Monday, December 2, 2002

Humbert's Leftovers

"She says, 'You can't repeat the past.' I say, 'You can't? What do you mean, you can't? Of course you can.'"
-Bob Dylan

I may be a lot of things, or I may be nothing, but one thing I don't remember hearing someone/anyone describe me as is "nostalgic." I certainly can lean that way on occasion (especially when it comes to holidays and also thinking about a certain leaky kitty described in painful detail last week who has been around for the past eleven remarkable years) but I'm usually the type of fellow who likes a clear line of demarcation between periods of his life and has made it a point to try his best not to blur the lines between those periods.

Yet more than any other holiday I think I miss my Mom most on Thanksgiving Day. It was one of those days I so shamefully took for granted over the years. The pattern had been waking up, grabbing my newspaper and reading one of my favorite writers, Patrick Reusse's pick for Turkey of the Year, and then heading over to my parents' house before most of the rest of my siblings, to the wonderful smell of a baking turkey (and the stuffing involved at that point), and knowing that my Mom knew I had read Reusse's column and together chuckling at his most recent anointed one. Christmas I may have come away with more loot and New Years the meal may have been even better, but there was always something about Thanksgiving that I was well, thankful about.

Thanksgiving these past few years has just been another day. My siblings are mostly married tending to spend the day with their inlaw's families. My dad and I have usually been invited to my one sister's family who lives in my grandparents' house and I have mostly drifted into the background, self chuckling at Reusse's Turkey of the Year.

This year the blue eyed former House Public Information Office writer like intern told me her mom had expressed surprise that we had remained in contact after the internment was complete and if I would be interested in coming over for Thanksgiving. I was quite touched in hearing this bit of information and agreed to try something a little different this time around.

It was a delicious meal (the effort of turkey grilled outside- yummmm) and it was nice finally seeing and meeting the close family that I had heard so much about. Talk about an example of a stellar Midwestern (Apple Valley) family. The parents are employed by two of Minnesota's largest companies. The oldest daughter is attending a prestigious institution of higher learning; the eldest son is attending another fine college. The two youngest children aren't quite sure what comes next for them but both seemed to be fine kids. I arrived and the family was sitting around the kitchen table playing a game of Rack-o. The eldest daughter, my dear friend, gave me a tour of the nicely built and clean home and I finally got to see the famous comforter she painted her bedroom around this summer.

My favorite moment/memory? Going down to the messy basement to hear Eminem's theme song for his movie, 8 Mile with the big howling dog Sophie yapping along. The blue eyed former intern told me it was a brilliant song and hers is an opinion I've learned to listen to with close attention, and one of my favorite music critics (Greil Marcus) confirmed her opinion. The song ("Lose Yourself") shook me to my core.

"'Lose Yourself' begins to play under the closing credits, and in an instant it blows the film away. The music dissolves the movie, reveals it as a lie, a cheat, as if it were made not to reveal but to cover up the seemingly bottomless pit of resentment and desire that is the story's true source. Again and again the piece all but blows up in the face of the man who's chanting it, lost in his rhymes until suddenly people are shouting at him from every direction and the music jerks him into the chorus, which he escapes in turn. The piece builds into crescendos of power, climbing ladders of refusal and willfulness step by step, rushing nothing, never reaching the top because it is the music itself that has put the top so high. "
-Greil Marcus

What makes Eminem's "Lose Yourself" such a great song is that he demonstrates the clear difference between art and entertainment (and commerce). It's a song he has to sing not because the movie dictates it- but because he needs to purge and share the deep feelings inside. Maybe someone will hear and understand and maybe many won't. But it doesn't matter. The art of sharing is what matters. And I probably would have never really listened had my friend not made it a point to point it out. If you want to know why I spent this past summer and Thanksgiving with a person whose parents I'm closer to in age than her- well it all has to do with THE very meaning of life. If there is one thing I've learned about that subject it is how very important it is to keep an open mind, keep learning, keep on being curious. The moment you stop exposing yourself to things you are not used to or are familiar with or uncomfortable with- is the moment you start getting old.

