I spent a good amount of time (well, okay, about 20 seconds) looking for a good thematic link between the two topics on my mind, but I couldn't come up with anything clever. I know it's doable. If being an English major taught me anything, it's that you can tie any sort of random bullshit together as long as you use semi-proper grammar, and no one, except smartypants dillweeds trying to impress the professor, is really going to call you on it.
Anyway, since this is not an English class essay, I can dispense with theses and themes entirely. Hell, I don't even need proper paragraphs! I can do it in a numbered list! I don't need no education! I don't need no thought control! Yeah! Whoooo!
Without further ado:
1) Buffy the Vampire Slayer is awesome. I know I am seriously LTTP on this one--doy--but hey, a man can't watch everything on TV all the time without falling behind in other important areas of life, like getting geared up for WoW raids. I missed Buffy the first time around probably because of the name, which seemed ridiculously silly, which, of course was the whole point--which whooshed right over my tiny head. My introduction to the wonderful wit and storytelling of Buffy creator Joss Whedon came instead with "Firefly", which I also missed at the time, but caught on DVD a year or so ago and absolutely adored. (Add me to the large group of males with a permanent man-crush on Nathan Fillion).
With my daughter now in high school and with not much good on TV and with only the horrific prospect of books, or, worse, actual conversation, looming before us, the time seemed right for "Buffy." And, yeah, it's what most you all already knew: It rocks. As folks warned me, Season 1 is a bit shaky, with characters still in a primordial state, with overly wooden dialog, but the seeds of greatness are definitely there. (I was sold on the show as soon as the first principal...well, I shouldn't spoil it I guess). We're a bunch of episodes into Season 2 now, though, and the rise in quality is exponential--with the writing just firing on all cylinders now. Super funny stuff with genuine moments of suspense and scares mixed in. Really, though, though it's the dialog I'm in love with, just as in Firefly, with characters gloriously riffing off each other, commenting knowingly and sarcastically on the ongoing ridiculousness of their situation and yet fully living in it, too.
It's not all irony for irony's sake, which is why I think the show is so loved: In between the snark, there is real passion and heartache and drama, giving the show a surprising resonance. So, yeah. I'm hooked. (The one thing that is still annoying, me, though, despite being the funniest guy on the show: Xander is far too good looking to be the show's "nerd"--but that's always a fault of TV casting. Still, the actor's coming timing more than makes up for his lack of nerdiness.)
2) The Leonard Cohen concert that my wife and I attended last week was one of the best concert experiences of my life. I really should devote a whole separate, gigantic post to it, but even that wouldn't do it justice. I've seen tons and tons of great shows, ones that I'll never forget and that ROCKED MIGHTILY, but I've only ever seen a handful that I would characterize as transcendent, or life-changing experiences--where the bond between artist and audience is so electric, with everyone riding a wave of epiphany, that one can say, without either exaggerating or belittling the term, that they were "religious experiences."
Off the top of my head, I can recall three:
1) Van Morrison at the Greek Theater in Berkeley circa 1987. Morrison is a notoriously erratic performer--prone to bad moods and crankiness (I once saw him perform with his back to the audience for a number of songs--and I've seen more bad shows than good ones)--but when he has it together, he can be great, and when he REALLY has it together, it's, well like sitting in a congregation. At least that's how it felt that summer day in Berkeley.
Morrison is the great white soul singer of the last 50+ years, and if you only know him from "Moondance," then you don't know him at all, as the real beauty of him is not the FM radio-friendly "lite jazz," but the growling, searching, restless poet who can sing the same word 30 times in a row and make each time sound different, and vital, and alive. At the Greek Theater that day, for whatever reason, the muse was with him. He was feeling it. He took off on some kind of spiritual voyage with that voice of his, and we were all there with him. It doesn't matter to me now how much he goes through the motions, or sinks further into cranky old man-hood. For that one show alone I'll always be grateful.
