31 October 2007


I’ve been writing about ritual. Not routinized behavior, but a prescribed order of performing religious or other devotional duties, an observance of set forms or words. Hopefully a ritual contains spiritual content, though clearly a ritual can be enacted without thought or feeling. I suspect that much us accomplish our lives too regularly and with too little reflection.

And then something occurs which reminds me how little control I have over events, how ephemeral the world finally is, and how contingent all life finally is.

Two deaths yesterday. Bill Lieberman, a vibrant and loving man, in a car accident, and Robert Goulet, of a rare lung disease. I am experiencing lung issues right now myself.

The first was seventy-nine years old, the latter seventy three. Yesterday, neither considered not being here today. Nor did we. It’s not a matter of life being fair or unfair; life just is life, and it includes death. In the exercise of ritual, we forget contingency. It’s a painful reminder.

The Rabbis say that one must offer something fresh to ritual each time or else its enactment is not honest participation. I agree. This freshness would remind me to pay more careful attention.

22 October 2007

Best of Both Worlds Tour

I went to the Hannah Montana concert last evening with my younger daughter and three of her friends. I have a few things upon which I would like to comment.

Hannah Montana is another of those phenomena with which I am completely unfamiliar, but which my children (and apparently not a few other children) know quite familiarly. When I originally tried to purchase tickets, one week after they went on sale, I discovered that the concert was sold out! We managed to get some seats nonetheless through the wonderful graces of a family friend.

Well, not just any seats, actually. I regret to say that after a life time of concert attendance, I have finally had the privilege of sitting in almost the first row. All those years of sitting in the back of the arena to hear Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, my word, so many and all of them, and here I was close enough to reach out and touch the stage! And I was at the Hannah Montana Concert!! I couldn’t have cared less!

The show was a wonderful spectacle, full of lights, color, pyrotechnics, movement, and myriad costume changes. My daughter and her friends all stood in their seats—and took out their cameras and camera phones and began to photograph the show. It was my choice not to disturb anything they were doing, but I wondered why they would prefer to save the show for another time on a remarkably inferior medium when they could experience the show in the here and now. It is as if because it is spectacle, it need to be photographed, it was there not to be enjoyed, but to be preserved.

Finally the quality of the reproduction on these devices is terrible, and the girls ended up seeing too much of the show through the camera/phone viewfinders and the very large TV screens which sat atop the stage.

The music was thoroughly uninteresting. In fact, sometimes I didn’t like it. However, this audience adored her and the music. This concert had nothing to do with me or my kind, which would be defined as anyone over the age of fifteen years. This concert was for young girls—those fifteen and under. This concert was for my daughter and her friends. The songs spoke of growing up, of being a girl, of having fun, of dancing. When Hannah Montana (or Miley Cyrus, I can’t remember which) screamed out, “Are there any girls who are going to party tonight?” she was not referring to real parties, or engagement in drinking or drug or sexual activity. She was talking about girls dancing at parties, often with other girls, because the boys are such geeks and creeps.

Hannah/Miley is certainly not talking about sex. This was a thoroughly asexual show. Not that it didn’t celebrate girls and their bodies, but that there was a modesty to the costumes which is rare, rare, rare in the world of female popular culture. There were no low-cut dresses, no sexual innuendo in movement or talk, no emphasis on breast size or shape, and certainly no suggestive gesture or display. This show had nothing to do with sex. There was absolutely no sexual tension in the room. This show celebrated being a young girl and having fun. This show was about liking to go to school, about liking to dance, about hanging out with girl friends and not thinking about boys. This show was about the joys of young girls. Hannah/Miley kept asking, “Are you having fun, Minneapolis,” and thousands of young girls screamed their approval. It was screechingly loud, almost painful. It was . . . warmly sweet. And whether this environmental sans sex was created or occured naturally, it was comfortable for me to sit in absolute confidence that nothing inappropriate would occur—or even rise into consciousness.

Miley Cyrus is herself fifteen years old!

Indeed, the audience was comprised almost wholly of young girls below the age of fifteen. In front of me was a Hannah Montana fan not more than four or five years of age wearing protective ear guards to protect her from the music. She danced nonetheless. Behind me sat a row of girls whose ages added did not equal mine! They stood and danced and swung their souvenir glow-sticks, brushing my graying head and apologizing for bothering me. It was no bother.

Even the Jonas Brothers, the opening act, and one of the few male presences other than us Dads and the Security Guards (who were hardly necessary), were sweet, good natured boys, who dressed stylishly, and handled their guitars with ease, but from whom exuded absolutely no sexuality. I’m not sure they even considered the matter themselves, they were so busy playing music and having fun.

I seem to remember a time when Walt Disney wouldn’t allow Rock n’ roll into his Disneylands. Now, the Walt Disney Corporation sponsors, at least, High School Musical I & 2, Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. Walt Disney controls the Rock scene for the sub-fifteen set.

Rock on, Girls!

15 October 2007

As it Happens

As it happens, it was easy to find the boy in the man, and it was comfortable to make this discovery. Everyone looked the same as I had remembered them, except older. But not really older, because they were all my age, and I can’t imagine being my age. There didn’t have to be a great deal of reminiscence; in the flow of conversation the present and past mixed easily. Nostalgia, the desire for an emotion which never really occurred, never seemed evident.

And occasionally, we would surprise each other, as when I said that I attended shul most Shabbats. Or when Paul narrated the wonderful story of his travels during the 1970’s. We didn’t talk about music, but it played almost constantly. Rather than fuss with the disks on the turntable, however, either stacking them (a sin!), or rising from our chairs every twenty minutes or so to turn one over or place a new one on the spindle, the iPod blared its contents through a portable speaker-system

We all lived privileged lives; we have been lucky and personal tragedy does not seem to have yet touched us. We can laugh openly and freely, and live with open skies. And perhaps, regardless, we have each other should there be a touch of grey in our silver linings.

It was a lovely weekend gentlemen and friends. Its a pleasure to call you my dear friends. Who else but you would be reading this?

11 October 2007

Forty-two Years

Heading out for an adventure in time and space for the weekend. I’m flying to the East Coast to participate in a reunion of the . . . well, there rests my dilemma. Do I refer to these sixty year old individuals as ‘boys’ which is how I last knew them, or should they be called ‘men’ as they are now. I am myself sixty years old now. So are they. As Dylan says, “Every step of the way we walk the line/Your days are numbered, so are mine.” We have much to say to each other, nowhere to escape. I have no visual image of any of these masculine gendered people (for lack of better words) except from our adolescent days which expired over four decades ago. Then we sat in classes, went to school events, talked about girls and sex, a bit of politics, SAT scores and class rankings. I suspect that after forty-two years this much hasn’t altered a great deal: we will still talk about school events, girls and sex, and a bit more politics. Perhaps for me underlying the talk may be SAT scores (mine were the lowest in the group), and class rankings (yes, the lowest as well). Instead of classes, we will discuss our work, and perhaps we won’t compare salaries and awards. I hope we can share what we’ve learned and would gladly teach. We can talk about the same people, but alas, these, too, we haven’t seen in forty-two years. I think we will learn that some have died.

And yet, there have been moments when, over the past few weeks, I have thought about this weekend, there arose in me an emotional wave which borders on tears. When I would think of greeting these men who I haven’t seen since they were eighteen year old boys, I imagined mutuality of the embrace which held in its grip the years: we have made it, all, in our way, and have come here to be who we are with those with whom we were. I wrap my arms about you in greeting, in triumph, and in hope. Our cups runneth over.