Archive for June, 2018

They must have known me…

Last night as I channel surfed, I stumbled onto the last hour of the movie, Jersey Boys. I’ve seen the movie before and the live play twice. You’d think I had enough.

True to the original story, the movie chronicles the rise of the singing group The Four Seasons, from the hard-bitten streets of New Jersey to million record sellers of songs that made hearts sing. It gives ample coverage to the lives of the four men who rode the whirlwind and became household heroes, adored by young and old alike.

Originally just The Four Seasons, it morphed into Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Then through a series of misadventures, largely attributed to the bad boy of the foursome, Tommy Devito, their ascendancy ended with simply, Frankie Valli. With a fingernail-on-the-blackboard falsetto, Valli dominated the sound that made you want more.

I find it easy to get smiley and teary-eyed when I hear Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, and Will You Love Me Tomorrow. It’s as though each of the songs speaks personally to me of my own feelings. I’m sure they were thinking of me when Bob Gaudio wrote the lyrics.

My favorite, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, reads my mind, takes off my mask, and sums up my feelings for the woman in my life.

You’re just too good to be true
I can’t take my eyes off of you
You’d be like heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much
At long last love has arrived
And I thank God I’m alive
You’re just too good to be true
Can’t take my eyes off of you

But how did we get here? The Four Seasons chronicles that path in song. It starts with Oh, What A Night taking me back to the first time I spoke with her at a dinner that she cleverly invited herself to. A temptress who quietly stole a piece of my heart,  and then another until she had it all.

Oh, what a night
Late December, back in ’63
What a very special time for me
As I remember, what a night
Oh, what a night
You know, I didn’t even know her name
But I was never gonna be the same
What a lady, what a night

Some of those nights, when I’m lonely, I tend to pout. I want more. Yes, she has a life to live but I’m selfish. So I feel sorry for myself and I pledge to Walk Like a Man

Oh, how you tried to cut me down to size
Tellin’ dirty lies to my friends
But my own father said “Give her up, don’t bother
The world isn’t comin’ to an end”

Walk like a man, talk like a man
Walk like a man my son
No woman’s worth crawlin’ on the earth
So walk like a man, my son

Easy for him to say.  Because with one smile, one text, or one kiss, I’m over it. Yet I continue to look over my shoulder and wonder where the rain clouds went and when they will return. And so I ask, Will You Love Me Tomorrow?

Tonight you’re mine, completely
You give your soul so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
Will you love me tomorrow

Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment’s pleasure
Can I believe the magic of your sighs
Will you still love me tomorrow

Tonight with words unspoken
You said that I’m the only one, the only one
But will my heart be broken
When the night meets the morning star

Love is wonderful. Full of delight and unhappiness. Without one, the other would be lonely. Without both, we would never know what it means to really love someone. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are my muses. My confidants. My friends. They must have known me.

Trifecta

Saturday Night

A narrow, off-white dining room, with an arched opening to a carpeted hallway. Another smaller swinging door that empties from the larger room into a sparse kitchen just big enough to seat four.

Smelling the acrid cigarettes and the cigar smoke steeped in its own brown juice, I lay my ten-year-old head on the thinning pillow of my day bed. A bed so close to the long dining room table that I can both hear and feel the card players. They laugh and make the most of a nickel and dime poker game played on a spotless white table-cloth covering the marred wood surface infused with fading memories.

Check? You can check in the bank, jokes my father as he raises the ante. Uncle Max, needing to get up at 4:30 for his job in the scrap metal yard, struggles to keep up with the banter. My mother, smoking but not inhaling one of her rare cigarettes, pops up and down from the table. Pouring glasses of cold seltzer water and filling up the nut bowls, she is in her element. Caring for others before herself.

It’s Saturday night.

 

Relatives Found

We take a Baltic cruise during which we stop in St. Petersburg. Within shouting distance of my immigrant parents’ long-ago shtetl, the old city’s historical features are dingy and marred by years of neglect and a lack of funds that might help it recover. Cracked walls, unkempt streets, and art objects that tilt offensively mar the scene.

That evening, our tour attends the ballet in the Mariinsky Theater. Built in 1860, it offers a glimpse of Russian art history before it crashes in the wake of Communism. We queue up to the ticket booth and I look at the ticket taker, feeling like I am staring into my own face. The lobby usher reminds me of my uncle Al.  And I want to hug the old lady who, reminding me of my maternal grandmother, shows us to our aging velour seats. I am no longer 6,000 miles from home.

I cry happily during Swan Lake.

 

 

Skin

I feel her skin. The small, sea-salty strip that runs from the heel of her left hand up along her petite forearm. Small, bird-like, smoother than velvet, that small piece of skin offers me a sensuous insight into her womanhood.