The prior few days I was wrestling with the type of questions I can't wrestle with in public (that the intern was so uniquely good at listening to) for fear of being locked up (again?)- what exactly is the purpose of music? And why does it seemingly mean so much more to me (and my closest {secret} acquaintances) than other people? These questions were on my mind because two of my favorite artists/icons, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan had on the same day released new concert CDs that were about as different as green mint cake (spiced up with some alcohol) and the more traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

McCartney's disc Back in the U.S. is a faithful document of his recently completed tour (which included a stop in St. Paul that I forked over $75 to see). Dylan's disc is a document of a most interesting period of his career- the mid-1970's tour dubbed as the Rolling Thunder Revue (that sounds nothing like his stop last month in the same venue as McCartney). Could things be more different? McCartney and company provide what I'm sure they thought their audience (and from the gross profits and critical acclaim from the tour demonstrated they knew what they were doing) were seeking: nostalgia wrapped around faithful recreations of a lot of the Beatles' best music. One can be amazed (and maybe I'm amazed) at how the band manages to match note for note the original songs as they appeared in their recorded form. McCartney's voice may have lost some its power over the years but still he does a quite remarkable job in hitting most of the same notes.

I love the way the disc (and the concert I saw) opens with a loose version of a Beatles song I've never particularly cared for, "Hello Goodbye." It's the perfect concert opener serving as some sort of ironic greeting.

But the other live McCartney recordings (1977's Wings Over America, 1990's Tripping the Live Fantastique and 1993's Paul is Live ) contain so many of the same songs performed in many of the same arrangements that by the end of disc #2 of the new one one has to wonder if one has gotten one's money's worth. Yes it's great to hear live treatments of some really great music but does one want to hear a great song like "All My Loving" enhanced by some of the exact same wacky triplet chords strummed by John Lennon or Rusty Anderson?

But it's not so all easily dismissed. The loving tributes to John and George are quite heartwarming. The Lennon tribute, the sprightly acoustic "Here Today" is a great song that not only captures McCartney's love of his songwriting partner but does so in a way that would have made John proud: in the quaint tradition of Lennon's love songs sung directly to Yoko. (It's as revealing and honest as Eminem's "Lose Yourself.") The equally as intimate cover of George's most famous song "Something" covered by Paul on the ukulele is a treat to behold and at the same time captures George's most endearing quality- his sense of humor- in a tear dropping fashion.

Ultimately however the CD just comes to demonstrate how McCartney in his solo career/quest has always been about how little he can get away with rather than how much he is capable of creating.

That's not quite the case with Dylan. I got Dylan's newest Live 1975 a day after Cheapo's own Pat Wheeler was kind enough to mail me a CDR of Bob's concert in Atlanta this past February. The contrast between the two concerts could not have been any more distinct- and that is what makes Dylan such a still vitally creative artist. Listen to Bob then and listen to him now and you'd be hard pressed to say that this is the same artist. And yet both periods of his career are so rich and revealing.

The Rolling Thunder Revue was Dylan's idea about traveling with a huge group of artists who would show up unannounced in town to town as some sort of minstrel show that would leave the local townsfolk with something different night after night. An idyllic hippie idea at its best and it helped inspire some of Dylan's most accessible and interesting work of his career. Listen to Live 1975's version of his best story song (rage against the justice system) "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" and dare to tell me this guy isn't breathtakingly brilliant. And listen to his desperate plea to his ex-wife Sara appropriately named "Sara" "...don't ever leave me, don't ever go..." (they got divorced shortly after the song was released) and Dylan shows that he is no slouch when it comes to that old artful need to express for expression sake.

Listen to a much later night's performance of the sardonic "Things Have Changed" 17 years forward with some of the most idiosyncratic singing imaginable and tell me this guy still doesn't have more to say than anyone that has come before or since. The difference between the two most famous artists boils down to this- Paul wants to blast his audience back to the past- back to another day (yesterday) and the feelings his songs originally invoked. Bob on the other hand wants the past to somehow disintegrate instead rather wanting to focus on what can come next, living in the moment instead of longing for what used to be. Both men are quite effective in delivering the contrasting messages.

Thankfully those unintentionally listening and living between the two can somehow enjoy all the newly purchased new music. And don't get me started on the Buffy the Musical disc that I finally got around to purchasing. That disc is all about the conflicts of those who have souls and those who feel dead inside. Egads, this is all so much to digest and please pass the leftovers...

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