Monday, October 5, 2015

Flood thoughts

While in the Flood of the Century here it seems, I've thought for a while about voices in singing, and even songs that discuss vocal parts.

Straight No Chaser, which does "Back Home Again in Indiana" at the 500, has their own take on "All About That Bass," making it a song about a vocal part in their own a capella style.  I am no fan of bad pop music, but it made me laugh about this version because as a tenor myself, note the putdowns on the tenors by the basses!

And of course, while the boys talk about low men, there is a song for girls about the low women.  And this lament is one that could make some of them unsuitable for Fox News, if you understand the network's dress code, and they want to be on Fox News!  Ben Moore wrote this song, "(I Can Be a) Sexy Lady" for Susan Graham, a mezzo lamenting her roles in opera.  It is part of the mezzo's repetoire, and often sung at recitals, as I've learned.  The first time I heard it was Kelsey Harrison in her recital (since Serena LaRoche had a part in that recital), and I wanted to know what the song was -- and it was a lament.  Now think about "(I Can Be a) Sexy Lady" and "All About That Bass (No Tenors)" and think of their low voice songs.

Hoosier Hysteria Retirements

So one "gospel" singer who has performed the National Anthem at the 500 in 1992, ironically the year that a famous motor racer who never won at the Brickyard despite seven career starts presented her that trophy for Female Vocalist of the Year for an 11th consecutive year.  Neither won in that premier class in their careers after that year.  The presenter retired after 2000.  That singer just announced she is on her farewell concert tour.

Add to that another Hoosier, a motor racer, with 20 years in major motorsport, who is hanging it up after 2016 too, and unfortunately, he fits in the same role as Doug Sanders, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, and Colin Montgomerie do in golf.  He is the best driver in motorsport to never win a major, though he has won championships and other races, he never won an official INDYCAR or NASCAR Sprint Cup major.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Opera Thursday: The musical that belongs in the opera house

A trend over the past few years has brought increasing numbers of musicals to the opera house.  I'm not talking about a road show performance or anything like that; after all, plenty of non-operatic entertainers perform in opera houses.  What I'm talking about is the inclusion in the regular opera season of musicals that in no way fall under the general category of "opera": Show Boat, Passions, The King and I, and other Broadway standards are among the works that have seen significant stage time at various world opera houses.  “The vast majority of musicals are not appropriate to opera companies, but there are a small number of titles that are enhanced by the skill and scale of an opera house,” said Anthony Freud, general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago. “I see it as an inherent part of our output. I don’t see doing ‘The Sound of Music’ with any less professionalism than in doing ‘La Traviata.”’  The Lyric is one of the major promoters of this trend, staging Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, Carousel, The King and I and South Pacific over a five-season period, but lest you think this a strictly American move, European companies are doing it as well: the Volksoper in Vienna has added Guys & Dolls and Kiss Me, Kate, while musicals such as Miss Saigon and Sunday in the Park with George have featured at other European houses.

In the interview with the late Jon Vickers to which I linked a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned how one of the main differences between opera and musical comedy is that "entertainment, for the most part, deals with the superficialities of life, and works usually become extremely dated because they relate to a certain society and a certain framework that has developed in a certain society."  Musical comedy, in Vickers' opinion, qualifies as "entertainment," and "If opera degenerates into entertainment, I would far sooner go and watch a good production of My Fair Lady or Brigadoon because I think it's much better entertainment than opera is."  In other words, you have to be very careful mixing the two genres, and Vickers felt that a true American opera would never develop out of the Broadway musical.

This is all appropriate, because in today's AV Club there's an example of the one musical that I think might be the exception to the rule, the piece that I'd have no trouble staging in the opera houseThe Umbrellas of Cherbourg, written by Michel Legrand and brought to the cinema by Jacques Denny.  I'll let you read A.A. Dowd's article to get the full flavor of Umbrellas, but two things have always stood out in my mind as justifications for staging this as an opera: its true-to-life subject matter recalls the verismo school of opera, and there is no spoken dialog - everything is sung as "a series of recitative song conversations."  To my mind, that alone puts it far ahead of the My Fair Ladys and Guys & Dolls's of the world.*

*You're probably wondering where that leaves something like singspiel; well, to tell you the truth, I think both The Merry Widow and Die Zauberflöte would profit from having their significant amounts of dialog converted to recitative.  As for Carmen, I've always preferred the version in which recitative replaced spoken dialog.  But then, that's just me.

