New York Inspired III: Al Gore at 92nd Street Y

Charlie Rose interviewed Al Gore last night at the 92nd Street Y in New York. 92nd_St_YBoth men are highly intelligent and empathetic, as evidenced by their reflections on democracy, the environment and what the future holds for humankind. Gore_RoseMr. Gore also demonstrated a more human, lighter side, laughing at the more biting questions – “When did you get over losing the 2000 election?” – and offered down-home Tennessee wisdom: “If you spot a turtle on a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.” turtle_post_sitterAnd while the witty repartee was highly engaging, something was askew. Perhaps it was their matching conservative suits and ties. Perhaps it was the self-satisfied, almost smug, nature of their discourse, knowing things they wish everyone else would understand. Or perhaps it was the fact that, as much they both seemed to know, they were still just pitching products, Gore’s book and Rose’s show. IMAG2327Gore says that his book The Future was the result of a nagging question that wouldn’t let him alone: “What drives global change?” I too have a nagging question: “Why are humans so good at nothing but talk?”IMAG2322As much as we might love our discourse – how noble in reason and all that – we don’t actually seem to care about anything but ourselves. In short, we just aren’t a great species; we aren’t even a fair one.

Picketing for Bus Strike, New York City hall

Picketing for Bus Strike, New York City hall

We explain and justify, argue and judge, talk and blog, but do nothing in the end but make life miserable for one another. Kids are shot, women gang raped, thousands slaughtered… and what do we do? Sign on-line petitions. Hurrah for us.

The Eternal Complainers

It’s one thing to be self-reflective – what a fine and therapeutic thing that is! – but entirely another to brood and whine so exhaustively that no one is willing to suffer your lamentations nor even bear your presence. That said, it is a great vehicle for a story. Truly, many of our most oft-quoted heroes are little more than bitter complainers who just need to be heard. (Note that they are all men.)

5. Ivanov (Anton Chekov, Ivanov) An overly dramatic fellow who really is a jerk to everyone around him, but he doesn’t know why and he really does seem to care, so much so that he takes it out on himself in the end.      ivanovIf an intelligent, educated, and healthy man begins to complain of his lot and go down-hill, there is nothing for him to do but to go on down until he reaches the bottom–there is no hope for him.

4. Josef K (Franz Kafka, The Trial) There is no doubt that Josef K has reason to complain – horribly treated by everyone around him, resulting in his inevitable abandonment and death – but what a depressing collection of thoughts! josef kYes, that’s the conspiracy: to persuade us all that the whole world is crazy, formless, meaningless, absurd. That’s the dirty game. So I’ve lost my case. What of it? You, you’re losing too. It’s all lost, lost. So what? Does that sentence the entire universe to lunacy?

3. Alvy SInger (Woody Allen, Annie Hall) A very funny neurotic to be sure, but it’s not hard to understand why Annie finally moved across the country to get away from him. alvyI’m obsessed with uh, with death, I think. Big – big subject with me, yeah. I have a very pessimistic view of life. You should know this about me if we’re gonna go out. You know, I – I feel that life is – is divided up into the horrible and the miserable.

2. Holden Caulfield (J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye) A spoiled, selfish know-it-all who somehow holds the key to decent society. Kill all of the phonies. Indeed. holdenIt was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road.

1. Hamlet (Willy Shakespeare, Hamlet) A most moody fellow, profound in thought and discourse, not so great on doing anything – except for royally fucking everything up. hamletWhat a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

Music: in a trance

As Jerry Garcia sings in the Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station: “Inspiration, move me brightly.”

I process many narrative difficulties through music: doing my workout on the elliptical, staring out the window from the couch or attending a live concert. Once I get through the problems of the day – Did I send that email? Did I buy that ointment? Is the lawsuit going well? –  I find a better path, a more open space, and start to think. Music is my primary place of thought.

My favorite works include Fripp and Eno’s No Pussyfooting, Low’s C’Mon, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Off the Sky’s Cold Distances and William Basinski’s Distintegeration Loop #5. Each of these works help me shed the harsh light of this ‘sterile promontory’ to bring out the ‘excellent canopy’ instead. (That’s my spin on Hamlet.) Characters grow; the plot thickens.

Another recent inspiration has been the work of Icelandic performance artist, Ragnar Kjartansson. I was fortunate enough to attend his work Bliss at Abrons Auditorium in New York. A troupe of Icelandic opera singers – with full orchestration – sang the final arias of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, a two-and-a-half minute sequence repeated again and again over twelve straight hours. Please click on either the link or photograph below to see a six minute sequence from the production, featuring two renditions of the piece:

Ragnar Kjartansson, “Bliss”

The above photograph is from the final hour of production; note the woman climbing out of the orchestra pit to go to the bathroom; full meals were also served on stage throughout the day. Assuming the same pace was maintained, they performed this sequence of arias approximately 240 times. I was there for only four hours and wish I had experienced more. It really was something to live in that music.