Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Underrated Classical Musicians: 3/31/20

The Sirba Octet today. 
So if I had to make a bet on what the future of classical music is, my bet is that it will branch in two directions whose competition will be as ideologically fraught as Verdi vs. Wagner, Schoenberg vs. Stravinsky. On the one side, electronic music and its infinite frontier of possibility, on the other side, the plethora of folk music recordings greater and greater fidelity to the organic roots of music's long history and pre-history, but with renewed classical sophistication as a framework to give still greater flights of instrumental virtuosity and harmonic and timbral invention. 
The Sirba Octet is a Klezmer group, but with virtuosity and compositional rigor compounded so stunningly that it can't really be considered an organic sort of Klezmer. It is archetypal of that very French stylistic way of taking the best genres considered anachronistic elsewhere and giving it the home of extended life, just as they have with jazz and Jerry Lewis. 
To be sure, this is Klezmer, and just about all of it is old Klezmer tunes, but with stunning instrumental virtuosity beyond anything you'll hear from Abe Elenkrig and Dave Tarras. 
It's not authentic Klezmer anymore than Newgrass is authentic bluegrass, but it is the next step, and relates Klezmer to context of music history's long river. The result is a once-in-a-year musical revelation.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Underrated Classical Musicians: 3/29/20

So I guess we ought to talk about Penderecki, who died yesterday. On the one hand, there's no world in contemporary music where Krzystopf Penderecki was underrated, if anything, I wonder if we slightly overrated him. On the other hand, how many people listen to contemporary classical music? Short of maybe Arvo Pärt, there's literally no composer in our day of serious concert music whom you can even argue gets a proper hearing. Not even Philip Glass or John Adams, it's debatable that even Arvo Pärt gets a fair hearing. 
I had mixed feelings about Penderecki. There is no question of his significance. He is one of the pre-eminent voices of our time, at the very center of the 'Polish Composers' School': a generation of genius that begins with Witold Lutoslawski and goes through Panufnik, Baird, Kilar, Gorecki, and Penderecki. 
Per the size of his reputation, was Penderecki greater than the greatest of the others? Certainly not in my not completely educated opinion. I have a particular fondness for Andrzej Panufnik, but Penderecki is an essential composer, one of the crucial voices of music whose music speaks not just for him, but for Poland, for the Bloodlands, for the Twentieth Century, and particularly for all in that very deadly time and place who perished. 
Penderecki was certainly a composer for his time, whose embrace of the avant-garde was perfect for the moment in the 60s when his severe dissonances exploded through the Iron Curtain as though to say that Social Realism was dead and the artist was still free to compose as he liked. Penderecki later admitted that his music in that period gave the unfortunate impression that life under communism was freer than it actually was. 
Try as I did rather hard, I could never get particularly into those 80 minute avant-garde monsterpieces like the St. Luke Passion or Utrenja or even the Polish Requiem. It's a lot to ask of even the most obsessive listener to listen to well over an hour of unremitting dissonance and darkness. In my strong opinion, the best music of those years is the short stuff. Everybody knows the Threnody for Hiroshima, even if they think they don't. It's in so many of the most crucial scenes in Kubrick's The Shining, it was in Children of Men, it was in Twin Peaks and Black Mirror.... This music is, quite literally, the sound of horror, and the kind of music you would expect from a composer who grew up near Auschwitz. 
Similarly Polymorphia, another piece for a massive and individually scored string section, is featured not just in The Shining but also in The Exorcist. These avant-garde years have all these brief dissonant masterpieces: Canticum Canticorum Salomonis, Psalms of David, The Dream of Jacob, De Natura Sonoris. Like Webern, albeit at least a little larger, they make the most extraordinary sounds, and then they're over: if the larger statement pieces never seemed to end, he had a great dinner guest's instinct in the small pieces for when it was time to leave. 

On the other hand, a true sign of Penderecki's greatness was his willingness to evolve over time. Once he hit forty, he gradually became very, VERY different. The Polish Requiem, which I'm listening to right now, is definitely still the same funerary expressionist of earlier years, grandson of Schönberg and younger brother to Bernd Alois Zimmermann, but the horizons have broadened, and you hear that he's brought the light of tonal chords back in. He never completely lets go of his old chromaticism in extremis, but it's balanced by other elements. This music is not 'tonality' per se, certainly not tonality as modern Bachian harmony understands it, but rather the counterpoint and modality of the Church's earlier incarnations. The counterpoint is pure Renaissance: Palestrina, Josquin. But the harmonies go back to the modes of the early church, perhaps Machaut or Perotin, and perhaps even further back into the monophonic chants of the early Middle Ages. By the time he gets to the Credo in 1998, it's almost too simple. So completely different and simple does his idiom become there are all sorts of passages that could be mistaken for Arvo Pärt or John Williams. The totality is more complex than either of those two contemporaries of his, but it speaks to how dramatic his evolution was. Extremely talented artists can mine a single vein their whole careers, but great artists evolve, and the fact that Penderecki can change so dramatically over the course of his career tempts one to re-evaluate the early thorny music in light of what he later became. 
Penderecki, like so many Poles, was quite religious and lived his life in the environs of Krakow, the city of Pope John Paul II, but by ancestry, Penderecki was mostly Armenian, not Polish, and he worshipped at an Armenian church rather than one of Krakow's many, many Catholic parishes. Perhaps spiritual bent rather foreordained his return to much older conceptions of music that have very little to do with the modernity his young self embraced with such a vengeance.
But my favorite piece by him is The Seven Gates of Jerusalem. Not necessarily because of its Jewish theme, but because it is as close as Penderecki came to finding the perfect blend of complexity and simplicity to sustain interest over a full hour. It is technically called a symphony, but it's one of the last great choral works of the 20th century, and at this point at least, I would easily take it over the more iconic earlier choral works like St. Luke and Utrenja. 
But there is no way that I can make that the link here when this video exists:

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Tales from the Old New Land - Reboot - First Four Story Outlines

Charlap: 1894 - The prologue or pilot starts with Reb Yaakov Charlap either teaching Cheder to boys or in a Beit Din, then leaving his job and going to his house where he's met by all eleven of his sons, all of whom are now Bar Mitzvahed and teenagers, his wife (probably unnamed) having had four sets of triplets. They do a l'chaim, and Reb Yaakov explains that an angel appeared to him in a dream, and that so long as he named his children after the twelve tribes of Israel, Hashem would bless his house. He has a rich twin brother in Warsaw who sends them lots of money but notes in his speech that he wishes his brother was here for this day but they haven't seen each other in ten years because his wife doesn't like Reb Yaakov. He tells them that after Shabbos, the shatkhan will be coming with matches for all of you. Very soon you will all be married and have kinder of your own, this is going to be a year of Simcheh. The eleven brothers drink with Reb Yaakov and they start making plans for the bris. They talk about the first events in the Dreyfus affair. It has been more than thirteen years since the mother had Yosef, Dinah, and Zevulun, but a Warsaw doctor brought by Yaakov's brother warned that he would endanger the health of the mother if they ever had another child. At the birth of Benyamin, the mother dies, and it causes a bitter fight among the children with their father who said that Reb Yaakov endangered their mother. A few minutes later, they get a letter from Yaakov's sister-in-law that the brother in Warsaw died, and the payments must stop immediately. The family knows they must break apart. It ends with a mini-pseudo sermon from the father lamenting that he knows that most of the children will cease to be Jewish, will be answered by others. 

