Category Archives: Music

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2017 vote

Last week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the nineteen finalists for induction in 2017. We get to vote for five of them.

I love this. This is one of my favorite exercises every year, especially when I call my sons and we spend hours talking about who should be in, who should be out, how to vote. This, despite the fact that I have essentially no respect for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and won’t until they give prog rock its due and nominate Jethro Tull, King Crimson and Gentle Giant.

Ahem.

Anyway, let’s start. I’ll list the nominees, offer some thoughts, and tell you my vote. Love to hear what you think!

Bad Brains: Really interesting band. Started off as a jazz fusion ensemble, then shifted to a driving punk sound, then added reggae beats. Rythmically complex, with proto-rap lyrics. Black Rastafarians doing punk music; really fascinating. I’m going to vote NO, because their discography is pretty thin; only 8 albums, really, and a history of breaking up and reforming. But glad to see them recognized.

Chaka Khan: One of the great, smooth R&B voices, and a track record of great songs. She keeps getting nominated, and she still hasn’t been inducted. Not this year either; too many other great nominees. A reluctant NO.

Chic: A great disco innovator. Le Freak is one of the great songs, with that terrific guitar riff. Ten time nominees for the R%R HOF. They’ve got to get in sometime. Two problems; first, disco is not exactly underrepresented in the HOF, and second, Nile Rodgers, their great guitarist and songwriter and producer should probably get in before the rest of the band does. NO.

Depeche Mode: I don’t like Depeche Mode. I never have liked their music; I just can’t help but regard that 80’s electronic sound as an unfortunate sidestep in the history of rock and roll. Even their best song, Personal Jesus, was better when other people covered it. Still, they’re massively influential, and a genuinely important band. YES.

Electric Light Orchestra: It’s just hard to take them all that seriously. They did the music for Xanadu, for heaven’s sake. Sure, Eldorado is a good album, and Time. Honestly, it’s the same as with Chic; if they inducted Jeff Lynne, I’d be all for it; great songwriter, great producer, in addition to his work with ELO. I would just remind you of the chorus of ‘Don’t Bring me Down.’ “Don’t bring me down. Groos.” NO.

The J. Geils Band: Their biggest hit is a novelty song called Centerfold. Their second biggest hit was a novelty song: Love Stinks. They were a good, solid rock and roll band, of which the HOF has many. NO.

Janes Addiction: Really important alternative rock band, for about four years in the late ’80s. Founded Lollapalooza. Still.  Just too thin a resume. NO.

Janet Jackson: She’s sold millions of records. She’s an important performer. Her candidacy bores me to tears. She’s getting in eventually; not this year. NO.

Joan Baez: Important sixties singer/songwriter/activist. Is it rock and roll? The HOF kind of gave up on that criterion when they inducted Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins. Gorgeous voice, of course. I’m voting YES.

Joe Tex: Great nominee. An innovator, an early rapper, a southern rock pioneer, a guy who influenced everyone from James Brown to Little Richard. An electric performer, who never really had the one breakthrough hit that would have made him a legend. This is exactly the kind of performer the HOF should honor, really, to fulfill their role as a museum, telling folks about great musicians they may not have heard of. Problem is, the ballot is loaded this year. Exceedingly reluctant NO.

Journey: They’re getting in, along with Janet Jackson, and everyone knows it. And I’ll sing along with Don’t Stop Believin’ every time it’s played at a ballgame. Still, they’re just not good enough. NO.

Kraftwerk: My older son has finally talked me around on these guys. They were immensely influential, and not the Germanic joke band I’d always thought them to be. Not this year, though. NO.

MC5: Terrific live performers, with a roots-rock and roll sound that shaded into hardcore punk. But they really were only important for three years. NO.

Pearl Jam: You pretty much have to put Pearl Jam in the HOF, especially now that Nirvana’s in. The one slight reservation I have has to do with influence; isn’t Pearl Jam the progenitor to bands like Creed? Still, they’re getting in. So, bowing to peer pressure: YES.

Steppenwolf: Really important big name late sixties rock band, with maybe three big hits, including Magic Carpet Ride and Born to be Wild. But they were a big deal from 1968-72, and didn’t do much else. NO.

The Cars: Same thing; didn’t make that big a difference, didn’t survive all that long. NO.

The Zombies: One of the original British invasion bands. Basically, the same thing you could say about Steppenwolf could be said about the Zombies, only their few hits lasted longer, and seem more significant. NO, but a harder call.

Tupac Shakur: Is rap a subset of rock and roll? That’s really the only question. Because Tupac is incredibly good and incredibly important, almost as much as a political figure than as a rapper. I vote YES.

Yes: The easiest call of the year. Of course, you have to vote YES for Yes. One of the greatest prog bands of all time. Long discography, with many huge hits over decades of amazing work. You question the induction of Yes? Listen to the opening guitar riff for Roundabout. Or the opening bass line in Close to the Edge. Or Bill Bruford’s drumming. Or Rick Wakeman on keyboards. Or Jon Anderson’s exquisite falsetto. YES, YES, a thousand times YES.

So that’s my five. Depeche Mode, Joan Baez, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur and Yes. Love to hear your responses!

 

Green Room: Movie Review

As Green Room opens, we see a van in the middle of a corn field, everyone in it sound asleep. The camera pulls back, and we see the path the van followed as it swerved off the highway and into the field. A sleepy driver drove off the road; funny, though also scary. And a metaphor for the entire film, which is about a group of musicians that has veered off the road, and is trying to survive.

In the van, The Ain’t Rights, a punk band, traveling from gig to gig, siphoning gas to keep going, playing wherever they can. They’ve essentially decided to call it quits, at least short-term, but accept one more engagement, because it pays enough to get them home.

So they show up, to a log cabin-ish venue in the woods, a bar where most of the patrons are skinheads, on the walls neo-Nazi regalia for decorations. And so their lead singer, Pat (Anton Yelchin), picks what I think was a Dead Kennedys anti-skinhead song, ‘Nazi Punks F off’ to begin their set. Very punk rock; edgy and tense and real. The crowd reacts furiously, throwing things and spitting at the stage, but we don’t sense The Ain’t Rights are in actual trouble. Yet. But that will come.

When they finish their set, they’re escorted by security up some stairs to a green room. And on the floor, they can see a woman with a knife sticking out of her head. Dead.

Panicked, they pull out a cell phone and call 9-1-1, reporting ‘a stabbing’ and the address just before the phone is confiscated by security. The rest of the movie is about this punk band, fighting for survival, attacked by neo-Nazi skinheads working for the venue’s owner, Darcy, played by none other than Patrick Stewart.

