Monday, November 12, 2001

Ask Me To Sing About the Second President

I spent Tuesday in the basement of St. Therese's Catholic Church in Highland Park serving as a head election judge. Besides coming uncomfortably close to running out of ballots (the county gave us 800- we ended up with exactly 800 people voting) things went pretty smoothly. Despite all the repetitive jokes about hanging chads and whether or not we allow dogs to vote (not if they're them foreign dogs like a German shepherd) I enjoyed working with a group of people many of them believe it or not, a little older than myself. I was even tolerant of the woman who kept saying to departing voters, "See ya later alligator..." in hopes of grown ups playing along and completing the greeting with the proper response. She wasn't having a whole lot of takers. As a group we did form a bond, a team camaraderie that comes with doing one's civic duty and working a fifteen-hour day protecting the legitimacy of our election system.

One of my fellow judges was an elderly gent named John who told me the best thing he ever did was to get married. He said that when he turned 36 he figured it was time, so he went out church hopping in search of a good woman. Forty years later John had nothing but nice things to say about the missus. The other thing John sure couldn't say enough about was the exploits of our nation's second president, John Adams. Seems election judge John had just finished reading the new Adams' biography written by David McCullough. Every five minutes or so John would walk over to me and tell something else about Mr. Adams. The only things I could offer to judge John in return were a couple of conversational nuggets: that I had recently learned the world now has turkey Spam; and that more and more I'm becoming convinced life is all a song and dance.

Like most conversations I'm responsible for starting, the Spam one drew first a blank stare followed by a look of what can only be described as sympathetic concern. The other observation elicited more curiosity especially after I told John that I was sacrificing watching my favorite TV show to be working in the precinct. (Of course true to accusations, I wasn't disclosing everything I knew- before I left for work that morning I was quite paranoid in double and triple checking my VCR to make sure that it was all set to tape the special episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

Buffy the musical (or "Once More with Feeling") got a fair amount of publicity, enough so that even my nieces who don't watch the show and roll their eyes whenever I mention it, asked me if I was looking forward to the episode. Actually I was a little worried that having the cast members break into song would be too gimmicky, an ambitious experiment gone wrong (does anyone remember Cop Rock?). But I should know by now that the show's creator/producer/writer Joss Whedon is too skilled an artist to not pull off the unexpected.

Unlike peers like the West Wing's Aaron Sorkin, Whedon doesn't need to rely on cliche to get to the heart of his show's emotional fabric. The West Wing may have gotten ALL the Emmys but has anyone noticed how through this entire impeachment/the president lied to his staff and the country story line how Sorkin more and more has relied on swelling background music to convey the emotion of payoff scenes?

Whedon on the other hand has created a world so rich, so complex that even when the characters spoof old musicals they do so with wit and charm and it even makes sense in the series' overall plot. (I was seriously pissed off however when the show ran eight minutes longer than normal and thus my tape shut off just as all the revelations were occurring.)

I told none of this to election judge John. Didn't think he'd be all that interested. But he persistently told me about the love/hate relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The two men played such an integral part in establishing our country yet they shared entirely different points of view. They died on the same day, exactly fifty years to the day that our country was born.

The relationship reminded me of another rivalry/partnership that produced great things- Lennon and McCartney. I would have told election judge John that but again I figured the connection might not click. I almost recommended he listen to Paul's new CD, Driving Rain- a CD I couldn't stop listening to over the weekend. Driving Rain is a departure from much of Paul's work. Many of the songs deal with his undying love for Linda, and finding solace through song and through the inspiration of the new love of his life Heather Mills. Unlike Lennon, Paul has never particularly been a autobiographical writer. While many of Lennon's best songs seem torn directly out of his diary, Paul has never been one to reveal much in his writing. His best songs like "Hey Jude" and "Tough on a Tightrope" remarkably convey deep emotions without revealing that much about the writer.

More and more I've found myself feeling defensive for remaining a staunch Paul fan but his music holds a special place in my life. I can play most of his songs on the piano. And I remember the day in high school when my life became a musical as I serenaded Sue Weiss, who I didn't ask to the prom, with "C Moon" over a game of shoddy played pool even though I was much too shy to speak to her.

Paul's melodic bass playing on the new CD is stellar and expressive and the singing of a revealing set of lyrics shows a skilled artist meshing his life with song. On Driving Rain it is truly refreshing to hear Paul writing music that truly matters; if not for anyone else, certainly for himself.

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