Shimon: 1902 - about the Second Boer War: British and the guerrillas and why the Boer guerrillas care much more than the British do, but also why the British imperialism may be more benevolent than Boer imperialism, but maybe worse because it is much further reaching. Shimon (Simon) is an officer at a concentration camp. The commandant is an aristocrat whose father was from an old Portuguese Jewish family (possibly also named Charlap). We hear the British interacting with the Boers but we do not meet the Boers. The other officers are from all around the British empire, we meet them either in the mess hall or over a game of cards. Simon has to interrogate a Boer prisoner, who argues with him that the British are no better than the Boers and just want the blood diamonds. And eventually rather than wear the Boar down, the Boar wears him down because the Boer realizes that he's Jewish and tells him he'll never be British, and the non-violent supposedly principled British interrogation turns extremely violent. Ends with motivational speech from Commandant telling him he knows exactly what happened without having to read any report. Don't worry, here you're an Englishman, not a Jew, but ends on a not of ambiguity that Simon is not sure he wants to be English. 

Judah and Zebulun: 1903 - Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel, the motion to have a Jewish state in Uganda. We meet Theodore Herzl who hates his most passionate followers. We hear Herzl over the phone with some famous Jewish businessman, perhaps Nathaniel Rothschild, perhaps Karl Wittgenstein,  is idolized by the people he The Kishnev pogrom is in the minds of everybody and what might soon happen elsewhere around Russia and Europe. Judah is a law student who clerked at a Jewish firm in Kishnev, dutiful and circumspect, Zebulun is the firm's errand boy, rebellious and wayward. They are there because their firm's boss was killed in the pogrom and need to make connections or find work. Judah's real hope is to work for Herzl. He waits in line for days and days for an audience, which of course he doesn't get. Zebulun is not interested at all in anything about the conference or Basel, but he ends up drinking in a Basel inn and unwittingly ends up talking and getting drunk with Chaim Weizmann while having no idea who Weizmann is. Weizmann drunkenly tells the young man about his problems convincing Arthur Balfour to let Jews have a state in Palestine, to which Zebulun replies 'Would he give up London to live in Canada?" Weizmann immediately realizes this is the argument he needs to use, and Zebulun, suddenly impressed that he can be useful to someone, becomes so committed a Zionist that out of enthusiasm, Zebulun becomes the one who stands up in the convention and leads the chant of 'Am Yisroel Chai' which leads to the adaptation of Palestine as the only possible home for a Jewish state. 

Reuven: 1904 - Reuven ends up servant in urban palace of a Russian Count who is a general in the army. At the palace, Reuven is Roman, and tries to conceal from the staff that he is Jewish, but a person on the staff runs into him on his way to his apartment which he shares with Gad, who is a student, and sees that he is Jewish. So he blackmails him. But the Count grows to like his footman, thinking him very competent and funny. The house is preparing for Leo Tolstoy to come, and they have to take extra care to accommodate Tolstoy's eccentricities. When Tolstoy comes, he can't care less about the noblemen and wants to spend all his time with the servants rather than the masters, and his extremely personal questions make the servants deeply uncomfortable. In front of the entire dinner, Tolstoy puts Roman on the spot and asks him his life story. Reuven can't help it at this point and has to confess the whole thing. Upon hearing that Reuven is Jewish, Tolstoy sermonizes about the importance of tolerance, but the other servants are antisemitic, and in the kitchen one deliberately drops hot soup on his hand, scalding him.  The Count sends for Reuven, and Reuven and the other servant expect for him to be fired, but the Count promotes him to head of the house because the Count too has a terrible secret. When the count asks what happened to his hand, he has to lie about why. 'I sent for you because you BOZHE MOY WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR HAND! (Reuven lies). I sent for you because you have a terrible secret, and I must tell someone myterrible secret.' The Count confesses to him about the plans for the Russo-Japanese War and how it will be a disaster that kills tens of thousands, but the Czar's word is law. 'You must count yourself fortunate that I know you're a Jew. If it were not known, you would come as my personal valet, and you would die along with everyone else.' It ends with the aristocrat leaving for it with one of the crucial commands, but knowing he will die and his men will be slaughtered. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

What Do We Do About Conservatives Now?

Yesterday, the State of Mississippi rescinded all local stay-at-home orders about coronavirus.  'We reject dictatorship models like China.' Three days ago, Liberty University re-opened, ' and Jerry Falwell Jr. said "I think we have the responsibility to our students... ...to not interrupt their college life." On the same day, Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, became an international celebrity for suggesting on Fox News, where all Republican talking points are aired, that old people are ready to die to save the economy for their grandchildren. And of course, on still the same day, our international celebrity President suggested in a press conference that he wants America back to normal by Easter. 

We ultimately have no idea how resilient this virus is, but the conservative estimate of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is 470,000 deaths in 18 months, and it could be as much as 2.2 million deaths. 470,000 is almost exactly how many people died in the Syrian Civil War so far over nearly ten years. So looking at how things are going now, let's just assume that since we're a weak or two behind Italy, and the curve in Italy has just begun to flatten. Italy's had 8,000 deaths from coronavirus. So obviously Italy will easily reach 10,000 deaths, probably reach 12,000, could reach 15,000, and still might reach 18,000 or 20,000. Italy is sixty million people, the US is three-hundred-thirty million.  The US is 5.5 times the population of Italy.  So proportionally, our curve this time around would probably begin to flatten at 45,000, probably reach 65,000, ccould reach 80,000, and still might reach 100,000. But this is an eighteen month disease with no vaccine, this could come back at the beginning of the next flu season with much, much more virulence.

It may not happen that way. The average of the US population is ten years younger than Italy, smokes much less, and believe it or not, the US still has a more government than Italy and better sanitation. We even have better healthcare than in Italy, and we have rough parity on environmental cleanliness.
On the other hand, according to the Bloomberg Global Health Index, Italy is literally the second healthiest nation in the world, and they still had the worst outbreak of this disease. We are, I believe, the #33 healthiest, right between Chile and Bahrain. By the World Bank's estimates of income inequality, we are the 51st most unequal country in the world, while Italy is #98. Not very impressive, but we are as unequal as the Ivory Coast, a country literally named for its imperial plunder. In the world of public health, you are only as free of infectious disease's threat as the lowest in your society, and if germs pollinate this well in New York, which has never in its history been richer, how will the virus feast on hosts when it comes to Newark, Rochester, Hartford; Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia? It's come to Detroit, and Detroit hospitals are already at complete capacity! What will it do when it comes to the West Side of Chicago? And my god, what would it do when it comes to Puerto Rico??

In spite of the fact that Trump's abject stupidity was in front of us every day for four years, every progressive in America was focused on Trump's potential for authoritarianism,  and that occasionally includes me, when it was clear the whole time that his true destructive potential lay in his incompetence. And with incompetence Trump lays the track down for an authoritarian train with all of us tied to the tracks.