Darcy’s basically trying to clean up a mess. The venue’s headline band’s lead singer, high on drugs, killed the girl, his ex-girlfriend, because she was planning to leave him, and the whole skin-head lifestyle, behind. (That mystery, about who killed the girl, isn’t particularly important, and gets resolved very quickly. This movie isn’t about who-dun-it, it’s more about who is likely to survive).

The result is a fascinating film, a horror thriller that manages to transcend the essential conventionality of its structure. The writer/director, Jeremy Saulnier, clearly knows his subject matter. The day to day interactions of the band is completely convincing. I don’t know Saulnier’s background, but the film felt like it was written by someone who toured once with a band, who then based a screenplay on the jokes they shared about some of the sketchier venues they played. ‘What if we went into the green room and there was a dead body on the floor?’ That kind of thing. And then Saulnier took it from there.

I don’t know much about the whole punk rock/skinhead death metal scene. I sense that it contains an almost infinite numbers of sub-genres, and that Saulnier knows intimately the differences between them. The details of the world of this film is so convincingly rendered, I was completely with it throughout, despite my own ignorance of the film’s background. It felt very Zola-esque, a perfectly realized simulacrum of the denizens of a demi-monde. I loved Alia Shawcat as Sam, their guitarist, her shoulders hunched over her instrument as she plays. I loved the way they started songs, with Yelchin suddenly shouting, very quickly, “2, 3, 4” and instantly a hard-driving punk beat starts up. I loved the camaraderie of the band, how quickly spats get resolved and decisions made.

Although it’s not remotely a political film–its a horror thriller, with punk rock/skinhead setting–I can’t help but see a tremendous political subtext. It’s a film, after all, about neo-Nazis terrorizing punk rockers. About skinhead death metal vs. punk–immensely political music worlds colliding lethally. All under the deceptively benevolent direction of Patrick Stewart.

Because Darcy, the film’s uber-villain, is also genial and sympathetic. We instinctively feel that we can trust him; that when he tells the band members that he wishes them no ill, that he means it. Of course, he’s lying. Of course, he’s using a gentle manner to mask an essential sociopathy. So what is that characterization intended to convey about skinheads generally?

Darcy gives orders, intending them to be obeyed, and at times his followers do just as they’re told. For example, knowing that a 9-1-1 calls has reported ‘a stabbing,’ he orders one of his followers to stab his brother. The cops show up, are given a stabbing victim and perp, and drive off, satisfied. Leaving Darcy to complete his clean-up. Including, of course, disposing of witnesses.

Those extra resonances, the film’s implicit politics and the intersection of politics and music in the genres it explores, are what moved this film from exciting and powerful to unforgettable. I don’t know what it all means, but I want to learn, and spent the morning listening to The Misfits and Fugazi, trying to understand. Green Room got under my skin, is what I’m saying, and I’m grateful. It’s very seriously R-rated, and some will find it an unpleasant viewing experience. But I loved it.

Saturday’s Warrior: Movie Review

I saw the new Saturday’s Warrior yesterday. Saw an 11:30 am screening, on a weekday, and the theater was mostly full. The Warrior phenomenon continues; 42 years, and it still packs ’em in. The movie is attractively shot and energetically acted, under the able direction of Michael Buster. There are a few new songs, mostly pretty good ones, and if older songs from the stage version have been cut, I didn’t miss them. The screenplay, by Buster and Heather Ravarino, has taken the original book, and with a few nips and tucks, trimmed and humanized it. Some characters are a bit more dimensional and interesting, and the Flinders’ family dynamic borders on believable. In other words, the inevitable changes needed to turn a stage musical into a movie were well conceived and executed, the music was generally well performed, and to the extent that Warrior works on stage, the movie worked better.

I know; this is all pretty grudging praise. I went to the theater expecting to enjoy myself, wanting to enjoy myself, thinking that after 42 years, my issues with the text would have dissipated. This turned out not to be the case. I found it a depressing, dispiriting experience. I left the theater feeling, as I have felt previously, the profoundest alienation from my own culture. It’s a musical about a Mormon family, about Mormon theology (or at least, Mormon folk theology), about Mormon culture. I’m a Mormon. I live in Provo, Utah; I taught for twenty years at BYU. And I recognized the familiarity of the conventions and constructs the text utilized. (Heck, I could sing, without prompting, every song in the show, except the new ones. Every P-Day on my mission, every single P-day. . .)

I’m a Mormon,. And nothing in that show is me.

(Crap. I’m doing it again. In 1974, my freshman year at BYU, my family home evening group went to Spanish Fork High School, and saw Warrior, then in its first professional run. And I was such an obnoxious jerk about it in the car home, I was never invited to another FHE activity the rest of the year. Dang. I don’t, I really don’t, want to be that guy.)

All right. Saturday’s Warrior begins in the pre-existence, with a terrific gospel song sung by Alex Boye. Boye is, as always, effervescent and charming, and while I missed the ‘who are these children coming down’ opening, I thought the new opening worked fine. And the various characters, pre-earth spirits, excitedly guess where they’re going and what it’s going to be like, and they make commitments to each other: ‘we’re going to meet and fall in love,’ and ‘I will be your big brother and look out for you.’ Okay, that’s popular Mormon folk doctrine (not the pre-earth existence stuff, which is canonical, but the ‘we met and fell in love there’ romantic version), and I don’t personally happen to believe it. It strikes me as predestinate. I especially loathe the notion that our decisions in the preexistence directly and specifically impact our mortal probations, and I especially dislike it in a text set in 1974. Although this is in no way implied in Warrior, it strikes me as a tiny baby step away from the fence-sitters heresy (which must itself be the subject of a much longer post). Still, I don’t mind a Mormon text that’s, let’s say, theologically adventurous. I’ve written a few myself (though that approach works better if employed transgressively).

In other words, my response to the ‘does Warrior preach false doctrine’ question would be ‘I don’t care.’ It’s built on a foundation of popular folk doctrine. That’s fine; it’s a work of imaginative fiction. I don’t actually believe in Hogwarts either, though I’d kill to teach there.

Now, I could take issue with this: Tod (Mason Davis), and Julie (Monica Moore Smith) pre-existently commit to find each other over on this side of the veil, and be together forever. Except Tod’s born in California, and isn’t LDS, while Julie is a Flinders, living in Colorado, and über-Mormon. Theirs’s the main romance in the piece. Okay, so Elders Kestler and Greene (Clint Pulver and Morgan Gunter, respectively, and as annoying in the movie as they were in the play) meet and teach Tod in San Francisco, and it turns out Julie is Kestler’s old girlfriend, so she meets him at the airport, and Tod comes with him (I mean, why would he?) for some unaccountable reason, so then they meet. And it’s all happily happily. My only problem with it is that Tod was this very cool hippie/guru/painter dude, who gets my favorite song in the show, a big age-of-Aquarius number set (I think), in Golden Gate Park. With the Piano guys! So what on earth would an awesome flower child like Tod see in a drip like Julie? I can’t see that they would have anything at all in common. But that’s a minor quibble. Plus: romantic attraction, who knows?

