"Way back when I lived in Boston I would see phonepole flyers for a group called Relentless Cookout – I never heard them, but the name stuck with me."
I remember writing that, but I couldn’t find it again when I recently made the attempt. I was looking for it because John Flaherty quoted it back to me in an e-mail with a link to Relentless Cookout’s Myspace page, and I salute his research skills. As he said, here’s my chance. For reasons too complicated (and tedious and embarrassing) to go into, I can’t really access all these crazy Myspace/YouTube sites that all you kids are grooving to these days, but I hope to change that soon. In the meantime, enjoy. I probably would have back in the day, since I used to listen to New Wave and indie stuff before I turned my back on rock/pop/whatever, at least insofar as one can turn one’s back on it in our society (you know, if you tell most people you hate God they’ll smile and nod – I mean, He sure has a lot to answer for, am I right? – but if you tell them you hate rock and roll they get really angry, with the disgusted contempt of a Republican faced with the Constitution). But I’ve opened up a bit, and am ready to accept Relentless Cookout into my heart.
When I googled the name (partly in an attempt to find where exactly I had written about them) I got their official yet skimpy website, which said that the group was often listed among bands with unusual or bad names. Unusual, perhaps, but bad – au contraire! It was the name that’s stuck in my mind all these years, conjuring up a brutal death march of enforced suburban fun the wryly cynical assessment of which seemed a basic part of New Wave. So check them out, perhaps at an upcoming Memorial Day barbecue, and enjoy that long-awaited three-day weekend!
And ChiChi Fargo, who sent me the link to LHL's Elmer Gantry aria, has posted another YouTube video, this time of Philip Glass’s The Juniper Tree, which ART did back in 1985, so it’s nice to see the precious musical flotsam and jetsam of my Boston past bobbing up and down on the vast and murky waters of the Intertubes. Check it out here. So I guess I shouldn’t give up hope that the other Glass chamber opera I saw at ART, The Fall of the House of Usher, will also show up someday. I liked both of them a lot, but as with anything very stylized, lots of people didn’t. I worked with a woman who announced (about the Fall of the House of Usher), “It made me laugh – I guess I’m just not smart enough to get it” in tones that clearly indicated I was supposed to feel that she certainly was smart enough, and if she didn't get it, it wasn't worth getting. I smiled vaguely, since I suddenly realized she was not, in fact, smart enough to get it, or at least receptive enough to the outré to appreciate it. I was just grateful my enjoyment wasn’t ruined by her moronic snickering. Look, lots of people hate Philip Glass (and Edgar Allan Poe), finding what they do too boring or repetitive or just plain whacked-out messed-up Gothic weird (well, that applies to Poe more than Glass), but that’s no reason to annoy other people with one’s ostentatious displeasure.
But people are so resistant to any change. Part of the big Boston/NYC trip I couldn’t take was going to involve going to Nathan and Julie Gunn’s Zankel Hall recital, a meditation on the monastic life that involved a dancer and video projections as well as solo piano and vocals. Since I didn’t get a chance to see it myself I obviously can’t say whether I thought the evening was successful, and I should make it clear that I respect the opinion of those who were there and found it baffling or unsuccessful. What surprised me about some of the confusion, especially given that some of these reactions were on a fansite dedicated to Nathan Gunn so you’d think people would have enough trust in his artistic judgment to give him the benefit of the doubt, was the edge of contemptuous anger in some of the assessments. I thought about responding, but since I hadn’t been there I would be urging a theoretical openness and a nuanced reaction to people who clearly felt kind of threatened by the whole thing. It was getting a little too Opera-L in there, so I let it go and just hope I’ll get a chance to see the program some other time.
I’m missing lots of great stuff, in fact, and not just the new Harbison symphony in Boston that Gunn was also performing that week. There’s Satyagraha. Yes, I like Philip Glass, which is sort of odd considering that one reason I stopped listening to rock is that the steady monotonous thumping bass just drives me crazy. Glass doesn’t affect me that way, go figure. And I see that Lee Hoiby’s Tempest was presented at Purchase College in New York in a newly revised version. I have met people who swear this is one of the great American operas. I would love to see this in a season that also included Ades’s version of the same play as well as Harbison’s version of The Winter’s Tale. (Has someone done Cymbeline and Pericles, just to round out a season of the Romances?) I’d buy tickets to that, even though on the whole, and with the exceptions of Britten’s Midsummer and Verdi’s Falstaff, I usually have very mixed feelings about operas based on Shakespeare. The omission of Verdi’s Otello from the short list of exceptions is not accidental. Much as I love Verdi, I can only admire Otello coldly. You will sometimes hear people say it’s “better” than Shakespeare’s, and usually I’m very laissez faire about people’s tastes and opinions, but they’re wrong. Just wrong. If you ask them what they mean by “better” they’ll tell you that the plot is tighter and the motivation clearer and the action less diffuse, but that’s exactly why I prefer the messy, murky stage play.