I have seen The Umbrellas of Cherbourg included in the occasional opera season, but not often enough.  You've heard me complain frequently about the habit of commissioning new operas (many of which are never heard from again after their initial productions) when there are plenty of underperformed ones lying around; the same goes here.  If you've got The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, why bother with The Sound of Music?  This is not to criticize the great musicals which the American theater has given us, merely to point out there's a place for everything, and the opera stage is not the place for most of them.  No, the bigger question is this: am I making an exception for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, or is that where it belonged all along?

You may not think you recognize any of it's music, but I'll bet you do: here's the justifiably famous theme, "I Will Wait for You."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The line has been crossed: Big Four's X-rated programming draws ire of Actors Union

Television's Big Four have crossed the line.

Until the late 1980's, television was set with the Big Three networks.  Now it's the Big Four services of HBO, Showtime, Netflix, and Amazon Prime in control of television, content, and standards, with the Emmys favouring the TV-MA (X rated) shows on the Big Four they watch, winning the major awards annually. With no accountability required to viewers or advertisers, the shock value of television, which is part of art's turn to shock value, has become the standard.

If crossing the line wasn't bad enough with language, now the standards have crept into advancing all forms of sexual immorality, with Amazon Prime's winning shows promoting such actions, and HBO denouncing President Reagan for not helping with a cause celebre of the Left.  We have now seen that line truly crossed with a report on the filming of HBO's Westworld has drawn the ire of the SAG-AFTRA.  According to the report, background actors ("extras") for the HBO show are required to sign what the Hollywood Reporter calls "a nudity and sex consent form that reads like the Kama Sutra and that has SAG-AFTRA officials worried".

Now that the Hollywood elites have changed from network television to the Big Four Services, there are no standards.  And the result is such garbage being called "art".  Would this have been permitted 30 years ago?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Don't move!


ongtime readers know my fondness for Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, whom I've quoted many times at this blog, as well as having praised one of the very best television adaptations over at the TV blog.  It should be no surprise, therefore, that I was attracted to this story at the Weekly Standard on the history of what Benjamin Welton calls "the stationary detective."  Wolfe is, of course, the first name that comes to mind (my mind, anyway) when one thinks of sleuths able to solve crimes without leaving the house, and Welton spends a good deal of this brief article talking about Wolfe, but mentions several other detectives as well.  Mystery fiction is all the rage out there, but if you don't mind going back a few years, I think you'll find that many of the authors Welton discusses are worth your while as well.  Check them out, but read Wolfe first! 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The legendary Yogi Berra, R.I.P.

Lawrence  Peter (Yogi) Berra passed away earlier this week, at the age of 90. This remarkable Yankee catcher had an even more remarkable career, participating in World Series as a player, coach and manager. He was an All-Star selection 15 times. He won his league’s Most Valuable Player Award three times. As a manager, led both the Yankees and the Mets into the World Series.

Yogi didn’t look like an athlete; his somewhat squatty and dense, 5’8” frame made him look more like a construction worker than a professional ballplayer. He had that broad face and those protruding ears. (“You’re ugly, Berra,” a rival catcher told him one day. “I don’t hit with my face,” was Yogi’s reply. Along with a double into the gap.) You could see why one day years later Yogi would inspire a cartoon character. Yes, that famous bear.

Yogi Berra was no Joe Dimaggio, some might say.

But while Dimaggio, the graceful Yankee Clipper, is praised for striking out only 369 times in his entire career,  Yogi, also a power-hitter, struck out only 414 times in nearly 1,500 more plate appearances. Percentage-wise, Yogi tops his legendary teammate on that one. “You could,” as their shared skipper used to say, “look it up.”

Yes, Yogi was an athlete. A great athlete. And one of sports (all sports) greatest winners. From 1957 through 1981, the New York Yankees were in the World Series 13 times. Yogi—as a player, a coach, a manager—was on every one of those teams.

He got more famous later for his “Yogi-isms,” those witty, seemingly spontaneous comments he made (or supposedly made) about life. (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” is one often quoted.)  Those funny sayings sold books and t-shirts. They shouldn’t make us forget what an amazing athlete Yogi Berra was.