But, of course, that’s not the main conflict in the play or in the film. The protagonist is Jimmy Flinders (Kenny Holland), the oldest son in the Flinders clan. It’s a prodigal son story.

In the movie (and I applaud this change), the Flinderses are musicians. Adam Flinders (Brian Neal Clark) is the paterfamilias. The family has a kind of Partridge Family-like act they perform around town, and Dad also gives music lessons. We sense how non-lucrative all that is; the family home is smallish, and Jimmy shares a bedroom with multiple siblings. Terri, the Mom (Alison Akin Clark) is expecting their eighth child. Of course they all love each other, but we also see family tensions, child brattiness, too many people in too tight a space without enough money. What holds them together is music. And Mormonism. And by ‘Mormonism’ I don’t just mean religion; I mean a series of cultural considerations. One of which is, frankly, the expectation that we have large families; lots of children. Because there’s always one more waiting in the pre-existence. (Folk doctrine, folks. Not canonical).

So it makes sense that Jimmy not only is the star of the family band, he’s got his own side project too, a band called Warrior, with his best friend Mack (Carlton Bluford). Mack’s been reading Paul Ehrlich, about population growth, and Jimmy and Mack write a song together, Zero Population. Which they perform in public (desperately offending Ma and Pa Flinders). But which also gets them a record deal, with Capitol. And a west coast tour. It’s their big hit. And Jimmy, as good-looking lead singer/lead guitarists for popular rock bands who suddenly come into money tend to do, gets into drugs. Also groupies. Including, it seems, Mack’s girlfriend. Which Mack is surprisingly chill about.

So that’s all plausible, I suppose, and it makes for a strong central conflict, especially the drug stuff. His one connection to his family is phone calls with his crippled twin sister Pam (Anna Daines, probably the strongest actor in the cast). And yet, simultaneously, it’s not remotely credible. Because ‘Zero Population’ is such a ridiculous song.

Think about it. An earnest, preachy, on-the-nose song about a political issue like zero population growth becomes this massive Top 40 hit. (We even see a That Thing You Do montage, showing it climbing the charts). It’s not that rock can’t be political; see, for example, Muse, or Rage Against the Machine. Or Bob Dylan, or CCR. Many many many protest songs about Vietnam. Or something like Neil Young’s Ohio. Zero Population just isn’t the right kind of political song to be a big hit. It’s about a limited, fringe issue. It’s obnoxiously sermonizing. And it’s bad poetry. And it’s. . . .

I’ll tell you what it is. Zero Population is one of those issues conservatives imagine liberals embrace. Ehrlich’s Population Bomb is the kind of book that conservatives like hating. And I suppose it’s possible that, in 1974, some liberals somewhere quoted it positively–though I was an insanely political aware 18 year old in 1974, and I never heard of it until P. J. O’Rourke made fun of it in the ’80s. Ask me, though, as a card-carrying liberal, if I think the planet is over-populated, and I’d probably say ‘yes.’ Ask me what we should do about it, and I have no idea. I do have four children. Because that’s the number of children my wife and I decided to have.

It’s such a bad song, and it’s so central to the plot, that it warps the whole text. And there’s no middle ground possible in this story. The turning point in the film is Jimmy’s refusal to sing his one big hit, at which point he returns to his family. That’s the implication: to repent, he has to embrace everything his family stands for, including their politics. The notion that he and his father might agree to disagree–“Look, this is what I believe about population growth, but I still love all my siblings, and also thanks for helping me kick my drug habit, Dad”–is just impossible in the world of this text.

I was glad that the film chose to depict Mack as a decent guy, instead of pure villainy. I’m glad that Jimmy’s conflict included something real, like drug abuse. By trimming around the edges, Buster made the film stronger than the play. Some of the songs are pretty, if you don’t mind Carpenters/Bread/Harry Chapin soft rock. I went to the movie hoping to come to terms with a piece of Mormon culture that I’ve struggled with. As you can see, that didn’t happen.

Here’s what I do believe: you can be a good, active, believing, practicing Latter-day Saint, and still be a liberal, still like hard rock and gangsta rap, love R-rated movies and television, and still support such political causes as, I suppose, zero population growth or gay rights or a woman’s right to choose. Or global warming. And not believe in any of a variety of pre-existence folk doctrines. That’s where I stand. And, sadly, that seems to place me in opposition to a well-intentioned piece of popular Mormon culture like Warrior. But I’d rather not think that way. Michael Buster is a friend of mine, and so is Doug Stewart. (So, for that matter, is Carlton Bluford). I wish the movie well. I was glad to see the house so full. I’m just not part of its audience. And that’s okay too.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees: 2016

By request from a fan. Plus, I love this stuff.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its candidates for 2016 induction, and unlike most years, there really aren’t a lot of hard calls here. I suspect that my choices won’t all win, but they should. ‘Cause I said so, that’s why. As always, I’m following the RRHOF’s lead by listing the bands alphabetically. And I’d love your feedback.

The Cars: Six pretty good albums, in a long career. Then, when they broke up, Ric Ocasek became an important producer. Nirvana and Weezer both cite them as influences. I’d put it this way: the Cars were a very good band that never quite managed to be great. Considering, this year, their competition, they’ve got to be a no.

Chic: Their tenth (10th!) nomination, which puts them in Susan Lucci territory. I think they have a pretty good shot at finally getting in, someday. And my no vote isn’t anti-disco prejudice; I think their career is a little short, and their impact a little too slight for me to vote for them. Essentially, they mark a bridge between the last days of disco and the beginnings of rap. That’s not insignificant, but sorry, Susan; no this time too.

Chicago: Rock critics have massively disrespected them over the years, and this is their first nomination, despite being Hall-eligible since 1994. But they’re far more musically sophisticated than anyone realizes, and their greatest hits resume is amply loaded. I’m more a fan of the early Terry Kath Chicago than its mid-80s Peter Cetera soft rock incarnation; I think maybe their longevity hurts them. And, yes, I know, your high school prom theme was Color My World. Get over it. Chicago is an easy yes for the HOF.