I find myself softly stroking it as we lie there. I tell her how it feels. How it makes me want to never leave the bed. We need not go further to experience delight, ecstasy and deep satisfaction. It’s as though that precious, well-hidden area has remained unchanged since her beginning and will stay that way until I am no longer capable of feeling. Until then I will touch and love.

 

Ojai Music Festival…the aftermath

My sweet neighbor June is busily washing towels and sheets. They were used by her friends who I graciously allowed in my guesthouse this past weekend. Friends who came from as far away as the East Coast to revel in the glories of the Ojai Music Festival.

June is not only in the laundry business, she cooks for her friends, edits the Festival program and attends nearly every minute of the five days of the Festival. During all that time I never heard a complaint emanate from her lips. Nor did she ever appear tired. A major accomplishment when compared to my napping during much of the Festival’s sturm und drang.

Thursday night started innocently enough when Patricia Kopatchinskaja, this year’s music director, made her way through the throng of concert goers gathered near the entrance to the Bowl. Much like a stalking lion, she moved stealthily from station to station, stopping only long enough to call forth indecipherable shrieks from her violin. Like lemmings, her ardent followers tracked her, were mesmerized by her, and undoubtedly felt that this was something to write home about. I, on the other hand, worried about things that were yet to come.

I entered the Bowl and found my seat about halfway down the aisle. I have learned the importance of sight lines. Without going into nauseating detail, a “theater with good sight lines” means that most, if not all of the viewers, can actually see what’s going on in front of them. Unfortunately, my sight line was partially blocked by a tall, middle-aged gentleman who also had the unfortunate habit of moving laterally left to right causing me to continually re-adjust my fanny and head position. He was like a camera shutter, opening for one hundredth of a second while staying closed most of the time.

Mindful of others, I found my seat movements constrained by the good neighbor policy. I visualized those behind me, those behind them, etc. moving like a wave in unison to my shifts. I therefore sheepishly limited my movements to very teensy ones. This permitted periodic glimpses, like treats, of the on-stage action. Most of the time I might as well have been listening to the radio.

Toward the end of the Friday concert, I weighed the pros and cons of asking the gentleman to be more mindful of the minions behind him (I thought it might help if I told him it wasn’t just me who might as well have been blindfolded.)  I tapped him on the shoulder, explained my plight and asked for special dispensation. He grudgingly obliged, but not before he launched into a scathing evaluation of the construction of the bowl, the placement of the seats, and the Bowl management’s reluctance to make major structural changes proposed by him. I later discovered that this gentleman was Mark Swed, classical music critic for the Los Angeles Times. He is what he is.

Friday night brought us the world premiere of Michael Hersch’s elegy, I Hope We Get to Visit Soon. As Mark Swed described it in his LA Times review, a relentlessly grim musical immersion in a cancer ward, was the weekend’s major world premiere. After enduring the 77-minute performance for two solo singers and instrumental ensemble, without a trace of grace one woman stood on the lawn repeatedly shouting, “I hated that so much I want to fight with someone”, as we funereally filed out of the Libbey Bowl.

The elegy is based on Michael Hersch’s experience with a friend who endured what could be described as a plague of attempted cancer cures. The onstage dialog of false hope and failures was artfully accompanied by some twenty musicians who produced intermittent, painful screeching. The performance took me from a state of disbelief (why would someone put this to music) to sadness, then to despair and finally numbness of all my limbs. When it ended, what seemed like an eon of silence gave way to a mild smattering of quiet hand clapping. Fearful that the composer might do away with himself, I joined in the merriment and was comforted by the bravos and bravas that finally issued forth from those who had regained the use of some of their bodily functions.

Jackie’s turn arrived on Saturday. A first-time Festival goer, she was treated to, as she put it, a unique, one-time experience. Not wishing to burden herself with the mid-day emanations from the Bowl stage, she immersed herself in her own world through clever use of her iPhone X. Getting with the program, I too searched for other ways of occupying my own time.

The Bowl is partially covered with shade cloth that tends to mercifully diminish the sun’s onslaught. The shade consists of three long pieces of fabric that are hooked together. When we took our seats at 1pm, we were covered and protected by this marvel of man. However, as any schoolboy knows, the earth rotates. Continuing my alternative exploration, I noted a six-inch gap between each of the long shade strips. I also noted the sun’s relentless approach to the gap. My sextant and compass predicted that the sun’s rays would be on me before the end of the afternoon concert. And they were. First my big toe, then my foot, then my ankle. I felt like a vampire who, when fully exposed to the sun, would explode and shower Mark Swed with my innards. Fortunately, the concert ended at my thigh.