Let’s imagine a Yankee Mt. Rushmore. Who should be up there? Babe Ruth, arguable the greatest baseball player of all-time (and a giant of a character himself), is so far above everyone else that we’ll let him be the foundation that this Rushmore sits on. On the mountain itself has to be Lou Gehrig, Dimaggio, and Mickey Mantle. We will officially add the fourth right now: Yogi Berra.

Yogi’s talents, his child-like enthusiasm while playing a man’s game, his almost Forrest Gump-like prowess for being right in the middle of so many memorable baseball moments (including calling Don Larsen’s perfect game in the Series of ’56), his ability to embody a baseball  era like few others—it all adds up to quite a career, and a life. Oh yeah, he was a 19-year old American soldier who hit Omaha Beach on D-Day. Yes, there is a lot to say, and to remember, and to honor, about Yogi Berra.

My wife and I operate a Bed & Breakfast in a small town in southeastern Minnesota. This morning, eight new guests gathered around the breakfast table. These first moments can be a little tense, awkward even, for people who’ve never met who are about to share a meal together.

These folks, from Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa, smiled politely and seated themselves quietly. One young man was wearing a Kansas City Royals shirt. Mention was made. The conversation would start with baseball.

“Did you hear?” one woman asked the group. “Yogi died this week.” No prompting was needed. They all knew who she meant. Immediately the early table tension melted. There were knowing smiles all around. “He was so funny, the things he said,” said another lady. Soon they brought up shared memories of that stubby little Yankee catcher with a gift for making people smile. These were not sports fans, baseball fans. But somehow they all knew Yogi. They were Yogi Berra fans.

I was trying to think of another American professional athlete in the last 50 years who could do that for people. (Last century even.) An athlete that ordinary people could relate to, and not just admire, but genuinely like. An athlete who seemed authentic and approachable.  It did help that Yogi was a hugely gifted athlete, one of the best of all time at his position.  But that wasn’t the most important thing about him. It  isn’t what people immediately and fondly recall.

How many of those athletes are there? A handful at best. One was certainly Yogi Berra. And now he is gone.

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” Manager Yogi Berra famously told his Mets players in the summer of 1973, stirring them to an improbable World Series run. With his passing, it is over. And it’s all a little bit sadder.

The Emmys and the President's Official Delegation for the Holy See: Sin (and perversion) being promoted 

Antonin Scalia, in his dissent of the sexual perversion movement's landmark case, made importance in his opening paragraph regarding the configuration of the courts being dominated by elite educational institutions in two hard-left corners of the nation, and how these institutions have an absolute monopoly over an entire branch of the government.  As previously noted by Sean Hannity in a February 2014 broadcast, the entertainment, and we now know, advertising, agencies are completely out of touch with the rest of the nation.  What sells in Hollywood, Stonewall or the Castro District (which seems to be the basis for every acclaimed show or ad) does not play in Peoria, let alone your heartland of America.

The Emmy Awards proved Mr. Scalia's point of elites, as the awards have now become a celebration of the elites and their ideals that cannot win in the heartland, but rely on these few areas to force their way through.  The major awards at the ceremony were given exclusively to premium pay television programming, with broadcast network television being shut out of the show.  The winning premium pay programming (HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon Prime) is complete with themes that pander only to Hollywood values in an attempt to mandate social change that mocks, rejects, and now criminalises, the Bible, while appeasing all forms of sexual perversion as part of the Erotic Liberty push, in effect declaring, as has been wanted by Obama Administration official Chai Feldblum, sexual freedom is the only freedom, triumphing over all other beliefs, even if over 75% oppose.  Acceptance speeches of these winners, whose shows cater to these elites but not watched by the people because of the elite status of premium pay television, were transformed into political rallies of this tiny corner to advance the next cause of these leftists, whether it was to advance socialism, increased government intrusion, sexual perversion propaganda, or attacking those with a Biblical worldview.  Consider the pushing of one such sexual perversion by an award winning series available on premium pay, and how the speech by the show's developers was based around pushing special rights for boorish behaviour.