Cheap Trick: Just a good, consistent, hard playin’ rock and roll band. They were punk influenced without ever quite being a pure punk band, and a metal band that was just that tiny bit too idiosyncratic to quite count as metal. Plus, I don’t know about you guys, but to me they’re a lot like the Ramones; great sound, but is it possible that they’re . . . kidding? Unserious? But that lack of pretension is part of their appeal. Love their music, but no.

Deep Purple: Most people know Deep Purple for one song: Smoke on the Water. They’re way more important than that. Incredibly important hard rock band, featuring guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, and their brilliant keyboardist Jon Lord. The one possible knock on DP is longevity; they kept changing their lineup, and the sound changed with each incarnation. My Lady from Tokyo is one of the great rock songs, too, and I love this band, but they’re up against powerhouse competition this year. So: no.

Janet Jackson: She has certainly sold a great number of records over the years. She’s a household name, and she did manage to fight her way clear of her older brother’s shadow. She’s a big star. I’m not going to vote for her, but she’s a lock for the Hall this time around.

The J.B.’s: James Brown’s back-up band. And yes, they were important figures in the development of funk. They’re still just an important guy’s back-up band. No.

Chaka Khan: She’s just an extraordinary singer, mostly doing R&B, but with roots in jazz, and a constant willingness to experiment and innovate. I think her problem is that she gets lost in the shuffle a bit, because she’s an R&B singer well past the golden age of R&B. I’m not going to vote for her, but I would be delighted if she somehow made it in.

Los Lobos: “Oh, yeah, those guys who played La Bamba in that one movie that one time.” Well, no. Incredibly important band, fusing various Hispanic musical forms with good old-fashioned American rock and roll. I wish I could say yes to them, but there are other bands that to my mind are even more significant.

Steve Miller: It’s incredible to me that Steve Miller, and of course, the Steve Miller band has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It seems to me that every time I get in my car and tune it to a classic rock station, I’m hearing The Joker, or Fly Like an Eagle, or Abracadabra. And, pretty much inevitably, I start singing along. But no, he still isn’t in. And I’m okay with him staying out one more year. And I’ll keep singing along.

Nine Inch Nails: Brooding, nihilistic, transgressive, alienating; Trent Reznor’s music, to be honest, isn’t quite my cup of tea. But it’s brilliant music, and nobody’s been more influential. One of the greatest covers of all time is Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt. Reznor’s also David Fincher’s go-to composer. Easiest yes on the ballot.

N.W.A.: The rise of hip-hop as a major cultural force began with N. W. A. It’s unconscionable to me that they still haven’t made the HOF. I hope the new hit movie about them, Straight Outa Compton might make a difference. In any event, they’re an easy call. Yes.

The Smiths: In the past, I have argued against their inclusion. But I have had cause to reassess my views. I’ll admit, straight up, that their music just doesn’t speak to me. But they’re the voice of youthful alienation, depression, longing, exclusion. People who love their music love it with a heart-felt passion that has to be respected. And they’re incredibly influential. It’s time. Yes, to the Smiths.

The Spinners: Because it’s essential that absolutely every R&B vocal group on Atlantic Records ever be represented in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, seriously, every single one. Not on my dime.

Yes: I can’t believe it. Yes has been nominated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The quintessence of progressive rock, a band that committed all sorts of aesthetic sins (musical complexity, with a classical and jazz/fusion sensibility! Concept albums! Obscure and possibly even (gasp!) pretentious lyrics!). Meanwhile, they made magnificent music for forty years. Chris Squire was, full stop, one of the greatest bass players in the history of recorded music. Steve Howe an extraordinary guitarist. Rick Wakeman, a miraculously inventive keyboardist. Bill Bruford a jazz drummer of amazing range and sensitivity. All topped by Jon Anderson’s soaring tenor. Yes, yes, a thousand times Yes! In fact, I’m going to play you off with Roundabout. (A song they got kinda tired of, to be honest, but still). And tell me that’s not a great rock and roll song!

 

 

 

 

The Rose Exposed

On Saturday, I was involved in one of the coolest arts events of the year. The theatre company where I do most of my work, Plan B, is housed in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center; one of six resident companies that share that facility. Well, on Saturday, we all arrived in the morning and spent the day creating works of art, which were then performed Saturday night at 8:00. The event was called The Rose Exposed.

All the works shared a theme: Dreamers. Dreamers refers to kids who, as small children, were brought to America by their undocumented immigrant parents. Now they’re here; they speak English, consider themselves American, have never known any other country. But they are not American citizens, and cannot get, for example, a Social Security card. They’re stuck. As is a piece of legislation, the Dream Act, that would allow them to become citizens; it’s stuck in Congress. Can’t get out of committee or to a floor vote. Which it would certainly pass. Thank your Republican congressmen for that. Anyway, ticket proceeds went to Art Access, an organization that explores and documents Dreamers’ lives.

Anyway, my contribution was a play. X, Y and Z are young Dreamers, late high school, early college age. And Z has earned, but cannot accept, a prestigious fellowship, because he doesn’t have a Social Security card. So his friends, X and Y, are searching various government databases to see if there’s some form, some process that will allow for an exception for their friend. Three actors, Latoya Rhodes, Tyson Baker and Anne Louise Brings, directed by my good friend Mark Fossen. And they all did superb work. Honestly, my only regret about the whole thing is that, during the performance, I thought of a Donald Trump joke that would have killed, if only there’d been time to insert it. Dang.

The whole thing began with a short film by David Evanoff, with a Star Wars scroll introducing the companies, and then backstage footage of each of the groups rehearsing. I love Dave’s work, its mixture of eloquence and impudence, and the opening film set the stage beautifully for what would come.

Next up, the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, featuring a wonderful young pianist, David Horton, performing the Third movement from Leopold Godowski’s Sonata. Played with beautiful sensitivity and, of course, remarkable skill.

Three of the companies at the Rose are dance companies. And as always, when I see dance, I wonder why I don’t go to see dance events more often. Dance is so remarkably beautiful. Anyway, next up was the Repertory Dance Theatre’s piece, to a Ravel toccato, performed by Anastasia Magamedova, featuring guest artist, Melanie Paz, who is herself a Dreamer. It was a piece of extraordinary precision and beauty, creating a series of tableaux, morphing then into the next set piece.

My friend Julie Jensen also wrote a play, for another resident theatre company, PYGmalion. Magamedova played again, this time Debussy. PYG’s play was about the idea of Dreaming more generally; Bijan Hosseini, Tamara Howell, Tracie Merrill and Aaron Swenson (terrific actors, who I very much regret not having had the chance to work with professionally. Yet) built the play around monologues about the dreams parents have for their children. Not specifically about the political issue that had brought us all there, but that doesn’t matter; it was a lovely piece, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Next up, another dance company, Sweet Beast Dance Circus, with an imaginative piece about Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden. It was sweet tempered, warm-hearted, and very very funny. Loved their use of a wheelbarrow and a long rope, which their Lucifer seductively wrapped around himself. Wonderfully acted and danced. Their music was a Schubert Impromptu, performed by Magamedova.