Trump, over and over again, was called Hitler. Conservatives, over and over again, were called fascists. Trump rallies, over and over, were compared to Nuremberg. But it's so clear that modern conservatives aren't Nazis, and Trump isn't even necessarily a fascist. But he is our Kaiser Wilhelm, our Louis XVI, our Nicholas II:  as resentfully tempermental as Willy, as spoiled as Louie, as stupid as Nicky. And the conservatives who support and enable him are as ideologically poisoned with venom and notions of honor and humiliation as the Kaiser's General Staff.

At this point, I have to venture a guess that the coronavirus and whatever events follow it may be, in some senses, our living memory's equivalent to World War I or the French Revolution: orgies of death brought about not by dictators, but by the blindness of rulers who could have prevented it at every single step, but the system which rose them to power was so old and sclerotic that it did nothing to stop the country's leaders from implementing their most destructive assumptions about how the world works. In both cases, the weaknesses that destroyed these powers, giants of the world who dominated their eras, were precisely the strengths that enabled their rise.

What destroyed Bourbon France was belief in the divine right of the sovereign: an inviolate belief which held sovereign word as law; and if the sovereign refused to listen to the demands of the French populace for reform until well past the time when demands for reform became demands for revolution, the sovereign's will must nevertheless be obeyed.

What destroyed Imperial Europe was their belief in honor: that a promise from one man of honor to another was as sacred as a blood oath, and an unfulfilled promise is the conduct of a man without honor. The ententes of nations to aid each other in wartime were considered so crucial to fulfill that if it entailed spilling battlefield blood of millions, the price of honor to their countries was nevertheless small.

What will ultimately destroy America is its unshakeable belief in liberty - the belief that United States of America is a country where freedom of speech, press, worship, movement, and money, must remain so completely inviolate that even if our country is beset by a plague that will never have an opinion on our first amendment rights, our freedom is so precious a commodity that tens of millions ought die for it rather than see it violated.

Trump is not the disease, he is just the latest symptom of this belief in liberty. Isaiah Berlin; along with Machiavelli my favorite political thinker, says that there are two kinds of liberty. Libertarians and objectivists often try to coopt the famous Oxford don into their ideological service, but when Berlin was speaking of positive liberty, he was speaking of people with beliefs exactly like theirs. They always seem to forget a few crucial quotes of his:
It follows that a frontier must be drawn between the area of private life and that of public authority. Where it is to be drawn is a matter of argument, indeed of haggling. Men are largely interdependent, and no man's activity is so completely private as never to obstruct the lives of others in any way. 'Freedom for the pike is death for the minnows'; the liberty of some must depend on the restraint of others.
"Freedom for the pike is death for the minnows." Does the pike have the right to so much money of the sea that the minnows can't pay for fish food? Does the pike have the right to speech so free that when minows patronize his business he may refuse service? Does the pike have such right to freedom of worship that he may impose his views on social issues upon all of society? Does the pike have so inviolable a right to freedom of assembly that he can bring weapons to intimidate the crowds into enacting his bidding? Does the pike have the right to freedom of press so great that he can make death or rape threats to any minnow he wants?

Personally, I'm a pragmatist. I do not believe any belief so inviolate that it can't be discarded if the necessity presents itself. And I believe as Berlin believed:
If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter.
99% of overarching systems of beliefs that apply to all situations will, by their very definition, lead us to doom. Maintaining balance in the torrential winds that blow through the world is an act of virtuosity, requiring endless reservoirs of flexibility and compromise. One more passage from the great don of Oxford:
The notion of the perfect whole, the ultimate solution in which all good things coexist, seems to me not merely unobtainable--that is a truism--but conceptually incoherent. ......Some among the great goods cannot live together. That is a conceptual truth. We are doomed to choose, and every choice may entail an irreparable loss.
And by not choosing some irreparable loss of freedom, the United States will lose all of its freedom, and eventually consign itself to history's dustbin just as every dominant civilization has before it. All memory of what we are and were vanished along with the memory of everything and everyone we ever loved.

I have family and friends who believe in American conservatism very deeply, and no matter what other kinds of fanatics say, you can't stop loving people just because they believe in bad things. In some ways you love them more because you wish you knew how to help them. You view them a bit like lost souls. Many beliefs, leftist beliefs held by other people I love, are similarly pernicious, and one day they will be vilified by the 'intelligentsia' too, whose fashionable beliefs always change like the wind. But the left is certainly not our immediate threat, however much they enabled it. 

The problem is certainly not that conservatives are evil people. Evil is everywhere, it's in everyone, and good people fall into evil's temptations all the time, usually without realizing it, and often mistaking evil for good. The problem is that American conservatism, like the vast majority of ideologies, believe in simple solutions to mysteries that will never stop remaining mysteries, and believe that their solutions apply to every situation. The only solution that applies to every situation is death. 

Passionate beliefs applied to every situation are how many people get through their lives. Everyone needs certainties, and the more certainties they have, the more willing they are to fight for them. So because ideologies believe that a solution applies to every situation, there is no action ideologists are not able to mentally justify. And because what they believe is inevitably wrong for many situations, it has a terrible effect on all the issues which ideological solutions are supposed to improve. And then the situations don't improve, so the fanatics double down and say that some of us haven't sufficiently committed to their vision of how the world is supposed to be.

This is how religion ends up burning heretics, this is how communism ends up shooting and starving millions, this is how Western countries end up enslaving millions from other parts of the globe and killing millions more, and this is of course how Hi....,

And this is how American conservatives let disease run rampant in a country with more scientific knowledge than any society in the history of the world, this is how American conservatives let companies pollute until the planet becomes so uninhabitable that millions of species die off and billions of humans among them, and this is how Republicans let corporations control more and more and more of American life until the private sector becomes the true government of the country - perhaps even the real dictators that inevitably rise in the chaos following a world power's decimating event. The poor become an expendable labor force at best, and at worst, a nuisance on their bottom line that must be disposed with.

The more true believers have free reign to deposit their toxic selves and instincts into their beliefs, the better-natured and nicer they are in their personal lives because their everyday interactions are not beset with the anguish of doubting that whatever they do is ultimately for the good. And if you're not doubting that all the time, there's something deeply wrong with your belief system.

Realistically speaking, I don't think there's a solution at this point, I'm pretty sure the only way out is for people to realize how tragically large the end result of their beliefs are, and we will have to lose so, so very much.