In the movie industry, film studios cut scenes from movies to avoid an adults-only movie rating, which depending on industry or national authority, will be declared X, NC-17, 18+, or similar rating, since an adults-only rating will be rejected by the theatres, as such movies would force an entire theatre multiplex to be adults only for the day, similar to the Kyle Busch Rule with regards to tobacco.  But on television, the same adults-only rating, known as TV-MA, is now regarded as superior writing and acting, and wins the major awards, despite only appearing on premium pay television.  Why is there such a double standard?

(NOTE:  Kyle Busch was 16 when CART ejected him during the 2001 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Auto Club Speedway since the American Racing Wheels 200 Truck race was part of the CART FedEx Championship Series Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota weekend, and the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement specifically prohibits participation of persons under age 18 years if any event on the schedule carries tobacco sponsorship.  Four CART Champ Car teams were sponsored by tobacco firms that signed the agreement – Phillip Morris (now Altria) and British American Tobacco, meaning Busch could not participate in the event, even though NASCAR sanctioned that race only, CART enforced the federal tobacco regulations.)

The President's official delegation for the Holy See's visit to the nation once again shows how the elites see faith.  It is another list full of sexual perversion, a quasi-victory lap of the Hollywood and academia elites over the entire nation that has voted over 4:1 in many states against the perversion agenda.  Once again, as he has mentioned about the decline of nations thanks to sexual perversion, Владимир Путин is correct.  This Administration is pushing the wants of a few elites in Hollywood as seen in the Emmys, much to the opposition of the entire country, with this list for the Holy See's visit.

Is there any more wicked standard for this President other than the sexual perversion crowd?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Retro TV Friday: The Muppets

S'm not sure if Mitchell will be covering this at the TV blog, but in case he doesn't, take a look at the following:

What were previously sly winks to a grownup audience are now grotesque full-body grimaces, delivered with depressing sledgehammer brutality. In one scene, Animal laments his consequence-free promiscuity. In another, Zoot from The Electric Mayhem is outed as an alcoholic. And then, most heartbreakingly of all, there’s Kermit.

This version of Kermit is absolutely unrecognisable from anything that’s ever come before. This Kermit badmouths fellow celebrities, openly discusses his sex life and, at one point, describes his life as “a living hell”. That’s not who Kermit is. Kermit is the perennial wide-eyed optimist, the figure who grounds the chaos around him in sincerity. Kermit is the dreamer who believes in the power of people. He’s the one who sings The Rainbow Connection. He is most definitely not the stress-eating, coffee-drinking executive that The Muppets paints him as. It physically hurts to see what ABC have done to him.

Rod Dreher points out that all this comes back to Disney, which doesn't surprise me in the least, considering the liberal political attitude of the company and how some of their ABC Family programs include homosexual relationships.  California is due for a major earthquake soon; my question is whether it will be caused by Jim Henson spinning in his grave, or Walt Disney spinning in his.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Talk about bad fortune. . .

KING OF PRUSSIA, PA -- Local resident Harold Ludman says he can’t understand why he was recently fired from his job writing fortunes for the homemade fortune cookies served at Leonard Wang’s Chow Palace.

“My fortunes speak to the human condition,” Jones said, holding a sheet of paper with his most recent saying, "When misery knocks at the door, you don’t ask if it’s made a reservation." I know it’s not cheery, but it’s real life. People need to face up to that once in awhile.”

Other fortunes which Jones said he was proud of included “If at first you don’t succeed, try again, but know that the possibility is great that you might fail again,” and “Every glorious sunset means you’re one day closer to the cold eternal darkness of the grave.”

Jones said he had always hoped to find a profitable use for his Master’s degree in the works of French existentialists such as Camus and Sarte, and considered writing fortune-cookie fortunes to be the ideal job.

Wang, however, begged to differ.

“People look for escapism when they crack open a fortune cookie,” he said. “They want to read things like, ‘You will meet a tall, dark stranger,’ not the depressing crap he was coming up with. I was afraid I was going to have to start offering Prozac instead of after-dinner mints.”

Ludman, who himself had recently undergone electro-convulsive therapy at nearby Pleasant Valley Mental Health Clinic and Sanitarium, was disappointed with Wang’s decision, but sought to put a positive spin on the dismissal. “I was thinking about getting out of the fortune-cookie business anyway,” he said. “To be honest, there isn’t a lot of growth potential in it. I didn’t want to be caught in the bathroom when the last lifeboat leaves the Titanic, if you know what I mean. Hell, I’m not sure I know what that means.”