My piece, from Plan B, was next. I thought it went well. I was exceptionally well served by my director and actors. Could the piece have been perhaps a little too on-the-nose thematically? Could be, but I’m not going to worry about it. David Horton wrote and performed the music for our piece, and it worked spectacularly, especially the way it sparked Mark Fossen’s director’s imagination. Gave the piece a final mood of melancholy that fitted the evening perfectly.

The final dance number was by Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, accompanied by Horton performing six short Schoenberg pieces. The dance was itself in six parts, each a solo number featuring a different member of the company, broken up by the entire company marching in lockstep perpendicularly across the stage.

The evening culminated in a performance by Magamedova of William Bolcom’s The Serpent’s Kiss, one of those amazing rag pieces he composed. It’s a fun, showy piece of music, and it brought the audience to their feet.

But, then, the whole night was spectacular. Can you think of a better way to spend a Saturday night? To see five original works of performance art, saucy, profound, amazing, moving. And all for the best of causes. I am so honored to have been a part of it.

“We’re not gonna take it”

Following a recent rally and speech in Alabama, as Donald Trump left the stage, what I assume is his campaign theme song played loudly, following him off stage. I’ve heard it a couple of times since, following his speeches. It was Twisted Sister’s anthem, ‘We’re not gonna take it.’ If that is indeed Mr. Trump’s theme song, it strikes me as an astonishingly appropriate one.

It’s an interesting question, is it not, the selection and use of a campaign song? There was a time when campaigns commissioned songs from musicians:

Let’s put it over with Grover. Don’t rock the boat; give him your vote. There’s a time for a man who’s a leader of men. Let’s put it over with Grover again.

Sadly, that most perfect of Grover Cleveland campaign songs wasn’t written until 1968, by Richard and Robert Sherman, for a Walter Brennan movie. (The Shermans also contrasted it with a boring one for Benjamin Harrison). Of actual campaign songs, it would be difficult to top Bill Clinton’s choice of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow)” in 1992. Optimistic, forward-thinking, and catchy; hard to beat. John Kerry’s choice of CCR’s “Fortunate Son” in 2004 was equally inspired, especially given who he was running against; a politically connected guy from a wealthy family whose National Guard service was essentially a ploy to get out of fighting in Vietnam. Mike Dukakis also hit the jackpot with Neil Diamond’s “They’re Coming to America.” Given the anti-immigrant sentiments of today’s Republicans, I’m surprised someone on the Democratic side doesn’t revive that one today. Except that it’s associated with Dukakis, and he lost badly.

I’ve only mentioned Democratic candidates’ theme songs. Sadly, Republican candidates have had a tendency to pick songs by artists who disagree pretty strenuously with their policies. John McCain and Sarah Palin went with “Barracuda,” because that was Palin’s nickname as a high school point guard. But Heart, who wrote and recorded it, turns out, loathed Sarah Palin’s politics, and threatened to sue. Likewise, Tom Petty didn’t take it well when George W. Bush used “I won’t Back Down” for some early events. At least Mitt Romney, when he used Kid Rock’s “Born Free” picked a song by a Republican, though Kid Rock has since disavowed membership in the party, saying he’s “f-ing embarrassed” to have been a Republican.

But now Trump seems to have chosen “We’re not going to take it.” And that song’s absolutely perfect; the song, the band, the message.

Watch the Twisted Sister video:

 

The grotesquely evil and abusive Father, the nerdy kid who can only find solace in the music of, well, Twisted Sister. But the power of music marks the kid’s revenge; one power chord drives the father out the window, crashing to the ground. It’s a song of defiance and rebellion, but it’s a strangely non-specific kind of rebellion. And it’s led by Dee Snider, Twisted Sister’s lead singer, who deliberately dressed like a sort of androgynous gargoyle. The point was to profit by choosing a look parents would loathe. (Look at some of their early videos, like “The Price,” where Snider wore no makeup and dressed in jeans).

Look at that chorus, though: We’re not gonna take . . . ‘it’. What is this ‘it’ we’re not going to take?

We’ve got the right to choose, and there ain’t no way we’ll lose it.

This is our life. This is our song. We’ll fight the powers that be just

Don’t pick our destiny ’cause, you don’t know us, you don’t belong.

Chorus: We’re not gonna take it, no we ain’t gonna take it, we’re not gonna take it anymore.

Oh, you’re so condescending, your gall is never ending

We don’t want nothing, not a thing from you.

Your life is trite and jaded, boring and confiscated

If that’s your best, your best won’t do.

All, of course, sung loudly and emphatically, by a guy dressed like some kind of grotesque glam rock parody.

What do we know about Trump’s supporters? They’re fed up, they’re angry, they’re furious about a political process that seems both hypocritical and ineffectual. They like Trump because he gets things done. They also like him because he ‘tells the truth.’ In fact, he doesn’t actually tell the truth; whenever his claims can be fact-checked, they turn out to be, in almost every instance, ludicrously inaccurate. But he says things–often insulting things– that most politicians don’t say and then he doesn’t back down when challenged. Plus, he’s rich, and he’s spending his own money on this campaign. He won’t be beholden to ‘special interests’ if elected. (He is now accepting campaign donations, which, I predict, will have no impact whatever on his popularity).

Above all, Trump has played the oldest card in the deck. He’s able to reassure voters that all their problems, all their feelings of economic insecurity and worry about the future and sense that the future is slipping away are all the fault of a single, unpopular minority ethnicity. The ‘Mexicans,’ are to blame. And, by golly, he’s going to deport them. Build a wall and keep them out, and get them both to build it and pay the costs involved. Like Nero blaming ‘Christians’ for the Great Fire of Rome, or the Hutu blaming the Tutsi in Rwanda, or the Gio and Mano blaming the Krahn in Liberia, scapegoats are always simple-mindedly easy to identify and splendid targets for finger-pointing. (Note how deftly I sidestepped Godwin’s Law). And the results can be brutal.

In fairness, this has not yet happened with Trump. The rhetoric has been fierce; actual violence has been limited to a single appalling incident in Boston. Still, Mr. Trump can at least be cited for failure to establish a civil tone in this campaign. And unfocused, inchoate rage is discernible underneath the excitement of Trump supporters for his campaign. He’s not going to take ‘it.’ They’re not gonna take ‘it’ anymore. Take that liberal elites. You’re condescending, trite and boring. You’re outa here.

