Monthly Archives: July 2006

Free Music in the Park

It is Friday, July 28. I am at City Park, sitting on a blanket on the grass with several of my best friends. We are attending an exhilarating performace by Danielia Cotton and her band, The Pistoleros.Big sound surrounds me. I raise my gaze toward a turquoise sky. I see a few reddening wisps of cirrus. My mind drifts. I recall being in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 1967 during the epochal “Summer of Love.” Jefferson Airplane is playing their music within a gathering throng. It is a classic beautiful summer evening and I am surrounded by thousands of people on a historic mission to be free and have fun.The nineteen sixties was one of those rare periods in human history during which a paradigm shift happens so quickly and thoroughly that it betokens a critical change in culture and society. Much has been written about that time. Rapid evolution was rampant. From radical politics to new art, science, and philosophy, it can be said that everything was ineluctably transformed.Now, after all that has been said and done, it dawns on me that free outdoor concerts can be more memorable and significant to groups of human beings than many experiences that are sold, bought, and paid for. There are more similarities between my experience of that concert long ago and tonight’s event at Reading’s City Park Bandshell than I can enumerate here. When recollection and the present moment conflate spontaneously in the mind it is sufficiently noteworthy to merit a phrase of its own (déjà vu). I pause here to contemplate and comment upon a pattern of peak experience that reveals a simple human truth. One of the very best things in life is free music in the park!

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midsummer

cloud-flecked and blue up thereabove green eyesand summer skinwe’re free herelike butterflies,hawks, foxes,deer, serpents,like undulant trout we’re arms and legs splayed wide at playunder radial boughsof wide-open elmswe’re wild pink young thistles,the naked flesh of day liliesand we are poundingeach otherinto the ground*Words by TFD

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Why do we worship false idols?

*Wednesday evening, the American Idol tour concert rocked Hershey’s Giant Center even as harrowing waves of rain, thunder, and lightning rolled through our region. While the outside world shook, the audience in the arena was shaken by a high decibel harmonic explosion – a wall of sound silhouetting the brilliant performances of finalists from this world’s biggest talent show.Conspicuously missing from the proceedings was Ms. Katherine McPhee. In the weeks preceding the event, the pop press – from fan blogs to People Magazine – was filled with rumors, reports, and finally, personal revelations of her resurgent bulimia from the runner-up herself. By the time of the concert, Idol fans were well aware that since June, McPhee had left behind a string of cancelled appearances. Still though, the word from the stage was that she had a bout of “laryngitis.”The sad fact that McPhee, one of the most comely and well-proportioned women to grace our mediasphere this year, has a long history of being so uncannily dissatisfied with her appearance that she harms herself is a strong commentary on our crazed cultural iconography and what it does to young women in particular. Her continuing absence from the tour is a lamentable testament to our self-destructive ideals and values. Of course, the show went on without her. Additional performances by the other finalists were added and McPhee’s duets and ensemble pieces were rearranged to fill the empty spaces created by her absence. Ironically a kind of disappearance is the goal of those who starve themselves, is it not? What forces, from both within and without, must pressure our young women to push so many of them to turn into dissatisfied, depressed, and degenerated versions of their formerly wholesome and healthy selves? And why do we do so little about it and why do we watch it happen until it is too late? *It was a great concert, by the way – so good that I do want to say more about it. But I could not bring myself to do so until I first said this.

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The festival and me

*I am of at least two minds after attending the Kutztown Pennsylvania German Festival on Saturday – more than two minds actually, as I am filled with many contradictory feelings and ideas. The festival is billed as an event of “Pennsylvania Dutch Folklife & Fun” and it does offer an amazingly complete representation of the work of folk artists, crafts persons, and exhibitors. There is top-notch entertainment – from great musicianship to excellent dancing – that I truly enjoyed. I have always thought that the kind of fine quilts on display – produced by Pennsylvania German artisans – have more intrinsic aesthetic value and significance than much of the artwork hanging in galleries and museums. Moreover, I am of the same mind about Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs.However, I have strong views against making much of one’s ethnic heritage. The kind of tribalism that inspires native groups to ghettoize themselves and the kind of psychological groupthink it encourages seem to me to be problematic in many ways. I am also quite aware that this is not a very socially acceptable point of view.World history is a story replete with examples of how tribalism run rampant has created untold horror for many excluded groups. Even today, we experience massive violence and hatred inflicted by ethnic, religious, and national groups on those considered outside their bounds of permissible belief and behavior. Yet at the same time, we are encouraged by sociopolitical factors to celebrate our various heritages. In addition, as there is a natural tendency in man – the social animal – to band together with others of similar ethnicity, this behavior requires very little effort to exploit for nefarious purposes. We live in a society in which there is encouragement to hold fast to the significance of our ethnic heritage yet we also live in a society in which the forces of homogeneity run rampant. In addition, for me, growing up as an Italian-American in this largely Pennsylvania German area (it was even more so when I was growing up than it is now) I have more memories of persecution and harassment by the good citizens of Berks County than I have pleasant memories of them. I was called the disparaging “w” word for Italians daily and had to fight physically more than once for the right not to be called by that name.As for my ethnicity, I wanted to shed it as a butterfly sheds a cocoon. I just wanted to be “American” – or what that term meant to me at the time. It meant non-ethnic and it meant not Italian and I have never really changed that view. I see celebrations of our ethnic heritage as essentially problematic. Yet at the same time, I can appreciate our histories, artifacts, and cultural experience and production. These thoughts filled my mind even as I enjoyed the wonderful hoedown music and dancing on the festival stage. I do not use this blog as a venue to do the kind of art writing I have done for many years. Instead, it is an opportunity for me to bring more personal perceptions to bear on aesthetic experiences and to share them with others. Sometimes our reactions to our experiences are neither simple nor conventional.

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