Sunday, April 24, 2005

Like A Virgin

Harboring a secular belief system that Joseph Ratzinger might deride as being captive to the “dictatorship of relativism” (by which I presume the new and improved Benedict XVI to mean absolutely anything that falls outside the steely doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, like say, advocating the use of condoms in third world countries to help fight the spread of AIDS) I’m not as versed as I’d like to be in Biblical hermeneutics. I say this because I recently began reading Jose Saramago’s trenchant and deliciously skeptical fictional telling of the life of Jesus , The Gospel According To Jesus Christ, and was surprised to learn that Jesus had numerous younger siblings. I wondered if Saramago wasn’t perhaps making this up. But doing a little sleuthing just now I see that the answer depends on whether you’re Catholic or Protestant. For Catholics, Mary is the eternal virgin. This must have been hard on poor Joseph. “Not tonight Joseph, I’m with the Lord our Savior’s child.” Thankfully, Protestants have seen fit to save Joseph from the cruel fate of a lifetime of conjugal blueballs and allowed him to mount Mary several times. There are no stained-glass depictions of this so far as I know.

This guy, a Reformist Christian, has written a paper about this point of contention, the exasperated tone of which is probably a good example of the animosity Catholic and Protestant hermeneuticists must feel toward one another. According to his fiery essay, it’s, like, so entirely obvious that Jesus had siblings. But Catholics, arguing the linguistic malleability card, choose to interpret these relations as either being cousins or children from a previous marriage of Josephs. Previous marriage? Well, I’ll be!

Still, I guess I’m just a little surprised that Protestants, to my knowledge, haven’t made a bigger deal about these siblings. Why don’t we see more Protestant deification surrounding these kids? Were any of them around when Christ really got going on his savior kick? Did they believe him? Or were they keeping as far away as possible from their older brother, mortified by his claims of turning water into wine and the troubling nature of his followers, especially those 12 gaunt fellows claiming to be his disciples? And talk about a great book/play/movie idea- the life of Jesus through the eyes of one of Jesus’ brothers. It would begin, “Well, Jesus stopped by this afternoon, reeking of patchouli and ripe with his increasingly bizarre parables. Simon saw him coming up the path and slipped out the backdoor while Jesus was distracted with ‘healing’ yet another leper. ‘I’ll stop by later on,’ Simon whispered in my ear before taking leave, ‘I just can’t take his miracle worker schtick today, you know?’”
Lincoln World

There’s been a lot of buzz up here in Chicago about the recent opening of the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library/Museum down in Springfield. All the local news outlets have had correspondents (sometimes even sending in their top-tiered evening anchors) covering the grand opening, interviewing folks like Senator Dick Durbin and the museum’s director, the puckish Presidential historian, Richard Norton Smith. The viewers are given cursory tours of the museum that choose to focus not on the impressive gathering of over 12,000 Lincoln documents but rather the dozens of life-size rubber Lincoln’s that dot the museum and depict iconic scenes from his life. Also of interest to the local news is the Imagineering nature of many of the museum’s exhibits, including a theatrical presentation where a real-life actor interacts with a holographic Lincoln. Such displays are not without their critics, with jowl drooping college professors put before the camera’s to berate the museum’s emphasizing of glitz and dehumanizing of history. As one professor noted, “I call it 6 Flags Over Lincoln.”

The schoolmarm in me (who, I like to sometimes imagine, lives in a little house on the prairie, wears fetching bonnets and is friendly with Laura and Almonzo Wilder) shares the concerns of these droopy pedagogues, but at the same time I loathe the musty, oftentimes sterile feel of too many of our nation’s museums where history feels quarantined. One of my favorite museum going experiences over the last few years was the fantastic multi-media exhibit, The Road To Revolution, located in the Minute Man Visitor Cener (all part of Minute Man National Historical Park) in Concord, Massachusetts. Its roughly 20 minutes of Imagineering does a wonderful job telling the story of the momentous and calamitous events of April 19th, 1775 in a way that’s both visually exciting and historically vigorous. As the inculcating Richard Norton Smith has reminded those newscasters quick to ask him about his museum’s critics, “Any great story has to be told on multiple levels.”

I should also point out and urge, if ever you find yourself at the park, that you walk the awesome Battle Road Trail. Not only is it simply a nice woodsy walk, it also practically trembles with our nation’s history and comes equipped with numerous brass historical plaques for you to peruse and gain context. It’s pretty awesome.

So Cathy and I plan on making a trip down to Springfield sometime this summer to check out the new Lincoln museum. Recognizing that I’m woefully ignorant of Lincoln’s biography other then the obvious corn-fed basics and what I recall from reading Gore Vidal’s beautiful novel, I’m looking forward to reading one of the many dormant books on my shelves, David Herbert Donald’s, Lincoln. Having read this (and, ideally, some of Lincoln’s own writings) I’ll get to savor both the deeper historical context and psychological shadings of the man while enjoying frequent rides on the Mary Todd Demon Drop.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Further Explorations Of Our Hero’s Bodily Functions

I read your review yesterday.


Well, its got this tone and then…

…I mention that they take dumps just like the rest of us…

…and it doesn’t really work, it's too jarring.

Yeah, I was trying to take the stuffing out of the fact that they’ve been made into icons. I found it really funny.

Yes, you would. But maybe there was a more subtle way to go about it?


