Archive for March, 2011

Time Makes You Bolder

March 20, 2011


  Landslide.  Great song. Not least because it doesn’t’ easily give up much to exegesis. When you can learn all there is to know from one take of a work of art – whatever medium – it may be enjoyable, but also either shallow, pandering, or pornographic.

  Music and lyrics must weave fine fabric of course.*  More importantly however, the former must find that resonance rooted in our evolution that signals the presence of emotional and/or existential truth.  Then we find ourselves motivated to search for understanding.

  It is sort of like a shared dream.  The words draw meaning from that mind from which they emanate as well as that upon which they fall.  There’s an overlap, but not a complete one.  Each mind has its own constellation of chemistry, experience, and complexes.

  Ms. Nicks has offered different, even slightly contradictory, sources of inspiration for this song.  For me, this makes it all the more interesting – oracular even.  While you’re working to figure out where it came from in her, you’re trying to figure out why it fits with you.

  “I wrote it for Lindsey – for him about him.  It’s dear to both of us becaue it’s about us.  We’re out there singing about our lives”.  “It’s about a father-daughter relationship”.  “It meant the whole world could tumble around us.”

  As I piece the background together, the pair tasted a moment of success, but were quickly set back to waiting tables and cleaning homes.  Buckingham left Nicks in Aspen for a spell while he took a few gigs with the Everly Brothers.  Left alone to ruminate among the jagged peaks, Nicks conjured up all manner of pitfall and possibility. 

  She left to visit her folks for a bit for second opinion(s).  Dad told her to give it more time and that he and her mother would be there for her whatever fate might befall.  “Cool, I can do that”.  Father then fell ill and underwent successful surgery.

  Then back to Aspen with Buckingham, where they somehow found themselves in a beautiful house with a piano and – voila – out it poured.  “Landslide I wrote on the guitar and it’s another one that I wrote in about five minutes”.  Like how it takes only a few seconds to win the Olympic gold in the 100m dash.  That and a gift, work, and inspiration.

  Mountains can indeed be a place to see something about oneself.  French alpinist Gaston Rebuffat said that they brought “before him a mirror of stone or ice, a mirror which helps us to get to know ourselves…”  Same with relationships.  Love is not always long requited.  Bad shit will happen in both the physical and emotional realms.

  The issue is how one handles what comes.  Will he/she struggle past the mother and father complexes catalyzed in every youth – only after which can really begin the process of individuation?  Or will they first lead to a twelve step program?  Acceptance of the very real possibility for anxiety is preferable to giving up to depression and rage.

  Well, children do indeed get older; I’m getting older too; and amazingly enough it does feel like time is making me bolder.  Be interesting to see what happens next.  

*And well woven such fabric can even cover up mixed or run-on metaphors…

**Covers.  There have been a few.  Dixie Chicks below.  Their three part harmony is wonderful and I love myth and metaphor, but I prefer the video on top.  The one below – not without some beautiful images – is too florid for me. 


I’ll Have What She’s Having…

March 11, 2011


  Normally, I hesitate before expounding upon something I have not yet seen in person.  More to the point, I avoid even thinking about a building in which I have not actually been.  It’s the “Ce N’est Pas Une Pipe” thing.  It’s not a pipe, it’s a painting of a pipe.**  So to be clear, what follows is my impression of a building of which I’ve only seen photos and read reviews***.

  It’s Frank Gehry’s first skyscraper – an apartment/mixed use building at 8 Spruce St in NYC.  It is the tallest such building in the city standing some seventy-six stories and holding more than nine hundred apartments, a gym, a swimming pool, and a new public school.  The assemblage of those spaces is reportedly pleasingly functional, but the building’s allure is far greater than their sum. 

  Something immediately tingled inside me when I turned to that page, but it was Gehry’s description of his motivation that brought me full flush:  “I had one of those eureka moments, at three o’clock in the morning, when I thought of Bernini.  Michelangelo is rounder, Bernini is edgier”. Right on.

  I’m in awe of the subtle manner of Michelangelo’s graceful conveyance of form and tension in his sculpture, David for example.  It’s cool and I’ll not forget the experience of it.  But, well, when one thinks of Bernini, how could not the image of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa leap into one’s mind? 

  In a book about art and beauty Umberto Eco wrote of the expression of pain in the visage of that St Teresa.  How could he possibly have had that reaction?  He needs to see an ophthalmologist or shrink maybe.  That woman is in the throes of something grand whether the tumescence was spiritual or otherwise.

  I have been in, on, and around several Gehry projects and enjoyed those experiences.  There’s often an element of exuberance.  But this is different.  Does not that building appear to be on the verge of a shudder? 