As for his future plans, Ludman said, “I’ve already sent my resume to Hallmark. There’s always a market for a good greeting card.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What is it with the Pope, anyhow?

The Pope is in town, in case you haven't heard. Not in Dallas, where I am, but out father East.  There will be a fair amount of fuss being made, much of it over how Good Pope Francis is ushering in the new progressive nirvana, and probably even more about how the evil conservative Catholics, not to mention the evil Republicans, are busy slamming him.

Of course, that's the typical MSM slant.  It is true that many Republicans disagree with the Pope on matters environmental and economic, and it's also true that a lot of conservative - more likely traditionalist - Catholics have been having kittens over his papacy.  If you're a regular reader, you know I haven't been too happy about this papacy either, having gone so far as to suggest that if I were considering converting today (instead of twenty years ago when I did convert) I probably wouldn't do it because I would be looking at a Church that might have truth on its side, but didn't appear to stand for anything.

Now, it's very easy to find political commentary picking a bone with the Pope.  For instance, George Will had this to say:

Pope Francis embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony. With a convert’s indiscriminate zeal, he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false and deeply reactionary. They would devastate the poor on whose behalf he purports to speak — if his policy prescriptions were not as implausible as his social diagnoses are shrill.

Meanwhile, at the Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last asks if we should see the Pope as "Menace or Farce" (h/t Fr. Z)

For instance, the Holy Father seems to have a habit of appearing to endorse all sorts of left-wing political causes. There was the time he posed with environmental activists holding an anti-fracking T-shirt. And the time he posed for pictures holding a crucifix made from a hammer and a sickle. And the time he held up a poster calling for the British to hand the Falkland Islands back to Argentina. In each instance, the official Vatican response has been to suggest that Francis didn’t mean to endorse anything because he’ll pretty much smile and pick up anything you hand him, like some sort of consecrated Ron Burgundy.

Now, it is true that there's a ideological dimension to this; there's no question that the Pope is interjecting himself into a political discussion, not merely pointing out the existence of a problem, but offering explicitly political solutions, rather than charging the various legislatures with finding a solution.

There is, however, a spiritual aspect to this as well, and one can make a compelling case that in this religious, as opposed to political, dimension, the Pope continues to fall short.  The website The Federalist had a very good piece on this Monday, with Joy Pullmann writing, among other things, this:

I’m not sure who Pope Francis’s religious advisors are, but it seems they’ve forgotten the Gospel isn’t directly aimed at helping the poor or averting supposed environmental disasters. The Gospel is centrally about saving our eternal souls, about addressing spiritual—not material—poverty. Yes, the material world is broken because of sin, and it will be restored after the Last Day, but that’s an effect, and not the focus of scripture. What’s primary is our souls, not our pocketbooks.

She goes on to write:

In the course of loving our neighbors, as the Bible commands, of course we should seek to meet their physical needs, both through and beyond seeking to meet their spiritual needs. Acknowledging the truth that the world will always contain hungry people is not an excuse for not feeding the people in your life whom you have a duty to feed.

Maybe Pope Francis should welcome the environmental apocalypse he thinks is coming.
But the human condition of sin has ensured that everyone cannot be rich, healthy, and a lover of God. It’s sad, but true. We will never achieve utopia in this world. That’s kind of the central story arc of the Bible: How humans screwed themselves and the whole world up, and how Jesus has and will ultimately put things to right. Getting all the way to a perfect eternity, however, requires first an apocalypse.

So maybe Pope Francis should welcome the environmental apocalypse he thinks is coming. That’s partly a joke and partly serious, because every time I see another Planned Parenthood butchering video I am ready for Jesus to take me and my kiddos right up to Paradise and end this sick, mad world. But at the very least, Francis could do a better job communicating what my Catholic friends keep insisting to me he really does mean.

I get weary reading all this; it grieves me to see the Church that means so much to me disintegrating like this.  I'll say it again: Pope Francis could not be doing a better job driving the Church apart if he'd been sent by the Soviet Union (or Satan, take your pick) to ruin everything accomplished by the last two popes.  And I get just as weary being reminded by henny-penny hand-wringers that you're not allowed to criticize the Pope.  As a matter of fact, that really ticks me off.