Underrated Classical Musicians: 3/27/20

I know we don't usually go with the big names, but it's been a rough week for us all. Let's just appreciate this magnificent movement from a symphony that sucks. This beautiful, perfectly composed, impossible to play movement is one of the best things Tchaikovsky wrote, and so deserves a better symphony. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Underrated Classical Musicians 3/25/20

Let's talk about Tugan Sokhiev.
The new generation of conductors has it in them to be particularly extraordinary, perhaps more extraordinary than any generation...- I mean this -...than any generation born after 1900, and perhaps particularly the eminent conductors whose life stories center around the former Soviet countries: Kirill Petrenko, Andris Nelsons, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, Teodor Currentzis, Vladimir Jurowski, Vasily Petrenko, Jakub Hrusa, Christian Macelaru. These are all talents who have the potential for true greatness - some, like K. Petrenko and Jurowski, are clearly pretty much there already. And of course are other names who could get to the front of the line: Netopil, Urbanszki, Slobedeniouk, Karabits, K. Jarvi. But I'm pretty sure that of these new Eastern Europeans, the one who deserves the most recognition in proportion to how well known he yet is is, without a doubt, Tugan Sokhiev.
Don't get me wrong, he's definitely a name who appears on the calendar of most of the world's major orchestras, but then he disappears. Nelsons is a year younger, and he's already been in Boston for more than six years, Petrenko is suddenly catapulted to Berlin, Deborah Borda is already measuring Jaap's coffin in New York to get Mirga at Lincoln Center, and Currentzis is selling out every venue. But Sokhiev is so good that he easily excels some of the names on that above list, and yet you wouldn't know he was anywhere at all. And in the meantime, he is the music director of the National Orchestra of Toulouse, France's fourth city, the German Symphony Orchestra of Berlin, which is one-third of a three-way tie for Berlin's third-most important orchestra, and the Bolshoi Opera, a job so impossible in post-Soviet Russia that Rozhdestvensky walked away after a single year.
The problem is obvious and all too simple. We are so saturated with his countryman, for like a certain other conductor who is truly great but not quite as great as his starry reputation, because Sokhiev is not Russian, he is Ossetian.
Valery Gergiev is a red supergiant, larger than life, a fact of music who gives performances of a lifetime in one half of a concert and delivers embarrassments in the other half, who appears everywhere, with everyone, all the time, and if he conducted less he would be a better musician. He is, perhaps, a Furtwangler of the Russian repertoire, the giant of the whole thing. Furtwangler, it's forgotten now, could also really suck. But his larger-than-life best speaks for itself, and like Furtwangler before him, Gergiev's performances at his best are out-of-body, legendary experiences that no Soviet or Russian conductor has ever equaled. Not Kondrashin, not Koussevitzky, not Golovanov, not Svetlanov, not Temirkanov, not Rozhvestvensky, not Mravinsky...
But we are all sick of waiting for the best of Gergiev to show up. He has again and again given so many bad performances, he has again and again used his prestige to advance the position of Vladimir Putin's Russia - the most dangerous regime on earth, he has again and again cancelled, shown up late, his ambition taken up so much space in the musical ecology that musicians of better will can take up who are only a hair less exciting. The terribleness of Gergiev is as much part of the mystique as his greatness.
Gergiev is so synonymous with Russian music in the minds of the old classical public that at this point, he IS Russian music. But Gergiev is not even Russian. Many actual Russians like Jurowski and Petrenko are very very careful not to be pigeonholed in Russian music and severely limit how much they conduct it, the same goes for a conductor like Currentzis who works mostly in Russia. But Gergiev and Sokhiev clearly have an outsider's desire for acceptance. I could be wrong, but I don't think Sokhiev ever studied with Gergiev, but even his conducting technique look almost exactly like Gergiev's extremely unorthodox one. They both have a penchant for wayward originality in their interpretations. They both cultivate the same orchestral sonority: bass-heavy, raw brass, deliberately imprecise and weighty in the strings. And they both perform Russian music much more frequently than actual Russian musicians usually do. Seemingly every major young conductor has already recorded the Pathetique. Some of them, like Kirill Petrenko and Currentzis have been praised to the skies. Both of them are quite good in completely different ways, but Sokhiev is better. In ten or twenty years, Sokhiev will have a Pathetique to stand alongside the very best (at least in my opinion): Kondrashin, Fricsay, and yes,... Gergiev.
Perhaps Sokhiev has the same relationship to Gergiev as Eugen Jochum does to Furtwangler. Superficially, Jochum and Furtwangler sounded very much alike and they had a similar podium technique. But the truth is, Jochum was probably the better conductor - his best was nearly as great, and he was reliable in a way Furtwangler never was, and in a much larger repertoire. I don't know yet if that's true about Sokhiev, I think few people who don't live in a city where he appears all the time know the truth yet. But there used to be a superb Mahler 3 from Sokhiev on youtube. Gergiev's Mahler runs the gamut from incredibly exciting to an embarrassment, but he never exhibited the perception into Mahler's soundworld Sokhiev did there. If you watch Sokhiev conduct, knowledgeable listeners will notice the similarities to Gergiev immediately, but Sokhiev - while at times employing tempi daringly extreme, has little of Gergiev's actual recklessness, and supports the orchestra with as much information as he can possibly give to help them in a way Gergiev does not. Gergiev is a great conductor by the force of his personality, Sokhiev is a great conductor.
Sokhiev may have half-a-century still to make his mark. His time has not come, but it most definitely will. His star may have to wait to rise to its true altitude until Gergiev's star truly falls, but there is no doubt in my mind that he will be in the pantheon. He may not be Gergiev, but Gergiev, like Furtwangler, can continue to be worshipped by the cultists, Sokhiev will be listened to by music lovers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