  This might be a stretch, even for me, but the east elevation of 8 Spruce St makes me think of Katy Perry:

I might get your heart racing
In my skin tight jeans
Be your Teenage Dream tonight
Let you put your hands on me
In my skin-tight jeans
Be your Teenage Dream tonight…

*If you don’t get this allusion, that’s your problem

**cf post of April 24, 2009

***Photo at top by Richard Barnes in a review by Paul Goldberger in the 3/7/11 New Yorker.  Other photo of the building is from article by Nicolai Ouroussoff in the 3/9/11 NYT

Mirabile Dictu

March 4, 2011


    News reports regarding the Catholic Church over the last few years have largely been ugly.  It was thus a relief to read yesterday of  praise for Pope Benedict.  Though issues related to his regard for actions of Pope Pius XII in Europe during WWII are yet unresolved, his statements exonerating Jews of complicity in the death of Jesus Christ were very clear.

  About the Pope’s remarks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “…I commend you for forcefully rejecting in your recent book a false charge that has been the foundation for the hatred of the Jewish people for many centuries…”

  Brought to mind an enlightened French cleric about whom I’ve read and with whom I’ve metaphorically crossed paths several times.  Father Marie-Alain Couturier fought and was wounded in WWI, became a Dominican priest in 1930, and was vigorously outspoken in refutation of Anti-Semitism in Vichy France*.

  “…I beg of you, remember that you are Christians, that charity tolerates no anti-Semitism, and that even if certain measures seem politically inevitable among those who have been conquered, at least let us maintain the integrity of our hearts…. As for myself, I love only freedom, and as I get older, I couldn’t care less about the rest”

  Another component of Father Couturier’s career (and my initial point of contact) had to do with the integration of art and the sacred.  As an artist and founder of the journal “L’Art Sacre”, he sought to invigorate that relationship as had Abbot Suger centuries ago with the development of the first Gothic cathedral.  Suger coined the marvelous term “metaphysics of light”.

  Fr Couturier worked closely with Matisse on the Chapel de Rosaire in Vence on the Riviera.  Matisse was a lapsed Catholic, but Fr Couturier said: “Better a genius without faith than a believer with talent…Trusting in Providence, we told ourselves that a great artist is always a great spiritual being, each in his own manner…”

  Similarly, when commissioned to provide a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, Jacques Lipchitz asked the priest: “But, don’t you know I am a Jew?”  “If it does not disturb you, it does not disturb me” was the answer.

  Perhaps even more radical was Couturier’s decision to work with twentieth century giant Le Corbusier who “had no place for institutionalized religion within his ideal society”** and sought to demolish historic Paris and replace it with “machines for living” – expressways and high rises.

  Interesting, then, that the most well known project of their collaboration was the chapel at Ronchamp (photo way above and interior just below) which was a decidedly uncharacteristic departure for Le Corbusier.  About it he said: “People were at first surprised to see me participate in a sacred art.  I am not a pagan.  Ronchamp is a response to a desire that one occasionally has to extend beyond oneself, and to seek contact with the unknown”.

  In prewar Paris Fr Couturier had met John and Dominique de Menil who were captivated by his vision.  He told them that a museum is a place where “you should lose your head”.  Heirs to the Schlumberger fortune they fled France to the USA settling in Houston where they assembled an incredible collection of art, architecture, and good works.

  Italian architect Renzo Piano designed two wonderful museums for them there both incorporating the powerful Texan sun to sublime effect.  The Menil holds an eclectic collection of western and African art.  The other only the works of Cy Twombly and if you’ve never seen his stuff start there.

  It is the first of Piano’s experimentations with translucent roofing systems.  The lid of Twombly filters the natural light through a four part system with tautly drawn Italian sailcloth forming the interior ceiling.  The combination of the refined light, the character of the space, and Twombly’s work yields an experience of preternatural transcendence.

  Once, upon entering, a woman disrobed to bathe in the light.  French philosopher Roland Barthes recalled that he there felt as if in the thrall of a Buddhist awakening.  Several years after my visit, allergic reaction shocked into a near death episode, the quality of the ‘white light’ evoked therein seemed identical.  No foolin’. 

  The major work is the fifty foot triptych “Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor”.  Catullus was a Roman poet whose brother died and was buried in part of what is now Turkey.  As if crossing west across the Mediterranean, the painting leaves color behind on the right, reading left toward pale shades of emptiness.

  I was bowled over even though I didn’t know the story of the picture at the time of my visit – only upon a bit of research once back home.  That knowledge gives special poignancy to memory of the experience because it was on that day one of my two younger brothers underwent surgery for a cancer that claimed his life some months later. 

  He was an independent thinker, extremely intelligent, creative, sensitive, and spiritual.  His challenges to my world view catalyzed significant personal growth.  Hmmm…  His Tibetan Buddhist friends could engage in interesting speculation related to the fact that Father Couturier died about nine months before Ed was born.

*Father Marie-Alain Couturier, O.P., and the Refutation of Anti-Semitism in Vichy France; Robert Schwartzwald, UMass/Amherst.

**”Almost Religious”; Dennis MacNamara, The Institute for Sacred Architecture, Volume 2.

***Mdm de Menil once offered one of Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisks to the city of Houston which declined because it was dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King.  It now is in front of the nearby Rothko Chapel.  With President Carter, she formed the Carter Menil Human Rights Foundation.  The Rothko Chapel gives an award to those struggling against oppression.  Another, The Oscar Romero Prize, was named for the murdered El Salvadoran priest.