Here’s something else I’m missing, this very week: the premiere of Kirke Mechem’s opera on John Brown at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, starring the redoubtable James Maddelena. I’m planning on buying a ticket to The Bonesetter’s Daughter here in San Francisco, but is it wrong to admit my anticipation is pretty lukewarm, and I’d rather see John Brown? Besides, I hear tell that Kansas City is a beautiful city of many fountains, and I'd love to see the Royals in their home stadium since they are the Brigadoon of baseball teams ("Who are the A's playing? The Royals? Oh, yeah – I forgot they exist!") Nonetheless, I take what I can get, and will head off to the Bonesetter's Daughter this fall, and as with any evening at the theater, I will walk in prepared to be converted. I am occasionally wrong, especially when I’ve formed opinions based on airy nothings. It happens. I freely admit it.
There is some stuff I’m actually going to, since yesterday’s announcement by the SF Ballet pretty much closed out the Announcing-Next-Season season, which is sometimes more entertaining than the actual seasons. As previously noted, I have not renewed my subscription at the Opera (by the way: subscriber and donor since 1992, and absolutely no one from the Opera has contacted me to find out why I haven’t renewed, not that I’m keeping track or anything; far be it from me to begrudge anyone the rare opportunity to see a live performance of La Boheme or La Traviata, but I’m not ponying up for that, and I’m certainly not donating – that would only encourage them).
Cal Performances did drag me back in, spending more money than ever, though I’d first like to note how unbelievably offensive it is that tickets to the Yo-Yo Ma concert are only available to those who have donated at least $1200. Why rub our grimy, impoverished faces in our miserable lot by putting this in the brochure in the first place? If the motive is to make us look at that big pile of cash sitting on the dining room table taking up space and just grab it all up and send it off to Cal Performances because you’ve been meaning to tidy up anyway, they have miscalculated. I’m thinking instead that there might not be any point in giving them any money at all unless you’re starting at $1200. So, Cal Performances – please stop yapping about reaching out to new audiences and being inclusive when you’re so very clearly selling exclusivity. But what can I say? They’re bringing Mark Morris back twice, with the new Romeo and Juliet and the old L’Allegro, which is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen on stage. Plus Dawn Upshaw is back, this time in the Peter Sellars staging of Kurtag’s Kafka Fragments. There’s bunches of other stuff, including a meatier theater selection than they often have, but this is the stuff floating to the surface for me.
What floats to the surface with San Francisco Performances is their Elliott Carter weekend: the fabulous Pacifica Quartet returns with his complete string quartets, and keyboard goddess Ursula Oppens plays the complete piano music, along with lectures by Robert Greenberg – at least, that’s my memory of what’s being offered. Their brochures are still stuck at the printer. They present great stuff, but they do seem to run into these odd problems.
The Ballet is offering a Mark Morris evening, and a new Swan Lake. I love Swan Lake. You know all those oddly self-sacrificing women in nineteenth-century opera, who redeem (whatever that means in this context) the hero by jumping into the sea or off a cliff or otherwise immolating themselves? Here’s one work where the guy does it. Score one (and yeah, it does seem to be only one, unless someone can augment my memory or my knowledge) for the ladies. Anyway, I'm happy to see another Swan Lake, though I’m sure there are balletomanes who feel about it the way I do about Boheme. Maybe not, though – the classical ballet crowd seems to be even more self-contained than the opera crowd.
I was hoping to spend some of those evenings when I was discouraging Gockley’s regrettable season by boycotting Boheme in reading Vladimir Nabokov’s final novel, The Original of Laura, which his son has finally decided to publish. Nabokov, the perfectionist arranger of each lustrous detail, wanted the manuscript destroyed when he realized he would die before completing it to his satisfaction. Faced with the wrenching decision of physically destroying his father’s last work or leaving it for some ambitious Associate Professors to fight over, the son chose to publish. I thought the announcement meant that the book was imminently available, so I went on Amazon.com and searched for The Original of Laura. Their first offering was Stop Whining, Start Living by Dr Laura Schlessinger. Uh, no thanks. I’ll just sit here in the dark and wait. And I'll "whine", which I guess means express opinions different from yours, if I want to, thank you very much Dr Laura, if you are in fact a doctor.