What Bubbie and Zaydie Would Have Said

I find myself thinking all the time about Bubbie and Zaydie Tucker and what they would say through all of this. They survived both Stalin and Hitler, they survived World War I and the Bloodlands that followed World War II, they just barely made it out in time from Bubbie's home shtetl when the Jews of Wysokie were rounded up to be massacred - she literally heard the gunfire that killed her mother. When Stalin came in 1939 with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, it was expected that Zaydie, as a businessman, would be arrested and carted away, maybe to Siberia, maybe to a mass grave. But he was beloved of his workers, who vouched for him so heavily that he was spared, so the story goes. When Hitler finally came into Eastern Poland after the breakdown of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1941, they had to go into hiding in barns and fields for nearly three years, living on a diet of raw potatoes. They were also hiding with Bubbie's sister Rochel and had to leave their daughter in a convent. Rochel was the architect of their salvation. Like me, she had red hair that didn't look Jewish, she was a passionate leftist, and she would risk going into town without a yellow star and buying whatever little supplies she could when she could easily have been recognized, and god knows what else she might have done to keep them safe. But they were perhaps the only married couple anyone had ever met who survived the whole experience together. When it was over, they picked up Zipporah from the convent and went back to Zaydie's shtetl of Bransk. 3000 Jews lived in Bransk before the war, 37 came back. Zaydie, being head of the only coherent family unit, triumphantly led the Rosh Hashana service with little Zippora at his side. By Yom Kippur she was dead from typhus. Shortly thereafter my aunt Rochel, who seemed to have connections with the partisan resistance, was killed in the riots of Poland's Nazi-sympathizing Endex Party which followed World War II. I've heard conflicting accounts of her murder. I've both heard that she was deliberately assassinated and also that she was caught in a crossfire and shot in the back. But given the nature of those times, I wonder if the real truth is not still much more disturbing. 
In January of 1946, there was a big question about what would be done when the first Jewish child was born in that city, Bialystok. Leftists encouraged the parents to embrace the Soviet Union because God had clearly abandoned us. But they elected to have a Bris, to keep going as Jews, and every Jew in the entire region came to celebrate it. The name of the baby was Yaakov Ticocki, who soon became Jack Tucker, my father. 
They'd be 110 and 105 now and were both suffering from dementia by the time I was 10. There's obviously plenty of time to write real, better reminiscences of them now if it seems like an appropriate time. But what they would say now, what they would do, what their goals would be, how they lived, became so abundantly clear to me in the last few weeks. 
We are about to undergo enormous struggles, struggles that will probably not end with coronavirus. America is so overdue for problems that beset the rest of the world, and a Pandora's box has now opened that may only begin with coronavirus, but also may include a depression as bad or worse than The Great Depression, hyperinflation, a world economy that may only be reignited by war between rising powers and declining powers, or a true dictatorship of emergency power in which the Trump administration delays the election or a war between the two factions of America, and after all that, global warming which takes out huge swathes of coastal populations, and hundreds of millions of migrants coming to our border who must flee from countries whose lands are no longer arable and have even less functional governments than they have now. Will all of this happen? Probably not. But it's all possible, and much more possible than it was six months ago. Even if only two of those events were to happen, it will be the single worst crisis in American history, worse than the Civil War, and to a tragically large extent, whoever survives what comes next will be arbitrary - a mixture of skill and luck. 
Bubbie and Zaydie lived for their family, and they lived for what they called 'simchehs' (slightly different than the Hebrew pronunciation). A 'simcheh' is a momentous life event. They lived for Friday Night Shabbos dinners, they lived for Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, they lived for births and brisses, they lived for reunions where surviving relatives would come from all across the globe, and events would be a bewildering melange of English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, even Polish, where everybody would update everybody else on thirty years of family news in each other's barely comprehensible foreign accents. 
And they did not live for the High Holiday services, they lived for the lunches and dinners afterward. Their family's security was literally all they cared about, because every other part of their family who didn't make it out no longer existed. We all take for granted what we have until we can lose it. 
If the worst is truly coming, it ultimately does not matter which of us makes it out of all this so long as those who do can keep this all going, rebuild, and give us all more things to have simcheh about. More births and bar mitzvahs, more holiday dinners, more weddings, more reunions with whomever is left. So long as there are still people left, there is always hope that these events will never wipe so many of us out again, and life goes on, sometimes with agony, sometimes with joy, and lots of mediocre and frustrating times that make us question the value of it all. But what matters is that all the institutions that make us us, the continuity of everything that we were, will still remain, if we keep them going, because otherwise, in moments like this, there's no reason to keep fighting. Institutions can always evolve to include new people and concepts, evolving is how to prevent these events, but they must stay here through anything and everything. 
Bubbie and Zaydie did not endure all that, their families did not endure even worse, for it all to stop here. Everything they did in their lives was to make sure that here, in Amerikeh, what happened to them, what happened to so many generations before them, would not happen to us. On some level, they clearly knew it was possible. Zaydie did all kinds of crazy things like bury silver dollars in the back yard just in case he had to dig it up to bribe someone for help if society broke down. We never figured out where he buried them but it suddenly doesn't seem so crazy. 
The point of life is not happiness, it's not achievement, it's not power or money, all those things disappear and many of them are clearly about to. The point of life is to live it, and everything short of survival is secondary and fleeting. But when it becomes clear that some of us can't survive, then the things which make life worth living become much more important to cling to with every bit of our grip, because otherwise, why keep going?
Bubbie and Zaydie did not live through all that for us all to not be mindful of what's possible. This may well be the moment that comes to every civilization and to every place this family has ever been. The storm of 2020 is going to capsize the ship, and those of us who try to stand upright will be taken down by the water. This is a year without simcheh. And this is a year to get everybody to safety whom we can, beginning with those we love, and then those they love, and then those deserving of love. We all need to decide what our priorities are, and Bubbie and Zaydie's example lights the way to mine.

Underrated Classical Musicians 3/24/20

So we're going to do something very different today and talk about our first non-classical musician: Manu Dibango who died today of coronavirus. One of the truly great creators of Afro-Jazz, which is one of the truly epochal movements of music in the late 20th century, in many ways picking up the reins from Miles and Coltrane when Jazz began a long decadent period in the late 60s that it only seems to be coming out of recently. Decadence can, of course, produce fascinating things, but there was a time when decadence was taken to mean the breakdown of consensus, so even if so much modern jazz, like so much modern classical, is not indulgent or self indulgent as so many critics claim, instant communication will never be its great strength. 
But the rhythms and timbres of Afro Jazz, of Manu Dibango, Fela Kuti, Hugh Maskela, Geoffrey Oryema, Mulatu Astatke, Abdullah Ibrahim, communicates instantly. Is it the jazz tradition, gumboed in the 300 year American tradition, and then re-connected to the folk roots of its origins in a joyful reunion. 
What I'm about to do is so heterodoxical that it might piss off some people, and after I do it, I'll try to say something else that pisses off everybody else...
Dibango's most famous piece, Soul Makossa, was Billboard No. 1 in 1972. It was, in fact, one of the first disco hits, in the era just before Disco became the most evil music that ever took a shit on America. But this, and so much else by Dibango, is so much better than the crap we generally call dance music in America. More lively, more complex timberally, and seemingly without any use of drum machine, rhythmically precise in ways that defy human mechanics, and therefore could be exciting as very few dance musicians ever could be. But I prefer Sun Explosion. The precision of the musicianship on here is literally awesome. This is 'light' music, there's no question, not too different in its way from Offenbach or Rossini. But light music, like comedy, is if anything harder to do well, because there is no gravitas to give the subject weight. The enjoyment is provided by the pure dexterity of the performer, and they have to work literally every day for decades to be skilled enough to do it right. 
I was a semi-pro non-classical musician for a number of years, and while I was something resmbling an artistic populist before I went in, I came out of the experience a hardened back into artistic elitism. The sentiment of artistic elitism has absolutely nothing to apologize for. The right to appreciate whatever music you want is of course inviolate and remains inviolate in all circumstances, but to believe that all music is equal is not democratic, it is cultural libertarianism, directly connected to willful incuriosity about ideas and history which has currently brought the country to the precipice of what is potentially worst event to befall the entire American experiment. Democracy only works with an educated populace, and the cultural incuriosity of modern Americans is connected at the umbilical cord to its incuriosity about science, and its deep curiosity about authoritarianism. In previous generations the ignorant public could be explained away as having no opportunity for better education. Today, it can only be explained as willful ignorance that is completely intentional, a dodging of responsibility to learn human thought so that the world may not fall under the spell, yet again, to destructive thoughts. 
But we in the 'high' world of artistic canons must do our part in a world where interconnection is exponentially expanded to admit a hundred times more great art (and it is great) into our sacred canons, and in music, these names and pieces are to be found both in the traditional 'classical' forms, and in what was until now thought of as popular music. 
Is Manu Dibango as great as Beethoven? Of course not. Are there non-classical musicians who are? There are a number about which you could at least make the argument, even if the argument isn't necessarily true, the achievement is such that it would be a valid belief. And we will talk about them in due time. 
This is music that has become classical. It is most certainly light classical music, in its own way in the spirit of Arthur Sullivan and Johann Strauss, but the quality speaks for itself.

