whose sharp yellows today make up for the varying greys of the rain-laden skies. The drive up Highway 128 -- through the redwood forest of the Navarro river was fragrant and greening for spring... beautiful! But the promised heavier rains would come soon, surely ... .

Last week I stood shoulder to shoulder at the retirement party for Judy Hart, the superintendent of the new national Park. It was a gathering of Richmond's inner circle -- the mayor and city council, reps from state and federal office holders, good friends and still-living "Rosies" (I believe there were at least three of us present. Still have problems relating to being named among that group.) The reception and dinner were held at Salute (should be an accent over the "e" but can't find it now), one of my favorite restaurants -- and one of the few in the area appropriate for more formal events. A lovely place on the marina sitting comfortably amid sailboats of Richmond's more affluent and with a fine cuisine and a story that needs telling:

Ten years ago this month, "Memby," a stunningly beautiful young woman from Ethiopia came to this country as an immigrant and single mother. She spoke no English. She found a job in this lovely resturant doing whatever needed doing and learning the business as she tended tables and greeted guests. She placed her young son in a Catholic school then worked 3 jobs simultaneously to support them both. About 18 months ago -- after working incredibly hard and saving every penny -- she bought the place, lock, stock, and cuisine. Without changing the menu or the fine service that had served the previous owners so well for so long, she's managed to do the impossible. Memby's is a story worth telling. She's has not yet been celebrated as is warranted by her performance.

Were I a member of the quaint village of historic Mendocino, I would know nothing about Memby, I suppose. There are so many like stories in Richmond, stories that I've been privileged to discover over the years. These heroes and heroines people my life and enrich my days. They provide the balances so needed when the headlines scream out the sensational day-to-day deaths and near-deaths. The sensational feeds upon itself and it all begins to make up the tension that I feel drop away as I hit that place in the road -- just as I leave the last trees of the redwoods -- where Highway 18 merges with Coast Highway #1 -- where the Navarro meets the ocean. I can feel the fear drop away and my jaw loosen as I free the bite that I had no idea I was holding ... .

This time I turned off Porgy and Bess by the Houston Opera Company. Those familiar sounds had filled the car all the way from Cloverdale -- pressed the buttons that opened the window on the driver's side -- and filled the car with the scent of decaying leaves and salt sea spray. Made note of the fact that "Eden" in Mendocino was but 4 and a half cd's from Richmond, and that Porgy and Bess was not appropriate here. Vivaldi would have been a better and Ellington or Billy Strayhorne even better than that. On the way home I'd plan my listening experience more carefully. Recalled in the listening to Gershwin's masterpiece that the last time I'd seen this opera I'd found it racist for the first time. Written by someone outside the black experience -- and despite the beautiful score -- it was a reminder of a time when the stereotypical was the order of the day, and losing myself in the arias (Summertime and Bess, you is my woman now" no longer worked well enough to erase the pain we were then covering less than effectively. I hated Crown but saw Porgy as pitiful and less than heroic ... as I wanted my black icons to be. No Martin Kings here, only the Cab Calloways.

Wonder if anyone is thinking seriously of writing the score for the story of Tupac Shakur or Diallo or Nelson Mandela? Wonder what the differences might be? Maybe somewhere behind prison walls there is an opera being carved out against a wall with some carefully-hidden and fiercely-guarded prison-made spoon handle ...

With such a high ratio of blacks incarcerated, it is probable that a fair number are from the population of the visual and performing artists. Wouldn't I love to know what those figures are ... and how to reach them.

Oh, the stories!

But that's not what I wanted to talk about today, but time has past far too quickly and there is catching up to do ... more later.

Photo: One of the cedars that flanks the driveway and forms the gateway of "The Timbers," the only home that I've ever known that rates a name of its own. It is most fitting. it's situated on a bluff 80 feet from the edge of the ocean and is one of the most beautiful places I've ever known.