Drama Queen: August 2008 Archives
I'm still in Colorado, a pretty exciting place to be right now. With all the fuss surrounding the Democratic National Convention, the city of Denver has done an admirable job of highlighting its arts scene. There was a New York Times piece about the city's public sculptures, PHAMALy, a handicapped theater company , performed for free for conventioneers and the public, and last night, Red Rocks Amphitheatre hosted an adult contemporary enviro-love note to Obama featuring Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews.
But on Wednesday, the Denver Coliseum will host a related, and--at least to my tastes--far more exciting event: the Tent State Music Festival to End the War. Joining the festivities are, among others, Denver's Flobots and Wayne Kramer, but headlining are '90s revolution-rockers Rage Against the Machine, and that's where things get interesting.
Apparently, Rage has a real gripe with the current administration. Yesterday's Denver Post published an editorial by the band's members, which was distributed through Amnesty International. It seems the U.S. government has been using the band's music as part of its sleep deprivation and sensory overload torture campaign. The band says:
As artists and as human beings, it sickens us to know that the U.S. government has been using our music to torment detainees. We are especially appalled by the discovery that there is very little that we, as artists, can do to stop the military and the CIA from turning our music into a weapon. Our songs -- which include human rights themes such as freedom, our beautiful world, and the voice of the voiceless -- are meant to be cries against injustice, not accomplices to dehumanizing and extrajudicial acts.
Hopefully, the secret prisoners in question don't understand English all that well, because if they did, songs like "Bulls on Parade" and "Killing in the Name of" would probably serve more as inspiration for an overthrow of the U.S. government than deterrent. The clear irony here is that a band whose music is so blatantly anti-authoritarian is being used in the most authoritarian circumstance imaginable. And, as singer Zack de la Rocha, guitarist Tom Morello, et al, point out, they've made music to inspire people, not oppress them.
Even more frustrating, the musicians themselves have no recourse in this case. Though Jackson Browne, Abba, John Mellancamp, and even Frankie Valli were able to stop John McCain from using their music during his campaign, Rage is limited to, well, raging against the machine. Though last month Guardian blogger Sean Michaels suggested the military ought to pay royalty fees to the artists on its playlist, I imagine such an arrangement would be throughly repellent to the boys in the band.
I can't embed their Michael Moore-directed video for "Sleep Now in the Fire," but you can still click and enjoy it.
If you've been keeping up with my Twitter stream, you're aware that I'm currently on vacation in Colorado. Earlier in the week my family and I spent a few days in Aspen, bunking at the Little Nell, a slopeside boutique hotel that during our stay also served as host to one of the Aspen Institute events. (Not sure which one--sadly, I wasn't invited to join them.)
On every floor of the Nell, every morning, is an eight-page photocopied version of the Times Digest. Subscribers to the New York Times are already familiar with the Digest, since they receive it daily via e-mail. Also receiving the Digest are:
"...over 50 countries... over 125,000 readers daily on all seven continents and the seven seas. Among the 400 subscribers around the globe are hotels and resorts, corporations and organizations, cruise ships and yachts, and United States Navy ships."
Since my husband's name and e-mail are on our subscription and I always read the hand-delivered version anyway, he never bothered to mention it to me, and until a couple of days ago, I never knew the Digest existed. However, once I saw it, I was immediately outraged. On vacation. In Aspen. Not cool.
It seems that the Times Digest, "designed and edited to provide a balanced selection of The Times's top stories and editorial comment, along with sports, weather, business news and the Times crossword puzzle," doesn't consider arts coverage a part of your balanced daily news intake. I guess that also follows for all those people cruising, yachting, working, playing and serving in the Navy. Again, not cool.
I feel terrible for Jenny, the poor Houston elephant afflicted with panic attacks. I also think the Bolivian witches' market sounds pretty rad in a Ripley's-Believe-It-or-Not kind of way. But are either of these stories more important than, oh, I don't know, Denver's public art and its relationship to this week's Democratic National Convention? Or if that's too Colorado-centric for you, how about Frank Gehry's sudden--and apparently involuntary--departure as architect of Brooklyn's Theater for a New Audience? Because the former made it to the Digest, but not the latter.
I get the inclusion of the business and sports highlights, even the crossword. But I'd just bet those Aspen Institute folks would rather read about Gehry than Jenny, and find it pretty insulting that the nation's paper of record doesn't consider arts news important enough to make the day's "best of" selection.
Of course, I'm basing my outrage on two days' worth of reading, but still. For even one day's worth of news from New York to be completely devoid of cultural coverage, well, that's something I just can't digest.
Update: It's Friday (Friday!) and still no arts news in the Digest.
I'm currently on vacation, which means that theoretically I have time to finish a book. Usually my excuse for not finishing a read has something to do with children, but this time it's entirely different. I'm four-fifths of the way through The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan, and I just don't want to let the man die. I had the same problem with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but with that one I savored every page. Here, it's tougher. I know the ending. Tynan is ultimately drowned by emphysema made doubly deadly by an astounding self-destructive streak.
Early on in the diaries, at around 1973, when he is merely consumed by self-doubt, he does everything in his power not to fulfill his obligations for two book contracts (If someone would only offer me one!), while taking the time to record for posterity his homemade dirty couplets. An example:
As the moon wanes, the mighty Moose/Commits the act of self-abuse.
By the way, this last was written in response to his wife Kathleen's suggestion that they collaborate on a children's book. His talent for undermining himself becomes downright maudlin in the later years, as he willfully hurls himself onto a stone floor during a domestic argument--further damaging his lungs--and pulls off an oxygen mask to smoke in his hospital bed.
However, these pathetic bits are just bookends to a career that soared and dipped as vertiginously as Tynan's own attempts to balance his egotism and self-loathing. It's a really remarkable document of not just a man, but of a moment.
Imagine a time when theater criticism was sexy, smart, ferocious and scandalous. Tynan's boozy, pill-popping, louche, orgiastic orbit is dotted with a constellation of equally fascinating stars, made all the more so by the complexity of their relationships with him. Princess Margaret is a bland but consistent presence at his table. He's constantly sneaking swipes at Laurence Olivier. Warren Beatty (among others) couples with his wife. He basks in Brando's affections, then betrays him for a paycheck. Martin Landau somehow owes him thousands of pounds and refuses to pay up. Then there's all that surreptitious spanking. And, oh yeah, once in a while he attends the theater.
My God, an exciting evening for me is when there's sushi on opening night. And even then I sneak a piece and head directly home, no orgies, no scenes, no sunrise debates. So I'm planning to keep Mr. Tynan alive for just a little while longer, enjoying vicariously the glamour he brought to theater criticism, and the sheer thrill of living at a time when critics didn't just matter, they burned so brightly they occasionally incinerated everything around them. You can almost trace, in Tynan's precipitous downfall, the entire profession's nosedive.
So there the book sits, on page 353. I'm just not yet ready to let it--or him--go away.