Friday, March 13, 2009

Culture And Politics

Yesterday, I was listening to some kind of NPR afternoon concert on the car radio while I waited for my daughter to get out of school, and I had the satisfying experience of realizing I knew the opera I had tuned in on was by Wagner. The long, melodic baritone solo in German, joined by a chorus at the end, had to be Wagner. Did he ever compose voices singing in harmony? Maybe he did, but all I remember are conversations. When the piece ended, I found out I had been listening to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and it struck me that there are people who would have immediately recognized the opera, the baritone and the conductor as well, maybe even remembered the exact date of the performance. But I don't need to know that much to enjoy, at some level anyway, a few minutes of Wagner on a bright Thursday afternoon while I wait for my daughter to come out of school. I just have to have a radio of some kind and tune it to my public radio station, or some other station that broadcasts classical music. As long as those stations exist. As long as nobody comes along and decides classical music is a waste of time. A waste of money. The same goes for Public Television, doesn't it? Anyway, I think it does.

I've been trying to remember the programs I saw in Austin the night PBS programming came on the air in 1969. No luck so far. There was something about Joplin and Hendrix about that time, but I don't know if I saw it that first night.

I saw some good things on PBS. Sometimes, I wonder why they don't pull out all that tape and put together a week-long best of PBS. I remember Orson Bean in Star Wagon, singing Jerusalem, telling his side-kick as long as I've got a dollar, you've got fifty cents. Krishnamurti. Alan Watts in the afternoon. Documentaries like High School.

I was at Arden House in New York at a Corporation For Public Broadcasting bash for documentary film makers the night Richard Nixon cracked down on PBS and the CPB. Rumor had it the disaster had something to do with Frederick Wiseman's Basic Training. I never found out. But, after that week, it seems to me the story of PBS has been the saga of a long, slow climb back into the light.


GirlFromTheBronx said...

I still have a tremendous amount of regret for having squandered the many opportunities to hear the Ring for FREE while living in Germany. Politics won out here.

It was only at the very end of my time there that I allowed my political responses to recede to open up some space to appreciate the music. I never turned back.

It may take a week for me to get to the other topics in this post.

Billy Glad said...

We used to see The Ring in Seattle when a few people still dressed for it. Sat front row center in the seats they roped off and put fire and smoke warnings up for the night of Gotterdammerung. I really love Wagner. I could watch the conversation between the Wanderer and Alberich in Siegfried a thousand times. Ominous fate. When I think of that word, I think of the Wanderer. Foreboding. Cruel. Connecting that to the Nazis is like opening the door of a white hot furnace. Not even your bones can survive.

GirlFromTheBronx said...

Amazing how many great artists have been tainted for many of us because of their ties to the Nazis.
Wagner is still such a hard pill to swallow for so many Jews. His anti-semitism is indisputable.

I have friends, Holocaust survivors, who when flying to Europe, refuse to do any connecting flights in Germany that would force them to step foot into that country. Too much pain.

I grew up around Jews in the Bronx. I know more Yiddish than many of my Jewish friends. I'm considered an "honorary Jew " by most of them. So I did my part in boycotting all Wagner while in Germany. But then one day, a Jewish colleague and I were assigned to sing two of the nine Walküries. We both thought long and hard about it.

We ended up doing it and had the time of our lives. Neither one of us had big Wagnerian voices. But screaming our heads off, making love to our steeds, and running around with our speers, singing that incredible music. Man, it was amazing!

Billy Glad said...

You should have sung Brunhilde, refusing to obey Wotan. It's clear Wagner thought of the Jews as Nibelungen. Coppola used the music brilliantly to convey the US Army's attitude toward the Viet Cong. Or I guess I should say he made it available to me so I could make that connection if I wanted to.

GirlFromTheBronx said...

Great scene in the movie. I remember the feeling the first time I saw it.

Getting back to metaphor and metonym for a minute here.

I assume we can consider this an example of metaphor. But it's still hard for me to grasp completely. I imagine metaphor and metonym can be in the eyes of the beholder? No?

I mean isn't it possible that person A, unfamiliar with Wagner's politics might hear the music as simply beautiful and as a result inelegantly applied to a horrific moment?

Then person B, who is relatively familiar with Wagner's politics might likely transfer only the Nazi connection to indicate power over the victims and nothing of the symbolism inherent in the Ring.

And the next person C, more familiar with Wagner and the Ring, would go as far as you did and supply the connection of the Niebelungen to the American attitude.

So, is person C on his/her way to metonym when the images and connections they bring from what they know about Wagner and the existing metaphoric links from the Ring are applied to that scene?

Is that more like the river and the workers in Pudovkin's film, but done in the mind of the viewer?

GirlFromTheBronx said...

Can't wait to see what ads come up on this last comment!

Billy Glad said...

I think totally in the mind of the beholder. If you don't have any other associations, it's just thrilling music playing while things get blown up. Could be it's based on fact of some kind, too, though I doubt it. All that Wagner/Nibelungen/Jews/VC stuff is going on in my noodle. Whether it was in Copola's, too, is anybody's guess. In Pudovkin's case, you don't have to guess. He puts the river and workers together in the same shot in a way that tells you what he means.

P.S. You stumped the gmail bot. All that came up was an Audi dealership.

GirlFromTheBronx said...

Ah, but Audi is a German company and so is Krups and Krups was one of Hitlers' biggest backers in the war. And Hilter loved Wagner ... So maybe the gmail bot is just adding subtlety to its menu.