 

 

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A biography, a review.

Nothing momentous ever happens without conflict; no great accomplishment is ever achieved unopposed. Half of Paris hated both Eiffel and his Tower, many 18th century Americans thought British rule was just fine, and at the opening of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Diaghilev had to force his dancers on stage at pistol point, such was the fury of the rioters in the house. Look at any great institution and understand that it came into being because somebody was willing to fight for it, and had to. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir rose to its present prominence because smart, talented people believed that it could, and should grow in artistic excellence and stature. That’s what makes Michael Hicks’ new biography of the Choir so thrilling. For most of us–certainly for me–the Choir just was. It’s the kind of thing that’s easy to take for granted. Oh, yeah; it’s General Conference this weekend. And that means, as usual, the Choir will be singing. Cool. I wonder what new Mack Wilberg arrangements they’ll feature this time.

But no. Choir building took a long time, and many decisions. One of the earliest had to do with the role of music in worship; did Church services require hymn singing? If so, by whom? Who would select the hymns, who would compose them, who would rehearse the singers? Hicks covered those crucial decisions in his Mormonism and Music: A History (2003), a book I devoured, and still go back to. See this book as the essential supplement to that earlier work. Who were the earliest conductors of the Choir, what were their backgrounds and personalities?

I am a choir nerd of the first order. I have been a choir-watcher and a choir fan for most of my adult life. I met my wife in a BYU choir; Ron Staheli sat us in sections, but I was the tallest bass and she was the tallest soprano, and we shared a riser at the world premiere of Robert Cundick’s The Redeemer. (Trying to impress her, I told her that the soloist playing Jesus was my father. This was actually true, but she didn’t believe me, and rebuffed my fumbling first advances). Years later, I landed a gig as a Tab Choir writer–I was one of several who wrote the Spoken Word segments for the Choir’s weekly broadcasts. I wrote eight Spoken Words a year for seven years before burning out. I have to this day an immense appreciation for Richard Evans, who managed to stay inspirational for forty years.

So I am, I suppose, an ideal reader for this book. And I found it immensely satisfying. A book like this requires the persistence of a first rate researcher, the patience and discretion of a great story-teller, as well as the musical chops to critically assess the choir’s musicality in each phase of its development. I couldn’t put it down. And when I finished, it was with that sense of regret we all experience when we’ve read something terrific. That feeling of ‘shoot, now I won’t get to read it anymore.’

Heroes emerge: George Careless, Evan Stephens, Tony Lund, Evans, Spencer Cornwall, Jerold Ottley. The word ‘heroes’ implies the existence of ‘villains,’ making it perhaps a bit misleading; there weren’t really powerful voices in the institutional Church wondering if we really needed a Choir, for example. But there were certainly disagreements, over the Choir’s purpose and direction, over financing, over age requirements, and, as might well be imagined, over repertoire. All those sorts of questions had to hashed out and clarified and decided and then, later, revisited.

And certain themes, specific areas of perpetual conflict, all emerged. Should the choir record and perform a classical repertoire of great oratorios or cantatas? What modern composers should they feature? What about the best work of Mormon composers? What should the relationship be between the Choir and music in the Church generally? How should the choir balance its obligations to its radio broadcast partners? With non-LDS musicians? With pop music? And probably the biggest question of all: was the primary responsibility of the Choir to the demands of great music? Or to the missionary efforts of the Church?

These weren’t matters about which there was universal agreement. They all had to be hashed out, argued over, and finally settled. The process by which all that happened is endlessly fascinating, mostly because they are important questions about which good men strenuously disagreed.

One of the things I most respect about Hicks’ book is the way he handles areas of controversy and possible scandal. One question, for example, has to do with Evan Stephens’ sexuality. Hicks mentions the dispute, gives it a paragraph or two, directs us to further reading. But the conclusions he reaches seem fair and evidence-driven. Where there is no definitive proof, Hicks refuses to speculate. The fact of a controversy and the extent to which that controversy has become part of the historical narrative does deserve some small attention, and that’s essentially what Hicks gives it. I think that’s fair. Likewise the mystery of Craig Jessop’s sudden and unexpected resignation as conductor is given, I think, sufficient but not excessive attention. I admire Hicks’ careful restraint on these issues, driven not by prudence or caution, but by a simple recognition that the evidence is insufficient and unclear.

Anyway, this is a terrific book, a book I recommend without reservation. The MoTab is one of the great cultural institutions in American history. That didn’t happen by accident, nor does it seems to have entirely by design. Each new actor changed the story; it’s fascinating to wonder what it will look like fifty years from now.

American Idol

My wife and I have been intermittent fans of American Idol for years now. I wouldn’t say we’re any kind of die-hards, but we do still watch, even now, when the show is clearly on its last legs. Back in the day, Idol was on two nights a week, often two hours a night. Remember the results show, where they stretched a simple, straightforward announcement–Contestant A has been eliminated!–to a full hour’s show full of tension and strife. That’s all gone. None of the original lineup of judges is around anymore, though actually, that’s kind of an improvement–Harry Connick is terrific, insightful and smart and helpful. He’s good enough, I’m willing to put up with Keith Urban and JLo. They have a new producer/mentor guy, the oleaginous Scott Borchetta, whose various ‘this week you have to really bring it!’ exhortations we generally just fast-forward past. Still, this week, something interesting happened, something kind of genuine and non-scripted and odd.

Okay, so the way they do it now, the contestants all sing, and we vote for them, and the next week, they all sit in these lighted chairs, and the highest vote-getter’s chair lights turn green, and that’s how they know they’ve advanced. So they then get up and sing, and we vote on their performance for next week. But the last two unlighted chairs are for the ‘bottom two,’ and at the end of the show, those two sing, and everyone in America votes on Twitter. And one poor schmuck is eliminated right there. Handed his/her choice of weapon and sent to a fiery pit to do battle with an Orc, to the death. (I may have made that last bit up).

Actually, no, they just get to go home and not be on American Idol anymore. Which is not to say they don’t get some subsequent success in the music biz. One of the fascinating things about Idol is that the exposure from being on the show is often more important than actually winning it. Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, several of them have all done really well after not winning the contest, while Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks haven’t been as successful. Not all of them get Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson-type careers.

Anyway, so, on Idol last week, they were down to the top seven. Clark Beckham and Tyanna Jones were the top two. They’re both really good singers, and I suspect one of the two of them will win. Then came Jax–she just goes by one name–she’s been uneven throughout. Nick Fradiani (Adam Levine wannabe) went next. That left three contestants; Joey Cook, Sayvon Owen, and Quentin Alexander.