Saturday afternoon began with Kafka Fragments. A series of forty-one snippets artfully performed by a high-pitched soprano and a manic violinist. Have you ever done the Countdown Experience? This requires the musical knowledge to know when a movement, or in this case a snippet, ends. Then you maintain your sanity by counting the number of snippets yet to be played before the whole thing ends and you can go home…or the nearest bar. Forty, thirty-nine, thirty-eight…

The Saturday evening finale applied a heavy-handed touch to exploring the chaos and misfortune of the world. Incorporating the best of drought, famine, state collapse and mass migration, we were treated to a cleverly staged presentation of all the worst of life. The highlight performer was a woman who reminded me of a character from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Though slight of arm, she wielded massive hammers on a coffin, while pictures of death and desolation populated the surrounding Bowl walls. The crowd went wild with appreciation. The sounds of applause, whooping and bravos echoed through my ears all the way to the parking lot. I placed Jackie’s limp body in the passenger seat and we went home.

I can’t wait to buy tickets for next year.

Ojai Music Festival

Avant-garde can be both a noun and an adjective. As the latter, it means favoring or introducing experimental or unusual ideas. As any one of these ideas is untried, a certain percent of them will fall flat, fail to succeed, or in contemporary usage, be just plain ca-ca.

The Ojai Music Festival wends its way into town this weekend. It brings with it several truckloads of what can be termed avant-garde or contemporary music. A thousand people, mostly from other than Ojai, will squeeze into Libbey Bowl and sit enraptured while artists do their best to be unique and engaging. Local businesses will also be ecstatic as the town swells with well-heeled patrons of the arts.

Before the new Libbey Bowl was constructed a few years ago with its high impact, relatively uncomfortable plastic seats, concert goers sat on high impact, very uncomfortable wooden benches. A once homey feel, the old benches were fraught with the possibility of slivers in your fanny.

Before its recent facelift, you also had the option of bringing lawn chairs, sitting on the grass at the back of the Bowl and, if you were lucky, got a reasonable, though pixie-like, view of what was happening on the stage. The Bowl renovation left things as they were, minus the view.

When Ila and I arrived in Ojai eighteen years ago, we had never heard of the Festival. Our sources of information about the Festival were limited. But always ready to try something new, we bought bench seat tickets, dressed warmly and attended a Saturday night concert. Not sure where our seats began or ended, we simply allowed ourselves to be shouldered at will by our bench mates. We took it in stride, sat back and anticipated classical music. We expected Beethoven, Brahms and Bach. Shostakovich was perhaps as far out as it would get.

What we did get can best be described by my recollection of the first performer. A man, neatly dressed, entered stage left and sat at what appeared to be an expensive Steinway piano. So far so good. But not for long. He began to play…with his elbows. Or so it seemed. I’ve told this story so many times that I don’t really know if he was actually using his elbows. Perhaps he was just clever enough to finger the keys in a way that sounded like he was using his elbows.

Taking a well deserve break at half-time, we mingled with the crowd and tried to look erudite. Our friend Ralph, fresh from yelling Bravo! blocked our way and said “Wasn’t that wonderful? Wasn’t it inspiring?” Never having been mistaken for someone who could be an Ambassador to the Vatican, I said “No it wasn’t.” Ralph waved me off as someone who definitely was ill-suited to premium bench seats.

We were not to be dissuaded. Still searching for the Holy Grail, Ila and I continued to attend the Festival each June. We confessed to our low-level erudition and had demoted ourselves to the lawn area. We didn’t see much, but then no one seemed to mind if I closed my eyes and feigned being erudite; as long as I didn’t snore.

A number of years ago, one of my riders on the Help of Ojai bus was a man in his nineties. During one of our  trips together, Mike and I talked about music and I asked him if he had ever been to the Music Festival. “I haven’t been there yet but I do regularly attend concerts in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Maybe it’s time I tried the one at Bowl.”

About ten minutes before the opening afternoon of the 2010 performance, here came my ninety-ish bus-mate Mike. He had spotted me and carefully picked his way to us through the mass of other less erudite concert goers. He unfolded his chair, a bit of a task given his age and the built-in complexity of those medieval instruments of torture, and plunked himself down next to me. We listened to the first half of the performance without identifying a piece that would offer lasting memories. At its conclusion, Mike got up, folded his chair and said “I’ve heard quite enough.” He wandered out of the Bowl, never to be seen again.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of breakfasting with Bill Kraft. Bill was, and still is, an elderly gentleman who in his earlier days had been the lead tympanist for the Los Angeles Symphony. After sharing our mutual genealogies, I took the opportunity to tell him about my difficulty with the Festival’s avant garde music. “Bill, I don’t know what’s the matter with me. Try as I might, I cannot fathom the music, much less appreciate and like it.” Bill unhesitatingly drew himself up to his full five-foot-four height and said “You don’t have to like it. It’s okay to dislike it. You are not a lesser human being for not liking it. And studiously avoid anyone who tells you that you must develop a liking for it.”

I still buy Festival tickets every year.


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