Look; one should always be careful talking about the Pope.  The papacy is a divinely-ordained institution, and that's all there is to it.  Not only do I accept that, I wholeheartedly embraced it at the time of my conversion.  I believe it today.  But it also has to be said that the College of Cardinals don't always choose the right man for the office; anyone who thinks that the Holy Spirit divinely chooses the pope not only denies the existence of man's free will, he overlooks such occupants of Peter's Chair as the Borgia Popes.  In other words, one must respect the office, but there is no reason not to look at the specific occupant with a cocked eye.

Let's take this a step further, though.  Not only the papacy, but the basic clerical structure of the Church - bishops, priests and deacons - exists in the Bible.  What goes for the pope goes for them as well; respect the office, if not the occupant.

However, when it gets to the Curia, the governing organization of the Church - well, that's a man-made institution.  No only is there nothing divine about it, even the popes themselves have had to keep a very close eye on it from time to time for their own benefit, not to mention well-being.  The Curia, and the upcoming Synod of Bishops, is fair game as far as I'm concerned - again, as long as you remain somewhat respectful in your words.  Just as I get turned off by old ladies taking me to task for criticizing the pope, I also get torqued by people who behave like rabid Pavlovian dogs whenever Francis' name is mentioned.

Therefore:  I have great concerns that Pope Francis is doing dramatic damage to the Church.  He disrespects those who have fought long and hard to defend tradition; his recent decision on annulments is nothing short of indefensible; his off-the-cuff statements are tiring at best and alarming at worst.  We like to talk about the "brand" today, and Francis has weakened the Catholic "brand" to an almost crippling degree.  Those who are the most impressed are those least likely to come back to the Church, or to defend the Church's traditional teachings.  Those most disregarded, most dismissed by him, are the ones who have fought the hardest and believe most fervently in Christ's teachings.  I don't know about you, but buddying up to your enemies and dissing your friends is not my idea of a successful business plan.

Francis' papacy has been a disaster, and if the upcoming Synod weakens the family further, as many expect it to, going back on two millennia of Church teaching (as well as Christ's words), then we see a real possibility of schism, and if that happens then we're really going to have some questions to ask.  All we know is that at the Last Judgment, we'll all be called to account for my actions.  I will not fare well when that happens, but at least I'd like to think I've tried to defend the Church, in my words if not always my actions.  However, the man who calls himself a "loyal son of the Chuirch" will have to do the same, and all in all I think I'd rather be in my shoes than his.

There's bound to be more to come on this, both from the Pope's trip and from me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Just how old is your granddaddy, anyway?

All together now, for the thousandth time: Words Mean Things.  Case in  point is this article, posted on yesterday.  In fairness to its author, Ryan McGee, writers don't generally do their own headlines, so he can't be to blame for the following:

We've all heard that old saying - "this ain't your father's..." or "this ain't your grandfather's..." and we know what it's supposed to mean - this isn't the way it was back in the old days. The point of this article is to suggest that the times are a changin', that things aren't the way they used to be.  Well, seeing this headline, I knew right away there was something wrong; I just had to do the math to make sure.

Now, let's say you're 25 years old, a good age to be a football fan.  Le'ts further say your father was 25 when you were born, and his father was 25 when he was born.  That would make your grandfather 75.  Assuming he was a football fan when he was 25, that would make it 1965, 50 years ago.  So, just for the hell of it, let's take a look at college football's top ten for the end of the 1965 football season:

Well, Michigan State certainly was in the top 5.  And in case you're thinking I'm nitpicking about this, let's go a little deeper: Michigan State was #2 the following year, 1966 (the year they lost the title by tying Notre Dame in the Game of the Century).  Just a fluke, you're thinking?  Very well; let's suppose your grandfather's top 5 started in 1960, when he was 20.  Sorry - Michigan State was ranked that year as well.  In fact, they were ranked #11, in 1960, #9 in 1961, #10 in 1963, and #20 in 1964.  In other words, although they were in the top 5 only twice (1965, 1966), they were ranked in the top 20 six times in the seven years that your grandfather might have been looking at.  And in case you think granddad's top 5 might have come when he was older, say in his mid-30s, that doesn't really hold up either: the Spartans were ranked #9 in 1950, #2 in 1951, #1 in 1952, #3 in 1953, #2 in 1955, #10 in 1956, #3 in 1957 and #16 in 1959.