Sayvon has been near the bottom the entire show. He’s crawled out of more coffins than Bela Lugosi. He keeps almost getting eliminated, and keeps barely surviving. Good looking kid with a big smile and a gorgeous voice, but not much of a performer. Seems like the nicest kid.

Joey, though, Joey’s interesting. She is a weirdo. I mean that in a good way; she has a weird voice, a weird look; she’s quirky and does really imaginative arrangements of the songs she’s assigned. Like she did Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love as a bluegrass song, and it worked.http://www.americanidol.com/american-idol/performances?pid=105301&vid=105246 She’s absolutely the most original contestant they’ve had, since Adam Lambert (who is still the greatest Idol ever).

Quentin Alexander is fascinating. He looks like he came straight to Idol from an off-Broadway revival of Hair. A whole 60’s Black Panther vibe, but with more piercings. He’s a tremendous performer, and seems like a serious and thoughtful and intense young man.

So: stage is set. Quentin, Joey and Sayvon, on the three unlighted chairs. Quentin’s chair lights up; we’re going to a Twitter vote between Joey and Sayvon to stay on the show. Quentin sings. Then he says, loudly, ‘this is wack.’ And Harry Connick called him out. Here’s what they said:

Quentin: This sucks. We have two of the best vocalists, my best friend is sitting over there. This whole thing is wack, but I’m going to shut up right now.

Harry: Quentin, if it’s that wack, then you can always go home because Idol is paying a lot of money to give you this experience and for you to say that to this hand that is feeding you right now, I think is highly disrespectful.

To his credit, Quentin came back on-stage, walked up to Harry, and explained. He didn’t mean that the whole competition was wack. He was reacting emotionally to two good friends having to duke it out to stay alive in the competition. Later, though, he doubled-down, saying that he felt Connick’s comments were ‘disrespectful.’

Quentin Alexander is 21 years old. He’s a highly emotional performer, and seems to be a very emotional young man. Over the course of the Idol experience, he apparently has grown very close to Joey Cook; not romantically (in fact, she just announced her engagement), but as friends. So maybe this is just a young man blowing off steam.

But isn’t he, at least in part, somewhat right? I mean, I know that Idol is a singing competition, with a very nice first prize; a recording contract. And it’s no more brutal a process than any audition would be, for any performing art. Still, it is a little bit wack. Interesting young artists competing to become, what? A music industry voice-for-hire?

Dave Grohl, of Foo Fighters and Nirvana fame, has been outspoken on this subject, saying recently, “imagine Bob Dylan standing there in front of those judges singing Blowin’ in the Wind, and them going ‘it’s a little nasally and flat. Sorry.” Grohl (who I think sometimes is on a campaign to save rock and roll in America, expanded on this:

When I think about kids watching TV shows like American Idol or The Voice, and they think, oh, okay, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight f-ing hours at a convention center with 800 other people, and you sing your heart out to someone and they tell you it’s not good enough? Can you imagine? It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy an old drum set and just get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in, and they’ll suck too. And then they’ll start playing, and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives, and maybe all the sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some s–ty instruments, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again!

Or, like Joey Cook, color her hair and wear weird outfits and sing with a wobbly odd sounding voice, and doing something remarkable every week, often not very good, but never once uninteresting. I hope she does well. And I hope we see Quentin again. American Idol is kind of wack, and I’m glad he pointed it out, though I probably will keep watching, for a little while at least.

 

 

Crooked Still

I have discovered an amazing new (to me), unique (to me) band, and I want to turn you on to them. They’re called Crooked Still, and I can’t get enough of them. Call ’em progressive bluegrass, folk/country, Americana roots, they’re just astonishing. As far as I can tell, they don’t compose; they don’t have any original music in their set. It’s all classic folk songs, or blues, or country, or even the Beatles.

So here’s their lineup: cello, stand-up string bass, violin, banjo and a vocalist. The first thing you probably notice is that they don’t seem to need a guitarist. The second thing you might notice is that they also don’t have drums, or percussion. The percussive element in their music is largely provided by the banjo. And the possibilities they discover in the cello are just remarkable.

So it’s Aoife O’Donovan (vocals), Dr. Gregory Liszt (banjo), Corey DiMario (bass), Tristan Clarridge (cello), and Brittany Haas (violin). O’Donovan and DiMario met at the New England Conservatory of Music in 2001, and then formed up with former cellist Rushad Eggleston and Liszt to form Crooked Still. While they were all finishing grad school, they did some gigs in and around Boston. Eggleston left in 2007, and they added Clarridge and Haas in 2008. They’ve put out five albums, the best of which is Some Strange Country in 2010, though I also love Friends of Fall (2011), and Shaken by a Low Sound (2006).

Let me play you some of their music. Here’s my favorite of their songs, a weird, fascinating, creepy classic American folk song, Wind and Rain. I love the haunting refrain, love how it ends up tying the whole narrative together:

Next song is exactly the kind of song they shouldn’t be able to do without a guitarist; this cover of Robert Johnson’s Come on in my Kitchen. It’s classic Southern blues, and it’s been covered by everyone from Eric Clapton to Keb Mo to the Allmen Brothers. Listen to how perfectly the cello handles the coke bottle slide of Johnson’s.

The next song is the one you might have heard of: they used it in True Blood. It’s the great gospel song Ain’t No Grave. Listen to Liszt’s banjo picking in this, probably the most exuberant song about the resurrection of the dead perhaps ever recorded:

Okay, just one more. To give you some idea of their versatility, here’s Crooked Still doing the Beatles.

It does look like the band’s creative energy may have waned. They’ve all been busy on other solo projects since 2012. But they gave us 5 great albums, and may reunite this summer, according to their website. So we’ll see.

 

 

The Sound of Music, Lady Gaga, and the Oscars

Last night was the annual Academy Awards broadcast, and as always, it was bloated and self-congratulatory and unfunny and often sort of weird. I liked it anyway. I always do. Neil Patrick Harris was a perfectly adequate host, a movie I liked a lot won Best Picture, lots of total strangers shared with the world the happiest moments of their professional careers, while the orchestra rudely played them off the stage, John Travolta seems to have thought that the way to apologize to Idina Menzel was to paw at her face disconcertingly, lots of people wore horrifically unflattering clothing, and Jennifer Lopez’s dress, heroically, managed, barely, to not fall off her. It was an Oscar night. As Bette Midler (bless her) once put it: ‘betcha didn’t think it was possible to overdress for this occasion.’