Underrated Classical Musicians 3/23/20

So tonight we're going to talk about a writer, and a very great one. I thoroughly believe Solomon Volkov made up Shostakovich's Testimony, and I don't give a shit. It is a forgery of genius. Like Elmyr de Hory, he understands the artist whose essence he is copying at such a fundamental level that he seems to have created an entirely plausible imitation that, however morally dubious, is a work in itself of extraordinary creative merit. There is wall-to-wall evidence now that Volkov made up everything but the first few sentences of each chapter, which were taken from Shostakovich interviews, and had Shostakovich sign off on them; and as is abundantly clear in the documentation of his life, Shostakovich would sign literally anything anybody put in front of him without caring what it was so long as it wasn't an anti-communist screed. Everything that Shostakovich's music is, Testimony is too. It is funny, it is tragic, it's brined in irony, and it's heartrendingly confessional. But the ultimate evidence of Volkov's forgery is the breathtaking quality of his other books. If this were Shostakovich's own Testimony, Volkov would probably only be a stenographic functionary, and his other books would be nowhere near as readable or as interesting, but his books of cultural history are fantastic. I remember reading most of 'Magical Chorus' one day in a bookstore. I simply stayed there until they threw me out. And now I'm reading 1990s History of St. Petersburg. These books are models of how cultural history should be written, full of knowledge and love for their subjects, and told with an eye for the larger narrative; they exhibit the descriptive and portraitive mastery of a Russian novelist. So I don't really care if Testimony is real or not, it's a magnificent book of fiction. 
But is Testimony fundamentally true to Shostakovich's experience? Well, I give it a 75-80%. Shostakovich was no hero, and he was, like all lifelong stars, a bit narcissistic, a bit selfish, a bit arrogant, a bit exploitative. He was hardly, however, the worst of them. One of the great insights Testimony illuminates is that certain artists: Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Wagner, are so self-motivated that their music only expresses themselves, it does not reflect the collective experience of the listener. Other, more giving artists, and perhaps better human beings however flawed, describe the experience of others as well as they do themselves: like Mussorgsky, like Mahler, like Beethoven, like Shostakovich. You'd have to be made of steel itself to live in Stalin's USSR and not feel your conscience scream. Shostakovich did what he had to do to survive, and clearly that made him a deeply unhappy man. Lots of artists stood by their consciences and spoke out, only to die and not be able to give consolation to the living. Better to live and create a more livable world. So Testimony is doubly fascinating, because it is a book that is both true and false. Such is always the way of great art, and Testimony is most certainly that.

Monday, March 23, 2020

When Facebook Becomes Blogging

I have family and friends who believe in American conservatism very deeply, and no matter what other kinds of fanatics say, you can't stop loving people just because they believe in bad things. In some ways you love them more because you wish you knew how to help them, you view them a bit like lost souls. Many things, leftist things, believed by other people I love are similarly pernicious, and one day they will be similarly vilified by the 'intelligentsia,' whose fashionable beliefs always change like the wind.

The problem is certainly not that they're evil people, evil is everywhere, it's in everyone, and good people fall into the temptations of evil all the time, usually without even realizing it, and very often mistaking evil for good. The problem is that they believe in simple solutions to mysteries that will never stop remaining mysteries, and believe their solutions apply to every situation. The only solution that applies to every situation is death, and we'd rather not go there, but passionate beliefs that apply to everything are how many people get through their lives. They need certainties, and the more certainties they have, the more willing they are to fight for them. And so because they believe that a solution applies to every situation, there is no action they can't justify in enacting it. And because what they believe is inevitably wrong for many situations, it has a terrible effect on all the things they're supposed to improve, and then when the situations don't improve, they double down and say that some of us haven't sufficiently committed to their vision of how the world is supposed to be. This is how religion ends up burning heretics, this is how communism ends up shooting and starving millions, this is how Western countries end up enslaving millions from other parts of the globe and killing millions more, and this is of course how Hi...., and this is how Republicans let corporations control more and more and more of American life until the private sector becomes the true government of the country who views the poor as an expendable labor force at best, at worst, a nuisance on their bottom line that must be disposed with. The more true believers have free reign to deposit their toxic selves and instincts into their beliefs, the better-natured and nicer they are in their personal lives because their everyday interactions are not beset with the anguish of doubting that whatever they do is ultimately for the good. And if you're not doubting that all the time, there's something deeply wrong with your belief system.

Realistically speaking, I don't think there's a solution at this point, I'm pretty sure the only way out is for people to realize how tragically large the end result of their beliefs are, and we will have to lose so, so very much.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Why Social Distancing Won't Work

So this morning I was feeling sick, I've been feeling sick for a couple hours nearly every day for weeks. My doctor told me a couple weeks ago that I probably had a viral infection that my immune system was stunningly well coped with, my flu test came back negative and the chance for coronavirus was truly marginal at that point. But the symptoms have returned half the days for the last three weeks in all manner of forms, headache most often, also nausea, occasional cough and infected snot, cold sweat, two nights ago I felt a serious chill, and this morning, about an hour after I woke up (alright, I woke up at noon...) I felt so nauseous and fatigued in my muscles that I could barely stand up. I talked to three close friends and both my brothers who all assured me that if this is 'the big one' it would be a very marginal case of it. I told both my brothers 'Don't call Mom and Dad, I really don't want to make them worried." So of course, by three, I was calling Mom in a panic....
And of course they weren't worried at all. They told me, as usual, that I was an idiot. And to be honest, I deserved it, as usual. And then Mom said, 'In fact, go outside and take a walk....' f)(*^%^ boomers.... Since last Monday I've been outside exactly twice. When I went outside on Thursday (or was it Wednesday? or was it Friday?), it was in the middle of the night, and I wore both gloves and a dust mask I'd found in my parents house to walk by the lake (if I haven't donated it yet it's out of laziness, not selfishness). I wore gloves and a mask again when I went outside on Friday afternoon for what I hoped would be a bike ride, only to find there were holes in the tires of the family beach bike, so I went to the car to drive. 
And yet, even in this obviously immuno-compromised state, I'd been cooped up in my parents beach townhouse for an entire week, I haven't spoken to a single person in the flesh for more than a few words since twelve days ago. Before I knew it, my shoes were on, and I didn't even care that I wasn't wearing socks. I was outside without anything protective, past the other townhouses, onto Fred Hudson Parkway, running out of power on my phone, walking to the Assawoman trail head (that's the name....), walking most of the length of it both ways, walking through the Salt Pond Golf Course and getting lost on the Bethany Loop. I must have walked at least four miles, maybe quite a bit more. I was maybe a little low energy on the walk but that was the worst of it. When I got home I had a huge appetite, ate a bunch of potatoes, some vanilla greek yogurt for dessert, and the second I'm full, I feel like shit again. 
I didn't check the temperature but it must have been in the mid-40s today, and unlike on Friday afternoon, there seemed very very few other people outside. One of the few people I passed from forty feet away let out a terrific hoarse cough, mouth uncovered, as she went into a tax firm office with some cleaning supplies. Another person, a twenty-something woman with hipster glasses, left her house, saw me walking, and deliberately walked into the garage until I'd passed. 
If you want people to take social distancing seriously, well, I literally moved temporarily to another state to stop myself from contributing to the contagion of a densely populated city where thousands can't afford even poor quality medical care (also, my parents townhouse is a lot bigger than my apartment...), but in the moment when I genuinely thought I might have the big one, I did the only logical thing; I potentially exposed miles of road and trail to COVID-19, walking at least four miles without socks in badly worn down shoes, forgetting to charge my phone before I left, getting thoroughly lost in trail I've been walking for ten years, maybe I could have fainted, and in the current state of things who would help me if they found me? 
Sick people are not rational people. Healthy people aren't particularly rational either, but whoever people are innately, they're affected by the environment they live in. If the situation of their lives is harmonious, well-balanced, healthy, they'll respond in a healthy way. If the situation of their lives is excessive, imbalanced, stressful, sickly, they're much more likely to respond in excessive, imbalanced, stressful, sickly ways.
People who are staying at home are making a huge difference, and nobody should ever try to stop them or tell them that their efforts are useless. Everybody who successfully does it or even makes a serious attempt is saving lots of lives. But the curve will not be flattened. Even if it flattens the coronavirus curve, the curve of whatever comes next grows geometrically. 
Coronavirus is only the beginning. Pandora's box just got opened. The world's most powerful country is undergoing an economic freeze worse than the '29 stock market crash when it's already 20 trillion dollars in debt, with a would-be dictator whom if he ever figured out how may now be able to use emergency powers ad infinitum, in a country with 300 million privately held guns, while everybody is now indoors to make each other miserable, not just their own families, but across the screens and the political divides as we've been for twenty years, only now, there's no looking away from the void that divides us. And meanwhile, two countries across the Pacific Ocean look at us as a mortal threat, and if we ever got our shit together, their cold war of intelligence gathering, computer hacks, and 'sharp power' would turn hard and hot. So if we're all inside for a year or two, or even just a few months, the country's temperature is probably going to reach core meltdown. And even if coronavirus only takes 5,000 or 20,000 or 50,000 American lives, there very well may be no cooling it without many many more lives lost in whatever comes next. So if you're in a particularly volatile area, be it Baltimore, or the South, or the West, I would use this time to start preparing about what you might have to endure when this is over, or to think about finding a less interesting place to live. 
Anyway, when I came back I was told by a friend in Chicago that the whole State of Delaware just issued a Shelter in Place order. So no walks bigger than that from now on....