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I’ve Never Met Anyone Quite Like You Before

My critical facilities, tepid though they may be, grow even murkier when it comes to assessing the merits of New Order’s latest, Waiting For The Sirens Call. Any alacrity of judgment, especially when the opinion may veer toward the lackluster, is clouded by my past relationship with the band and their prominence in my teenage listening habits.

Second only to the solo output of Peter Gabriel, New Order was the most important band in my teenage cannon. Beginning in the early 80’s, when I first heard Blue Monday played on the local Cleveland rock station, WMMS, until the release of 1989’s Technique, the band was a constant of my immediate post-pubescent/ pre-adulthood years. The bands music, a peerless and highly salient mix of wistfulness and grandeur, provided those transitory years with a sublime soundtrack that will forever be overwhelmed with powerful and, for the most part, affirming associations. It also helped that the band, up until the late 80’s, maintained a mysterious, imperturbable air, rarely granting interviews or having their photographs taken, allowing designer Peter Saville plenty of leeway to refine an elegant if melancholy public persona though his album covers.

It’s that unyielding teenager who still exerts a considerable pressure- who fears any challenge to the bands honor- asking (or demanding) that my current “adult version” maintain a certain level of propriety when discussing the band. I’m happy to comply, especially if we’re casting back to their remarkable run through the 80’s (to which we could also include their previous incarnation as Joy Division, another favorite of my teenage years), an output that has held up remarkably well. As New Order, the albums Movement, Power, Corruption and Lies, Low-Life, Brotherhood and Technique in addition to the mighty singles and remixes collection, Substance 1987, continue to maintain their original luster, each gracefully maturing into singular classics.

In the late 90’s, I feel compelled to note, New Order became iconic, lauded by countless musicians, critics and aficionados alike, inevitably passing over that mysterious threshold where all the accumulated burnish and ardor becomes mythology. With this ascendancy of prestige they’re now larger then life. And they’re still releasing albums and, just like you and me, taking dumps, gods though they may be.

So into that autobiographical palaver arrives Waiting For The Sirens Call, an early promo copy of which I was the lucky recipient of thanks to Kristen. Listening for the first time, as I did a couple weeks back now, that affecting, dreamy 80’s teenager was full of hope, emboldened before a single note was heard that this would be another classic, another soundtrack for the married/home-owner chapter of my life. (But it's so, so much more then wedding wings and paying the mortgage, this chapter.) There would be Barney’s vapid but endearing lyrics and sweet guitar pluckings, the liquid churn of Hook's melodic bass, Morris’s metronome drumming and all of it bridged together by lovely cushions of keyboard. Be a classic!

It’s not.

I wanted it to blow my ears off and make me feel utterly, overwhelmingly alive. I wanted melancholy and grandeur butting up against each other. I wanted to churn up all those old passions and present them with something emboldened and entirely new. All that prestige practically demanded it. But what we have here, it hurts to admit, is a handful of songs, a handful of really good tracks, surrounded by a preponderance of efficient ho-hum.

The really good tracks:

1. Waiting For The Sirens Call
2. Krafty
3. Jetstream
4. Turn

So, 4 out of 11 ain’t too bad. Couple that with the best tracks from 2001’s Get Ready and you’re close to a full album of great, if not classic, tracks. We role with the punches better these days when our expectations aren’t met, we’re more resilient and more forgiving. And those above 4, especially the back to back punch of the title track and Krafty, are pretty darn good.

Against the grain of their newfound iconic status, we have a little middle-aged hero-slippage. Happens sometimes. I doubt they’ll ever again match those heights from the 80’s, but then, I’ll never be 16 and cruising in my Dad’s diesel Jetta to the sounds of Temptation rattling the dashboard speakers again either.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Hotdog! Summer Just Got A Whole Lot More Summery!

Of course, it'll be packed to the gills, but this looks like it can only get better and better. Still waiting for the Summerdance 2005 schedule to be posted, but hopefully that'll be soon.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Given that we moved back to Chicago in February of last year, we were fortunate enough to miss more then half of winter. So this past one was the first we’ve had to slog through in its entirety since 2000-2001. And shit, no matter how you slice it, living under that nagging settlement of grey isn’t all that agreeable, is it?

Today, at last, it seems, like winter is finally losing its toehold in dramatic fashion. Sure, we’re condemned to get hit with a few more days of blustery drabness, but today seems like spring’s official overzealous introduction. Spring! Catch the fever! Here’s hoping that we get some payback for last year’s inordinately chilly ass (and wet!) spring and summer.

My bike and me went out to greet our newfound spring this morning- to feel that sweet, embraceable warmth and to test our lungs. After finally locating my helmet buried in a closet amongst discarded and mismatched gloves and properly inflating the tires (an act that I've always found to be intensely gratifying, so should you need inflating, I'm available), we headed south, into strong and persistent winds up from the Gulf of Mexico that caused us to shift into lower and still lower gears. We saw middle-aged men playing tennis with their shirts off, skin frighteningly razor-burn red and distressingly gelatinous. Inspired, we peddled even harder and felt a tightness in the chest and our legs, oh, how they trembled so- all those hibernating muscles so long neglected and suddenly put back into service. But still we went on, past empty harbors hungry for boats and polo clad retirees practicing their golf swings. A man passed me by on his bike. He was large and his legs were thick like tree stumps. I couldn’t keep up.

And then we couldn’t go any further. We turned around and my back became a sail for the wind. My bike creaked and squeaked and yet never once slipped out of gear. I noted new rust on the handlebars and the spider web cracks running through the handgrips.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Cars Throwing Sparks

We need more large, inanimate objects suspended and bursting with multi-colored lights, no?