There were, as always, several musical numbers. Most of them were quite forgettable, but three in particular that stood out. First, the frenetically choreographed number for ‘Everything is Awesome,’ that fabulous song from The Legos Movie. The biggest Oscar travesty of the year is that TLM didn’t even get nominated in its category, Best Animated Feature. It was just too inventive and amazing and fun and funny and smart; can’t have that! Anyway, I liked the number; love Tegan and Sara. Second, I really liked the performance of ‘Glory,’ the song from Selma, John Legend and Common. One of the pre-Oscars’ narratives had to do with that movie, and how its director and star were both snubbed. The song and performance were powerful, as was John Legend’s comments after it won best song.

And then Lady Gaga performed a medley of songs from The Sound of Music. She sang very very well, and then introduced the still-radiant Julie Andrews. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of that film, and apparently it’s being re-released. And I said something rude about it on Facebook. And lots of friends told me, kindly and with great forbearance, that I am an idiot. I probably am. Still, let me explain myself.

The Sound of Music. It’s the most uplifting, triumph of the human spirit, relentlessly upbeat movie ever made. Fresh faced, incandescently talented young Julie Andrews and her mob of well-scrubbed adorable urchins. ‘Climb Every Mountain.’ Grouchy Captain van Trapp healed by the power of True Love. The heroic escape from evil Nazis. ‘Doe, a deer, a female deer.’ All those kindly nuns worrying about how to solve a problem like Maria. ‘The lonely goatherd.’ What kind of grinch wouldn’t like The Sound of Music? The great Pauline Kael was supposedly fired from McCall’s because she gave it a bad review. (Not true; she was fired because she gave every big popular movie a bad review.) Serves her right, you might think. (And apparently, most of my friends do think).

Let me be clear: I don’t think Art has to be a downer. I don’t think that Art shouldn’t be happy, cheerful and uplifting. I have no objection to art that is upbeat and positive. Art can be anything: gloomy, sad, tragic, funny, mean, crushing, and also buoyant, jaunty, merry, fun. I love ‘Anything is Awesome,’ a song so relentlessly cheery it burrows into your brain like a remora into a shark’s hide. I just think that there’s something strange about a movie musical being as upbeat as The Sound of Music when its subject matter is the German annexation of Austria, the Anschluss. I think the shadow of the Holocaust darkened everything about that time and place.  Don’t you think maybe Liesl’s Nazi boyfriend, Rolfe, could sing something a trifle darker than that condescending ‘sixteen going on seventeen’ number?

Other cheerful happy musicals managed it. Take the musical 1776. A fun show about our Founding Fathers and the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Charming cute songs. But then there’s the song ‘Molasses to Rum to Slaves.’ The South Carolina delegate, Rutledge (otherwise a minor enough character), sings it, attacking the hypocrisy of the North over the slave trade, pointing out how they benefit from it too. The shadow of slavery darkened those deliberations, and although it’s a fun musical, an upbeat musical, that shadow is given a face and voice and point of view. Or South Pacific, with the song ‘They’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’. Or the dream ballet in Oklahoma, where Laurie imagines the death of her lover. You can do dark, amidst cheerful.

More to the point, the actual story of Maria von Trapp and the Trapp Family Singers is essentially ignored in the stage musical and film. For example, Maria did not want to marry Georg von Trapp. She wasn’t in love with him, and she really, genuinely wanted to be a nun. She was ordered to marry him by her Mother Superior. She says she went through the entire wedding ceremony seething with resentment towards him, the Church, and God. ‘Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, ’til, you, find, your, dream!’ Not so much the case. More like ‘Do what you’re told girl, do as I say, ignore your real feelings, obey, obey, obey, o-bey!’

What bothers me about this isn’t the fictionalizing. I get that in the late fifties-early sixties, you couldn’t have authority figures be wrong. A Mother Superior had to be portrayed as kindly and wise; mainstream audiences of the time wouldn’t stand for any of that commie subversion-of-authority stuff. I get that. No, what bothers me is that the real story is so much better. It’s a much more compelling, honest, powerful, human conflict. By turning truth into uplift, they cheapened the power of actual human experience. Maria was raised an atheist. She was converted by the music of Bach. So include some Bach in the film!  Maria von Trapp became the powerful matriarch of a family choir (and the loving wife of the Captain) through sheer force of will. She made herself strong and independent. You could say that she obeyed, and was rewarded for her obedience. But I see it as the triumph of someone who made the best of terrible circumstances.

Like starting a family choir. Which she did out of sheer necessity. That lovely huge home in Austria where they all live in the movie? They lived in a much smaller house, and took in borders. Captain von Trapp lost his shirt in the great depression. They sang to put food on the table. They were not a wealthy family. And again, that’s a more interesting story. You couldn’t have all that in the early sixties either; fathers were all-wise patriarchs, not spend-thrift ne’er-do-wells.

Nor was Captain von Trapp a distant, brooding father. Nor was Maria a freespirited young woman. She was moody and a strict disciplinarian; he was charming and fun and very close to his children. He liked singing with them, but found the prospect of earning money from their music embarrassing.

They also didn’t sneak off with their musical instruments and suitcases in the middle of the night, hiding in a cemetery so the Nazis wouldn’t catch them. They carefully weighed the offers they got from the Nazis (which were more lucrative than the fees they earned initially in the US), and decided, on balance, it would be better for their kids if they left. They told everyone they were leaving, and left on a train, their papers in order and fares properly paid. And they didn’t sneak off to Switzerland. They went to Italy, and from there, to America, all arranged by their agent. That’s, again, a better story; not fake persecution, but adults, coolly and thoughtfully weighing their options, making the right decision for their kids.

Anyway. I really can’t stand The Sound of Music. It’s nothing but compromises, fake moral uplift, phony conflicts and ludicrous character depictions. And the von Trapps hated it too, especially the portrayal of stern and distant Captain von Trapp.

But there’s the music. Those songs are really famous and really pretty. And Gaga does have an impressive set of pipes. I get why she might want to sing those songs, and I thought Julie Andrews’ appearance last night was lovely. But it grated, it really did. I mean, I get why Elvis Costello made an album with Burt Bacharach. And Lady Gaga has recorded with Tony Bennett. And that’s fine. And Gaga’s career has stalled, and she’s getting married, and wanted, perhaps, to go back to her roots, in musical theatre. Still. It felt tone-deaf, after the Selma song.  It felt like a white girl celebrating whiteness. It felt . . . off. Someone as relentlessly avant-garde and post-modern and intentionally transgressive as Lady Gaga should probably use the Oscars to do, I don’t know, something radically transgressive. It felt like (and I hate this, I genuinely hate this), a sell-out.

And I’m sorry if I offended even more people. I just don’t like that musical very much.