Underrated Classical Musicians 3/22/20

The upper class Lensky sings this melody in the moments before his absurd death in a duel, but how many thousands died in the Soviet Union with the melody of Lensky's aria in their ears? Were they shot? Were they in battle? Were they starving? Were they freezing? Were they tortured? 
The irony is that if they did hear this in their ears, it was probably being sung on a recording by Ivan Kozlovsky, one of the two leading tenors of the Bolshoi opera of his time, and Stalin's favorite tenor. It's not like Kozlovsky had any choice in Stalin's preference or could resist an official summons from Stalin to sing for him. But there's a story in Simon Sebag Montefiore's biography of Stalin that after Kozlovsky came to Stalin's dacha, Stalin's underlings got into an argument about what Kozlovsky should sing. Stalin finally said 'Kozlovsky should sing whatever he wants to sing, and what he wants to sing is Lensky's aria.' Stalin himself was said to be a good amateur singer (though who can know...) and would sometimes sing while Kozlovsky accompanied him on the piano. 
Within the Soviet Union, Kozlovsky was feted as though he was a movie star, but being Stalin's favorite, he could never leave its borders, and thus his reputation is to this day mostly limited to Russia. Yet he sang every major 19th century lyric tenor role from every country, in Russian of course, and also seems to have sung some Wagner. But it clearly put no strain on his voice, there are videos on YouTube of him singing absurdly well and ridiculously high notes until his 80's!

To My Parents' Generation

To My Parents Generation. Not particularly my parents or any other person I know, just to every person whom I know and people whom I know know, who have no memory of World War II and vivid memories of Vietnam,

I don’t know what to say to make you perceive what’s transpiring before your eyes if you don’t see it; but the rest of us have, for twenty-five years, been passive spectators chained to our seats, watching the whole drama unfold in which you were, as usual, the protagonists, the antagonists, the stars, the cameos, the well-paid support, the directors, the producers, the unionized stagehands, and simultaneously both the heroes and the villains, while we never even got a publication interested in our reviews of everything we saw you do on stage. We are the generations of social media, of free blogging and barely paid web magazines, expected to conjure lighting with matches you deliberately ran under water so that your lights could burn for longer in relief from our dull underachievement.
We had our hopes thwarted with the Trump election, but of course, you had your hopes similarly thwarted with the election of Nixon, and yet he resigned before he could even be impeached, with even the right wing of his party eventually demanding his departure. We had Mitch McConnell and the Party of No who thwarted every Obama initiative, but of course, you had Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston, both of whom resigned like sows in the mud before even they could even get one smear of shit to dry on the face of President Clinton, who'd already surrendered to them so much of what they wanted. We are the generation of the Great Recession, but of course, you had recessions at the beginning of every decade of your adult lives, and you still managed to make six figures for decades while we leeches still have to live with your support. But more than a decade after the recovery, only a very few people’s standard of living is better than it was even in 2007 before the recession began, and even then, was not better than it was at the inauguration of President Reagan in 1981. And not just in terms of growth, in terms of raw income figures, not adjusted for inflation, almost nobody is making more money.

We had 9/11, you had the Cuban Missile Crisis in which nobody actually died. You had Nixon v. Kennedy, when the mayor of Chicago decided to make cemeteries vote for Kennedy so that Mr. Anticommunist Hysteria wouldn’t be the next President during a period when the Cold War could have easily turned hot, and we had Bush v. Gore, when the Supreme Court itself decided to stop a recount which probably would show that Bush lost both the popular and the electoral vote. The one thing you had on us was Vietnam and the draft, but if the entire world has to stay home, then an era is now arriving in which money means nothing at all, and in such times, the only way to get economies moving again is war.

You may think you’ve had it tough and that you’ve been through a lot, and in a certain way, you absolutely have. Your experience is completely unique and fascinating and mindbogglingly eventful. But what has always been so extraordinary about your life experience is that you came out on the other side of every struggle the winner. God has never looked out for anyone in any country in the history of the world in the way he looks out for the American Baby Boomer, and to this day, you clearly still think that your luck will always be with you, as though it will be part of the inheritance you pass on to your children along with the deed to the beach house that will wash away in the tide within six months of your blessedly aged demise. The losers worked no less hard, deserved no less, and certainly struggled no less, but they lost. They lost in Russia, they lost in East Asia, they lost in Latin America, they lost in the Middle East. They all are determined to stop losing and they are out for revenge, and if they can’t visit revenge on you, they will visit it on your children.

Most of you are now at the cusp of your biblical three-score and ten. You have both a young person’s vigor, and an elderly person’s inability to change their habits. You have lived the fullest lives anyone has ever lived in the history of the world, and you see no reason why you can’t continue living lives this full for at last another score and a half. You are one of the only generations in any country in any era that had fundamental control over your destinies, and it’s never happened again for any American generation who came after you, and you simply can’t understand why. Every danger you have ever met turned out to not be as dangerous as people told you it would be: whether it was Communism, or marijuana, or selling out to ‘the man,’ or the Republican Party. And so when you hear your children complain that making their way in the world is too hard, you clearly don’t believe them. The world always just sort of cleared a way for you, and even if you had to put the hours in, you always got enough time, money, and opportunity to have more fun than you ever knew what to do with. Sure, you worked hard to pursue your happiness, it’s not like you wanted to make all those compromises, and you even had some real tragedies along the way, but those cataclysms your parents always warned you about: they never happened. There was no nuclear Armageddon, there was no price for running up massive debts, East Asia never fell like dominoes, Republicans never actually overturned Roe v. Wade. Your kids generation is so whiny, so sensitive, so spoiled, ‘and it’s our fault really….’

