Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Accidental Pied Piper of Olive Street at the Women's March in LA.

The original idea was to get one of those pink plastic trumpets to bring to the Women’s March in Los Angeles and blow little “Ta-Daa” riffs as merrily we strolled along, but the vendor I get a good deal from discontinued the pink model a while ago, so that idea was shot. I scratched my chin over whether to bring a horn and ultimately decided to, which turned out to have been a good idea.

The scene was way more than I anticipated. The Del Mar station in Pasadena had a 100-yard line to buy tickets at 7:45 AM, so we queued up until the first train came by. It was mostly full already, and maybe another few dozen were able to board. Some people peeled off the back of the line and boarded a train going the other way so as to board the inbound line before it got so full. Pasadena being forty minutes outside of Pershing Square, the epicenter of the event, it was obviously shaping up to be a massive influx into the city, so we decided to try to catch an Uber instead.

Our driver got us to where the traffic really started to clog, and when it came to a full stop, we bailed out, climbed up a set of concrete stairs where we were met by a six-foot tall chain link fence. Fit young gents were on the other side, receiving person after person who was streaming up those concrete stairs and up an adjacent embankment. A fellow of about 300 pounds was helped up and over, and soon enough came my and Debra’s turn (there is photographic evidence of Debra’s crossing!), and we made it over and began the trek to Pershing Square.

Word came quickly that Pershing Square was completely jammed and packed solid all the way out to city hall, so we eventually maneuvered over to Olive Street between 6th and 7th. It was wall to wall peaceful, loving humanity, with just the rainbow of ethnicities, orientations, ages and eccentricities I have come to love about my adoptive city. Out came the horn for a quick run through what I could figure out on short notice of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman.”

So this being LA, a woman films the last bit of it and introduces herself as a dear friend of Helen Reddy’s. She said she’d send it to her. That stuff happens all the time out here, by the way. After that, many people began tugging at my sleeve and soon enough I was standing on top of a roof rack on a white panel van, looking at a thousand people to my left, a thousand people in front of me, and a thousand people to my right. I started shaking like a leaf and wishing I had practiced more last week. I played “America the Beautiful” with the Ray Charles timing and it was about as good as I could have hoped for. Pretty free of errors and a nice sound on the horn. Many hundreds of people screaming their brains out.

I tried to step off but was not permitted to, cajoled for one more, so I played the Star Spangled Banner with all the gravity I could muster. I am not really much subject to stage fright, but I had it then. It’s a hard song to sing or play, and I got it all the way through, pooched the high note, but EVERYBODY was singing it, and it was actually better to lunch the E flat (not only for humility's sake), because I could finally hear how loud everyone was singing, and the word “free” being sung by thousands of people filled my head instead of the loud sound off the bell. It will go down as one of the most moving experiences my friendship with the trumpet has ever taken me to.

We made our way through other areas of the march, with “This Land is Your Land,” "When the Saint Go Marching In," “Down By the Riverside,” and “We Shall Overcome” in the mix along with “Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” as a means in part at least of underlining the fact the right’s attempted appropriation of all that music isn’t working at all. We finally stopped for lunch in Chinatown and had a lovely meal, where we met and ate with Katie Tur’s Mom. Yes, of course we did, because as was mentioned previously in this essay, that kind of thing happens all the time in Los Angeles.

We’re back home now. Debra is napping and I am writing. One thing Debra has said in this house is, “Don’t mess with Chris when he’s writing.” I will also add, don’t mess with Debra when she’s well rested. So, we’re both in this up to our necks, and we are ready to do what we can in what we anticipate to be a waterfall of conflicts large and small that we are likely to have with the new administration. It was an indescribably energizing and uplifting experience to march with many hundreds of thousands of people who are committed to true gender equality in this city and across the country. What a beautiful morning.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

My memories of U2's Joshua Tree tour.

With U2 touring the Joshua Tree album this year, I thought I’d share a memory of the original tour. The phone rang at the music store I was working at in San Francisco and the manager picked it up. He said into the receiver, “Yup. Uh-huh, uh-huh. Sure.” He then called across the intercom for everyone to meet up at the counter.

Once we were all assembled, he said, “U2 is setting up for an unannounced concert in Justin Herman Plaza. We’re closing the store and heading down there.” There were very few customers in the store, so we sold them what they needed and exited the store, locking it in the middle of the retail day. Gutsy stuff, store manager. Anyone who works in retail knows what kind of stones it takes to close the store in the middle of a weekday afternoon.

We all went to the square and indeed, U2 was setting up. By that I mean their roadies weren’t setting up, the band was. The Edge was dragging a vocal monitor across the stage and plugging it in. Adam Clayton was hoisting his bass head onto his cab. The band got started and played a wild set of Beatles songs, Bob Dylan songs, and a few signature U2 numbers. The Kodak moment was when Bono climbed onto the gigantic stone art installation in Justin Herman Plaza and spray painted the words “Rock and Roll, stop the traffic” onto the sculpture.

The then mayor Diane Feinstein flipped out and harshly criticized U2 in The San Francisco Chronicle the next day for defacing the sculpture. We all went to the Joshua Tree concert at the Oakland Coliseum a few days later, which had given Bono time to fly the artist, Armand Vaillancourt, whose sculpture he had vandalized, down from Canada to the concert. Bono supplied him with a large bucket of white paint and a massive roller brush on a long handle. There was a glorious banner displaying the Joshua Tree logo graphic in white against a black background, and Bono invited him to deface it, a request he obliged. It was a great show.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Meryl Streep's Double-Leg Takedown on Trump Shouldn't Have Included the MMA

Meryl Streep has become the latest to take a swing at Donald Trump and has done so effectively and to my great admiration, but in my opinion she unnecessarily marred her presentation. Her gratuitous swipe at the NFL and the MMA were uncalled for and served to cause the nodding heads of those already sold on the Trump agenda, and also to turn off people who aren’t but who happen to love the NFL or MMA.

Streep stressed that these two entities were “NOT THE ARTS,” when in many people’s view, the elite achievers in both of these leagues indeed reflect artistic expression. They are certainly expressions of passion, of a maximizing of human potential born of talent, drive and the moment, which is not a bad definition of the arts, and however you look at it there is hardly a need for a fissure between aesthetics and athletics. In part due to what seemed a lingering cold, the talk in general was imbued with a gossamer overlay of a somewhat imperious tone.

Apart from slapping the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands and swatting my man Conor McGregor in the corned beef and cabbage, I think she did fine. Jimmy Fallon is I suppose understandably reluctant to stir up his good thing to be of much value in terms of social commentary, so Streep had to be the one to address the 800-pound partially deflated basketball in middle of the room.

From the vast available trove of ignominy she picked a few of Trump’s most vile campaign moments and described them fairly for their emptiness and cruelty, and expanded further to encourage reflection on just how degraded a person’s humanity has to be in order to stand as author to such turpitude.

Reliably, Trump took to Twitter and impugned Streep’s acting as overrated when even the most deluded Trump water-carriers must understand at some intrinsic level that his opinion of people is solely incumbent on their most recent criticism or endorsement of him.  Were she to have urged "coming together as a nation" and "giving the president-elect a fair trial" and "respecting the office first and giving the will of the people a chance to be heard," his assessment of her would instead be that she is our greatest living actress and a national treasure.

She believes, as I do, that he is a dreadful human being and a dangerous US president, and I am glad she said so. I just wish she hadn’t run the end-around on the NFL and dropped a double-leg takedown on the MMA to do it.