New Music at Election Time: Confronting the Angst and the Unknown

Anything can happen… and usually does. After it happens, will the music still play? Or will we still be able to hear it?

john_cage_blue_print (Photo credit: emanueleED)

Opening wide their ambitious new season, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players kicked off a John Cage Centennial Celebration with a performance of his three Constructions, along with performances of three works by composers several generations younger. The idea, said SFCMP Artistic Director Stephen Schick, was to see if the “sense of delight and exploration” would reach across the years to the new musicians as well as the old/new audience. It decidedly did.

For this listener, though, the psyche could not be dragged from the wearying angst of these final pre-election days into the spirit of boundless adventure that new music represents. “New music,” that is, from John Cage in 1939 or from Missy Mazzoli today. Missy Mazzoli, who looks like a teenager but has a list of awards and accomplishments a mile long, composed the remarkable “Still Life with Avalanche” in 2008. It was performed in between the First and Second Constructions.

Hopelessly consumed with fear and anxiety over the elections, I wove the whole business together. The Constructions, with their oxen bells and giant gongs, the ad campaigns with their strident accusations, the strangely beautiful things Missy Mazzoli wrote for her Avalanche and the incomprehensible things circulating around news media from the swing states.

Music lovers comfortable with Mozart and Beethoven had to have wondered what in the world the future would bring when John Cage and his no rules/ no boundaries music burst onto the scene two or three generations back. But here is this geezer listener, captivated by Missy Mazzoli.

Mazzoli has been referred to as “scary smart.” Today’s presidential contest, between two smart men — both at least genuinely good people — is just plain scary. Some people think my guy will lead us down the path to socialism or destitution or worse. I think their guy will lead us to economic disaster, social hopelessness, global wars and a setback of women’s rights from which we will not recover for generations — if ever.

John Cage said, “The world is teeming; anything can happen.” He just didn’t explain how to keep calm while the avalanche is roiling.

iPad a pod too far for some

Delirious iFans are all over cyberspace these days with effusive praise for their new toy –

… an alternate computing reality in which the balance between content creation and consumption has shifted.

…a new computer that really plays to this new reality … shifts the priorities, … gets us more intimate with our media than we have ever been before…

…the iPad (has) finally given us a reason to think beyond our current relationship with computers.

Light and slim and sexy, the iPad is not a machine, its analysts would have us understand, as much as “an experience.” Boasting a volume rocker and a sleep/power button and a switch that locks into either horizontal or portrait view.

The talk is all about the “responsive screen that lets us interact with the things we care about. (It) quickly becomes the way you want to consume the Internet.”

This writer hereby admits to a relationship with a ThinkPad X61 that is, at times, excessive and does occasionally drive the husband to the brink of tossing it out the window. But interaction with the things I care about tends to happen when I shut the machine off. Which leads me to believe I’ll remain PC Luddite and iPad resistant.

IPad’s interactivity raises computing bar.

Mr. & Mrs. Salahi vs Emily Post

Tired of the party crashers who won’t disappear? Aren’t we all. But since they are now accepting bids for TV appearances or something, they are clearly going to need a lot more high-priced agents and lawyers and publicists, and the least we can do in this space is offer a few more lines of coverage to help out.

One thing seems to be missing in all this. We are obsessing about security, and celebrity status or lack thereof, and too much or too little media coverage, and the excesses of reality TV which I have to admit to never having seen. But what about decorum? Could we sit the Salahis down with Letitia Baldrige? Preferably in a small, closed room? Lock them up in there (just Mr. and Mrs. Salahi, that is) until they finish Miss Manners’ Guide to Excrutiatingly Correct Behavior, every last word?

I grew up on Emily Post myself. Extend a hand contrary to the way Emily instructed (Ms. Salahi’s casual finger-work on Vice President Biden’s chest? Good grief) and one would suffer terrible, unrelenting embarrassment.

I think these people don’t know how to spell embarrassment. And as my Emily Post Book of Etiquette-bearing mother would say, “More’s the pity.”

On learning at 30… or 40… or…

True/Slant contributor Gina Welch, on turning 30 just now, posted a fine list of 20 things she learned in her twenties, at the precise moment when I’d been musing about the passage of time myself. A somewhat more elderly muse, that is, since mine was prompted by the realization that day before yesterday marked the 85th anniversary of my parents’ marriage. In case that doesn’t sound elderly enough, my parents were both born in 1897, whew.

So in response to Gina’s wisdom here are six things I learned in my sixties (which are way past, at that.) It was terribly hard not to plagiarize, especially Gina’s Listen to your mother, even if it’s only to her long-departed voice in your head, or Wallow not, advice that improves exponentially with age.

1 – Get up early in the morning. It’s way more fun when you aren’t doing it because the baby’s crying, the school bus is waiting or the boss is calling… but just because the To-Do list actually contains stuff you want to do. Plus, days have fewer hours in them.

2 – Go back to school. Classmates a generation or two younger can be wise beyond your years. After a lifetime of writing for newspapers and magazines (you remember print journalism?) I joined the Class of ’00 at the University of San Francisco to pick up an MFA in short fiction. Who knew? If you run into anyone ready to publish my short story collection, let me know. A few of them have actually seen the light of publication, but I’m going to publish The Marshallville Stories in full if I live long enough… or perhaps if I learn enough in my 70s.

3 – Medicare is good. Imagine not having to freak out at every bodily suggestion that fatal expenses could be right around the corner. Imagine everybody having that unfreakable experience. How about we pass health reform?

4 – Listen to your daughter. She can probably teach you a LOT about changing mores, gender identities, adventure travel and how to see the world. Not to mention low fashion, hair styling, organic food and living well.

5 – Listen to your granddaughter. She can definitely teach you about computer programs, digital photography, what 18-year-old college art students are doing, and teenage music. You can close your ears when the teenage music part comes.

6 – Count your blessings. Seriously. If you’re still able to get up in the morning and remember how to count, this is good exercise. And if you count forwards and then repeat the same numbers backward you have exercised your brain, which is increasingly important. At a certain point in life it is tempting to reflect on the world when nobody locked their doors and you dashed onto airplanes just as they were pulling up the steps. And people apologized if they inadvertently used the D-word in front of your mother (there’s her voice again in my head…) So it’s okay to count nostalgic blessings, too; just don’t forget about par courses or contemporary chamber music or sunsets over the Pacific or that grandson who speaks Mandarin and Spanish at 17…

Thanks, Gina. Happy Birthday.