In other words, Michigan State was pretty much a college football power throughout the '50s and into the mid-'60s; it wasn't until Southern schools started integrating, destroying the pipline that Northern schools such as State had built up in the South, that Michigan State dropped from the power rankings. Let's call that the '70s and '80s, which wouldn't be your grandfather's time as much as it was your father's.

Do you think I'm nitpicking too much?  All right, let's look at Mississippi then.  You'll note that in that 1965 poll, Mississippi ranked #17, the eighth year in the decade of the '60s in which Mississippi was ranked in the top 20.  Matter of fact, Ole Miss was pretty good in the early part of the decade, when your hypothetical granddaddy was in his early 20s, finishing #3 in 1960, #5 in 1961, #4 in 1962 and #7 in 1963.  Playing the devil's advocate and going back to the 1950s (as we did with Michigan State), we see that Mississippi was #7 in 1952, #6 in 1954, #9 in 1955, #8 in 1957, #12 in 1958 and #2 in 1959.  As was the case with Michigan State (though for different reasons), Mississippi's decline came much later on, in the '70s, '80s and '90s.

Which brings me back to the beginning question: just how the hell old is grandfather supposed to be?  I know there's always a tendency to look back in the past and think it's father back than it actually is; 50 years sounds like a long time ago, but it was actually 1965.  Taken in the most generous sense, a grandfather usually isn't going to be much younger than 40 when the first grandchild is born, and unless you're about seven years old (and if you are, you shouldn't be reading, especially when the swimsuit issue is out), you're going to have a hard time proving your grandfather didn't know a time when Michigan State and Ole Miss were in the top 5.

You could have avoided so much of this confusion simply by saying that this year's rankings "aren't your father's top 5."  Is this a case when the headline writer gets so caught up in the story (one-legendary programs making a big comeback, which itself is problematic considering Michigan State finished last year ranked #5 and the year before #3, meaning they aren't all that unfamiliar with the top 5 lately) that they write the headline to fit a preconceived notion?  Is it that the headline writer doesn't know much about football history or is so young that they can't remember the last time these teams were ranked so high?  Or is it that the writer was too lazy to spend five minutes Googling College Football Polls (as I did) to write an accurate headline?

Take your pick, but I wish these headline writers would do their homework.  I'm old enough to remember when Michigan State and Mississippi were highly-ranked programs, and I don't have any grandchildren (yet).  Please, I don't need to feel any older than I already do.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Jon Vickers, R.I.P.

A couple of years ago, I quoted the great Jon Vickers speaking about mediocrity:
People will laugh when I say it, but I feel there has been for some years now a ground-swell of demand for mediocrity. They don't want excellence. We don't have positive heroes anymore; they're negative heroes. What do we attack? We've attacked all the great pillars of civilization. We take great heroes of history and so far as we are capable we snoop around in the excretia of some of these heroes until we find a flaw. So because a hero is not perfection, which if he was he would be God himself, then he's nothing more than anybody on the street. 

It's a great quote, relevant to almost every time and place, and reading it this week put me in mind to recall Vickers, one of my favorite opera tenors.  He died back this summer, and although I was quite aware of it at the time, I just didn't have the opportunity to write about it.  However, Opera News had its obituary on him this week, which not only reminded me to write about him, but to ask you to take a moment to go back to an extremely insightful interview with him conducted by Bruce Duffie in 1981.  If you have a few minutes please check it out, for it shows not only why Vickers was so good at his craft, but why the Opera News obituary made a point of discussing how he gave a moral dimension to his work, in a way quite unlike most singers.  A couple of quotes to give you a sense of this.

On the difference between musical comedy and opera:

Unless the human element is constantly portrayed, then opera becomes something that I don't like to think that it is, and that is mere entertainment. I can't stand opera as entertainment. If opera degenerates into entertainment, I would far sooner go and watch a good production of My Fair Lady or Brigadoon because I think it's much better entertainment than opera is. . . . For instance, Lenny Bernstein has wrestled with that all his life. He has striven very hard to believe that a really true American opera would develop out of the Broadway musical, and of course it hasn't. I think that Brigadoon has come closer to opera than any musical I've ever seen, but in my belief it will never happen. I think that entertainment, for the most part, deals with the superficialities of life, and works usually become extremely dated because they relate to a certain society and a certain framework that has developed in a certain society.

