Glossary of Inspirations: C (part 2)
Cavalleria Rusticana - I have a dirty little secret. Short of Otello and Falstaff, I wonder if I don’t prefer Cavalleria Rusticana - that shabby shocker of vendetta opera - to all of Verdi. I love Verdi, but in its trashy little way, Cavalleria Rusticana is perfection itself. A masterpiece of melodrama that only the most perceptive conductors do justice to - Bernstein, Mitropoulos, Karajan, the composer himself. It should say something hugely significant that such good conductors were attracted to this one-hit wonder by a composer nobody ever hears much about otherwise. Indeed, it seems to require a great conductor to speak to us as it should. Under most conductors, it’s played far too fast and choppily. The score indicates it should go much slower than most conductors ever have the balls to take it. A sin that conductors commit so often in opera - as a rule of thumb, most orchestral pieces are taken too slowly, and most operas too quickly. I honestly don’t know anything else by Mascagni, but this is clearly the Sicily from which Francis Ford Coppola built his vision of The Godfather and the Sicily which Giovanni Verga conjures so vividly in his short stories. Listen to the first fifteen minutes. Immediately, you understand the sun-stroked lusts, rages, superstitions, and the endless capacity for self-destruction that was (is?) Sicily and why so many southern Italians were desperate to come over to America. Given that this was the archetypal verismo opera which so many Italians who came to America in the late-19th and early 20th century truly cherished, it’s even possible to view Cavalleria Rusticana as a great work of American art.
Chailly - During the two years of my late childhood when my early childhood ambition to be a conductor slaked, I decided that I wanted to be a baseball manager. It was basically the same job, only it was a more socially acceptable ambition for a ten-year-old. According to Tony La Russa, a great manager is ‘deep.’ That doesn’t mean he reads Schopenhauer, it means that he thinks obsessively about how his lineup on Monday will affect him next Thursday. He thinks about how a starter’s pitch count will affect another pitcher’s performance in two months. He thinks about the eight possible plays he can call with runners on first and third and every possible combination of players. If managing a baseball team is like conducting an orchestra (and I think it is), then no conductor of our time goes ‘deeper’ than Riccardo Chailly. Though his performances can be incredibly exciting, I don’t think anyone would point to him as the most inspiring or most spontaneous musician; but he is the most probing, the most rigorous, and the most prepared. No conductor of our time seems to know scores better and reliably push so hard for exactly what’s written in so many different varieties of repertoire. No conductor suits his gestures to the music and to his players more accurately. And of the few who’ve been able to operate on his level, none of them have been so un-tyrannical. If there is a by the book method of what conductors are supposed to do, then perhaps no conductor in recorded history has ever done a more exemplary job than Riccardo Chailly.
Cheers - Y’know, I could explain that this was the second most perfect comedy ever made on television after Seinfeld, and with many, many more warm fuzzies (EARNED warm fuzzies!!!) than Seinfeld ever had. But instead, I’m just going to leave a bunch of clips to explain all this to readers who are slightly younger than me and therefore ever so slightly too young to have caught Cheers during its run or when it was in regular syndication...
It's Time To Go
It's Time To Go
Chris Marker -
I have a split mind about Chris Marker. I have seen the barest fraction of his output and what I’ve seen is, for the most part, not very good. But I’m not so closed minded that I haven’t noticed the formation of a completely new language, a cinematic language that can convey information, concepts, an organizing principle, and a point of view. Film is so devastatingly effective at conveying emotion that next to it, the written word doesn’t stand a chance. Film has almost completely subsumed fiction as the most effective vehicle for fiction. But non-fiction and the essay are the arena in which the written word reign in supreme victory over any filmed method, just think of the most influential books of the years since World War II, after a few works of fiction, I draw a blank: 1984 and Animal Farm, The Stranger, Darkness at Noon, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Doctor Zhivago, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Catcher in the Rye, Invisible Man, Things Fall Apart, The Tin Drum, The Satanic Verses, Lolita, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera... what other works of high fiction ever inflamed even a reasonable segment of the world’s middlebrow imaginations? And more than half of these works owe their popularity almost as much to their thematic content as they do their of fictional vividness. The rest of the books which inflamed the wider literary public are almost all non-fiction - Understanding Media, The Medium is the Message, Art and Illusion, The Story of Art, The Shock of the New, Ways of Seeing, Sexual Behavior and the Human Male, The Joy of Sex, Sexual Personae, The Conscience of a Conservative, The Conservative Mind, The End of History, The Clash of Civilizations, The Liberal Imagination, Syntactic Structures, The Civil War, The Guns of August, The Fatal Shore, The Right Stuff, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Closing of the American Mind, The Road to Serfdom, The Virtue of Selfishness, Working, Hard Times, Capitalism and Freedom, Orientalism, Unsafe at Any Speed, No Logo, Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, The Executioner’s Song, In Cold Blood, Notes on Camp, Being and Nothingness, Mythologies, The Plague, The Rebel, The Wretched of the Earth, Discipline and Punish, The Second Sex, The Feminine Mystique, The Female Eunuch, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Origins of Totalitarianism, Manufacturing Consent, A People’s History of the United States, Fast Food Nation, Doors of Perception, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Why We Can’t Wait, Guns Germs and Steel, The Mismeasure of Man, The Double Helix, The Selfish Gene, The Lives of a Cell, Six Easy Pieces, The Feynmen Lectures, The Character of Physical Law, A Brief History of Time, General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, The Affluent Society, The Making of the President, The Best and Brightest, The True Believer, The Vital Center, The Imperial Presidency, A Theory of Justice, The Open Society and its Enemies, The Hero of a Thousand Faces, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Baby and Child Care, Alcoholics Anonymous, Darkness Visible, The Gulag Archipelago, Diary of a Young Girl,
If This Be a Man,
Shah of Shahs, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, The Elements of Style, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - next to this by no means extensive sampling of important non-fiction books which have had immeasurable impacts on our lives, what are their fictional equivalents which inflamed the world? Forget the ‘high canon’ of writers like Joyce, Proust, Woolf et al, barely read or even acknowledged by a wider literary public. The biggest printed fiction influence upon our lives is conceptual (Asimov, Ballard, Borges, Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Delany, Philip K. Dick, Gaiman, William Gibson, Heinlein, LeGuin, Leiber, Lem, George R. R. Martin, Murakami, Rowling, Corwainer Smith, Theodore Sturgeon, Tolkein, Van Vogt, Jules Verne, Vonnegut, DFW, and H. G. Wells... among others...) whose authors feel the need to alter the rules of reality itself in order to make a sustained impression upon us.