You laxened educational requirements so that nobody would have to fail, and so the inevitable byproduct is, in your opinion, that your kids never really learned to write, they never really learned math and science, they never learned art and culture because of the programs you gutted for your tax cuts, but what really worries you is that they never really learned history. And a couple years ago, when they came home for a college break, they start parroting this leftist bullshit that sounds like an extreme version of the hippy crap that would spew from your mouth while trying to impress the guitarist rolling a joint. Sometimes they call it ‘social justice’, sometimes they call it ‘social democracy,’ sometimes they call it ‘intersectionality’ or ‘intentionality,’ and when you ask them what they mean by these terms, they can barely string a sentence together, and the sentences they do string together are just eruptions of rage and personalized accusations about all these things that your generation, and particularly you, “didn’t do.” And that frightens you. It doesn't frighten you because of anything you've experienced, it makes you fearful because of things your parents told you which never came to pass. Fifty years ago you guys got mad in exactly the same way about all the things your parents didn't do, at some point you probably called your parents fascists, and your parents called you fascists right back. And looking at things from the vantage point of age and wisdom, you now see that they, not you, were correct. In objective terms, your parents had all kinds of attitudes which were racist, and sexist, and homophobic, and warmongering. And yet on their most bigoted day they did more to make the world equal and peaceful than you ever did on your most 'with-it' or 'woke.'

And now your kids are parroting caricatures of everything you believed at your most naive. For decades after you changed your mind, your parents still viewed you as a backstabber, and yelled at you as though your brief rebellion was personally responsible for the destruction of an American society that, from where you were sitting, still looked as though it worked pretty well. But with your kids generation, their beliefs seem so universally held that there is no rebellion inherent in them.

You now see very clearly that the panic inherent in the population from the immediate changes you demanded from the world caused all social progress to cease from the moment you occupied your first administrative building to the moment Obama took office, and even after Obama took office, you wonder along with your children if there was any progress at all. After all that evolution and revolution in the decades following World War I and the Spanish Flu, America was so paralyzed by your demands for still more change that it ground all possibility for change to halt, and you learned your lesson so well that you made a religion out of never demanding anything for others so long as other people let you demand for yourself.

But Trump winning, that was something you never banked on. You put the illusion to bed by 1974 that America is a dictatorship, and you resented the hell out of your children for resurrecting such a ludicrous notion right after the privilege of a childhood, an adolescence, a college, and a grad school you spent fifty times as much money on as your parents ever would to give them the best possible advantages ever bequeathed to a generation in the best possible era of the best possible country.

But the endless litany of things Trump has done with that victory gradually warps the contours of everything your mind once knew to be true, another brick certainty about what our country is and isn't crumbles every day, and all the while, he's clearly doing the bidding of Vladimir Putin's every whim. And yet your parents eat up his every word, the very people who warned you to take the threat from Russia seriously!

So you retreat to your peers, constantly bemoaning the lack of education and historical knowledge among your kids, who blame you for things that aren’t your fault and they could easily change if they decided to change them just as you so often did because, in your mind, the world is relatively easy to change. And your peers with you bemoan the lack of flexibility in your parents, who are so determined to see the world stay the way they remember it that they're not even conscious that they have turned into the spiritual opposites, the evil side within everything good they once were.

The childrearing books always told you that when your kids are throwing a tantrum, what they're really mad about is something other than what they say they're mad about. When their own lives seem so close to perfect, just as yours once were, what meaning can they find from life as they've lived it just as you couldn't? They go through their lives with an unconscious, un-nameable dread that maybe these perfect lives of theirs and yours are just mirages whose solid appearance can vanish instantaneously. So they become soft, and they take up the suffering of others as though they've suffered themselves, and by championing others' suffering, they amplify it.

And just as your parents were terrified by your rebellion, they're terrified by their rebellion even more so. Your grandparents are too old to see life as it really is anymore, but relative to you or their grandchildren, they genuinely lived hard lives, and for all their best intentions and the good they did, life made them hard and capable of brutality in ways that if you ever recounted those moments to your children, their sainted meemaw would seem a devil. But even in their declined state, it's not hard for your parents to see that your children mean everything they say about revolution a lot more sincerely than you ever did. Your parents still vote in numbers well past your own generation, and they will fight with every ballot and social-security dollar they have to keep this country exactly the way they want to leave it.

And so life in the country you perpetually seem to own is a fight between your parents who should be a memory by now, and your children who should be fully adult. And what you start to realize is that everybody in this country is acting younger than they really are, and by now there's only one generation who's fault that is.

The Times, They Are A-Changin as no American era has ever changed, more quickly, more decisively, more apocalyptically. You thought the twenty-first century arrived with 9/11, but that was just a bit of leftover baggage from the 20th. We now have a pandemic in a country where a President you (and not your children) elected, a pandemic that could kill anywhere from 200,000 to 1.7 million Americans in the span of 18 months. This President born just after The War seems like a demonic manifestation of every secret fear you have that maybe, just maybe, you were a little too selfish: that you steamrolled the people around you, that your achievements are just an act, that you couldn’t talk about or focus on anybody but yourself, that maybe, just maybe, you could have been a little more empathic or sympathetic to other people.

And here comes a virus which you’re told is dangerous not just to your parents, but to you, and of course, you don’t really believe it. 'Look at them, and then look at me.' Your kids are yelling at you to stay the fuck inside as though you're wheezing in a walker like your parents, but you’re still going to the work from which you haven’t retired, you’re still stopping at the store with impunity to pick up whatever, you’re still looking for a way to see the family members you might not see for months, and if states didn’t order restaurants to be closed you’d still be meeting with friends at them.

And every one of your kids are absolutely terrified. One day, you were strong and vigorous, and the next, your children will not even be able to bury you. You will be carted off to a crematorium for your corpse to be burned while your children can only mourn you in private with no one for company, and they can’t even hug each other, let alone hug their grieving other parent who may shortly follow you.

It will feel like an eternity, but sooner than we know, this plague which has barely begun will be over. For those of you who survive, and it will be most, this economy which you were always told will thrive in any condition has come to a halt. The only way to compensate everything lost of this is to print so much money that money itself means almost nothing, and nothing is what you will be able to buy with your savings. Almost all of you will be working for the rest of your lives, and your children will be working for you until companies have no use for their advancement, and their own children are promoted over them. And that’s only if their children survive global warming and all of the global conflicts rising temperatures ignite.

The thousands of you about to die are going to get the ultimate Boomer sendoff – it will be entirely about you and not us. It will be entirely about the irony of having lived a life of blessings so complete that you were even spared the agony of a months-long demise. It took all of you in the span of an instant, while your families will live with the ramifications of your premature deaths for a century.
Also, I feel a chill….