On where Richard Wagner fits into the equation:

JV: But I think that all great art deals with fundamentals, and this will surprise you: I'm not sure that Wagner falls in that category. Great art wrestles with the timeless, it wrestles with the universal, and at every point deals with the ever-present argument of what constitutes the fundamental moral law.

BD: Spirituality enters into this also?

JV: No question of it. For that reason, I put a question mark of the validity of Richard Wagner as a great artist. A great genius, yes, but a great artist? I'm not sure.

And later:

JV: There is a dis-inclination to demand of our artists truth.

BD: Are we lazy?

JV: No, I think it is a very long-developing process. I think it's developed possibly over the last 20 years. People will laugh when I say it, but I feel there has been for some years now a ground-swell of demand for mediocrity. They don't want excellence. We don't have positive heroes anymore; they're negative heroes. What do we attack? We've attacked all the great pillars of civilization. We take great heroes of history and so far as we are capable we snoop around in the excretia of some of these heroes until we find a flaw. So because a hero is not perfection, which if he was he would be God himself, then he's nothing more than anybody on the street.

BD: We're wiping out all of the positive?

JV: Of course. And Wagner is very guilty.

BD: Let's probe Wagner's guilt.

JV: (laughing) Well, I mean it's very simple. Wagner was so very much under the influence of Nietzsche and his philosophies, and to a certain extent by Schopenhauer. He was an anarchist. There's very great evidence to support the fact that the character of Siegfried was supposed to represent the great anarchist Bakunin. Wagner wanted to totally revolutionize society. He wanted to attack the whole fundamental basis upon which the structure and the law of music itself was based. He says so in his writings. He stated that it was his determination to reveal the destructive force of Christianity, that Christianity itself had done this enormous destructive thing to mankind in that it divided man against himself. I think that was ignorance on the part of Wagner. I think the division of man against man is a problem that has been wrestled with since the earliest of all writings in the history of mankind. It wasn't new in the Christian era.

BD: Is it ignorance on the part of Wagner, or just short-sightedness?

JV: Perhaps that, but nevertheless, he devoted this gigantic genius to that destructive force. What did he wrestle with? In all of his operas, he wrestled with the problem of being a bastard; he wrestled with the problem of incest; he wrestled with the problem of adultery and fornication; all of the negative aspects of our society. None of which would disturb me in the least - I think it was right, these things should be brought out into the open and discussed. But to come to the conclusions that he came to is demonic and diabolical.

BD: How do you interpret the very end of the Ring?

JV: It has to be the natural conclusion of such a philosophy, doesn't it?

BD: Is there any cleansing at all?

JV: I don't think so. Do you think that the experience of Germany which took that Wagnerian philosophy and applied it to a nation, to the greatest extent that it was possible for one nation under one man to do, had a cleansing effect on the world? Do you think mankind has learned one thing from it? Do you think in history as of this moment that mankind has progressed one iota from that? I don't.

This is wonderfully provocative.  Of course, to an extent this is at odds with Fr. Owen Lee's Wagner: The Terrible Man and His Truthful Art, in which he is able to separate the man and his work.  I think Lee sees great spirituality in some of Wagner's work, especially Parsifal and Meistersinger.  That's the way I see Wagner as well; I find Parsifal in particular to be quite spiritually moving, and when you consider how Nietzsche abhorred it, you can understand both sides of the argument.  And yet I see Vickers' argument quite powerful as well, and I think it corresponds with the way I feel about other of Wagner's work, even ones with the sublime music.  Because there has to be more to music than feelings, is the way I read Vickers.

In fact, Vickers puts his finger on what's wrong with so much of our culture today; we don't think, we feel.  Certainly great music must make one feel, but there has to be the humanity, the intellectual component as well, or else it is just entertainment.  Bread and circuses, as the Romans might put it.

So I take a moment to thank Jon Vickers not only for his art, but for his humanity, and his intellect as well.  If you get a chance, do read that interview - you'll be enlightened by it.