2) And speaking of grateful! HAHA! The Grateful Dead at the Greek circa 1983-4. (Sorry anal-retentive Deadheads, can't remember exactly when.) This was my first Dead concert, and I went into it, I'm fully willing to admit, as a hater. I was still in my punk-ish faze. I even wore black, even though it was a hot summer day at an outdoor concert. I was dragged there by my friend Lynne, and was determined not to enjoy myself. I spent the first few songs, in fact, doing just that, making fun of the whole thing to myself, scoffing at the hippies, unable to see what the big deal was about a bunch of old guys noodling around. But after about a half hour, a funny thing happened: It got to me. I started hearing it, and feeling it, despite myself, while simultaneously having an uneasy moment of realization: I was the only asshole in the place. I was the only one in the entire place not having a great time.
As I began to let my guard down, and let my preconceptions go, and started listening to Jerry's guitar the way everyone else was, the way he was exploring and storytelling and singing through that instrument, I started to get it. Then I really got it. I've been on the bus, at least casually, ever since--I saw them about 8 times total, a paltry amount, I know. With time I realized that this first show I happened to see, the one that "converted" me, was indeed a special one, with the entire crowd responding in time with the band as one that day. When I think about the many great moments in my life so far, this one stands out with the best: A sea of happy, smiling people--including me--dancing in the warm California sun, cheering ecstatically with every musical epiphany the band kept reaching.
3) Finally, there was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. Again, another show that I had to be dragged to. And again one that I walked out of transformed. "Indian music"? No thanks. (And, yes, I know now it's actually Pakistani, and, specifically, a style of music known as Qawwali.) My wife got tickets for this, and I couldn't have walked in less enthused. I remained unenthused, too, when the show started, and there on the stage was a really fat dude sitting on the stage floor, surrounded by other dudes also sitting on the floor. Yeah! Let's get this party started!
And, then, much to my surprise: They did. Big time. Like Garcia and Morrison, Nusrat was just simply tapped into something else--"the mystic", in Morrison's words--that has the ability to sweep everyone along who's willing to listen. I won't pretend to know much at all about Qawwali music, but what I heard that day (and ever since on the CDs I bought) changed my life, by opening me up to non-Western music and ideas that influence me to this day. I didn't understand one word he sang that night, but I did understand the sweep of emotion and passion expressed in his unbelievably aching, beautiful voice, and the fervor that such passion aroused in the audience. I actually don't think I've ever seen anything quite like what happened at that show before or since: A crowd sitting respectfully and quietly in their seats, transformed by show's end into some crazy cross between rave party and religious revival. In one night, it completely changed my understanding of what "cool" music was.
Which leads me, in a rather longwinded way(yikes, sorry!), to the Leonard Cohen concert. This one I didn't need to be dragged to. But I was coming more as an admirer than as a passionate fan, like my wife. I loved "I'm Your Man" when it first came out, but I never connected with him even a fraction as much as I did with Bob Dylan. He struck me as more lachrymose, and even dull, lacking the bluesy roots and humor of Dylan. Seeing him at the beautifully restored Paramount Theater in Oakland last week, at the creaky age of 74, I realized, instantly, just how much I have underrated him. Because this was a show for the ages.
For over three hours, Leonard Cohen absolutely owned that stage, and everyone in the building with him. I think many of us in the crowd didn't know what hit us, so strong was the emotional intensity of his performance. A woman one row in front of us at one point burst into tears and got up, which sounds comical and exaggerated now, but I promise you, in that moment, probably all of us around her were thinking, "I hear ya, sister." More than any of the shows described above, this one was probably more of a "you had to be there" thing. Listening to any of his recorded songs, it's still hard to imagine he could pull off this kind of musical and spiritual feat. (Though Jeff Buckley's deservedly famous cover of Cohen's Hallelejah points the way.) But he did. There was something about seeing this somewhat frail, grey-haired, 74-year-old man up there, pouring his heart out so transparently and openly, that was just almost profound. At a few key points in the show, the band stopped playing and he simply recited lyrics like the poems that they are, and it was in those recitations that I realized just how much I *hadn't* been hearing in his lyrics all these years, and now for the life of me can't understand why. All I know is I walked out of that show, like the other great ones in my life, transformed--more alive, more aware, and more grateful than ever for the healing power that music has for me.
Umm, and that's all I have to say today. I think I thought I was gonna write about four sentences. I guess this is what happens when you go into the mystic.