Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Van Cliburn Concert

 In 1978 I was fifteen years old.  It was the first year I ever fully experienced the darkness inside me.  My family fought through an extraordinarily difficult 1977 and survived.  Things were looking up, but my outlook on life lost any hint of sunshine for the first time.

My father was the chairman of the Mississippi Arts Festival, an event designed to raise money and awareness of the proposed art center attached to what was then called the City Auditorium.  My father’s favorite appreciation of art was listening to Hee Haw on channel 12.  He was a big promoter of the idea of bringing arts and culture to Jackson, but he wasn’t the type to spend much time at the opera.

The featured performer for the 1978 Mississippi Arts Festival was Van Cliburn, the celebrated pianist from Shreveport, Louisiana.  He was to give a performance at the City Auditorium and attend a gala reception afterward at the Governor’s Mansion.  My mother wanted very much to attend.  Although he helped arrange the event, my father would have never survived a two-hour classical piano concert awake, and he didn’t much care for that governor, and that governor didn’t much care for him.

My oldest brother had just returned home and was under both legal and medical advice not to go out at night.  My middle brother saw nothing remotely cool in a concert by a guy who looked like Jerry Lee Lewis in a tuxedo.  Having deeply loved the previous Beverly Sills concert, I was anxious for my mother to ask me.  She decided I was old enough, not only for the concert but for the reception afterward.

We had dress circle tickets purchased in the name of The Office Supply Company.  I didn’t have a tuxedo, but I did have a navy blue suit and a red tie.  The concert was fascinating.  Van Cliburn moves like he was animated by Walt Disney.  I was attentive and wrapped in attention the entire concert.

After the concert, Mother asked if I thought we could park behind the Office Supply Company and walk to the Governor’s Mansion.  Since she was the one with the impractical shoes and the one driving, so I figured it was best just to do whatever she suggested.

Inside the Governor’s Mansion, I recognized many faces from church and our neighborhood.  Dick Wilson and Lester Senter stood next to Dick’s father, Baxter.  Bill Goodman had a drink and asked my mother, “Where’s Jim?” with a smirk.  My father’s actual location at home watching television wasn’t a mystery to anyone.  I’m sure there were lots of husbands who wished they’d made the same deal.  

Sunday night in April, the Governor’s mansion was prolific with flowers.  The Governor and his wife stood to the right of Van Cliburn, shaking the hands of those willing to wait in line.  Cliff Finch had hair not unlike Donald Trump.  Both an unnatural color and an unnatural shape.  Deeply tanned, he convinced Mississippi farmers and workers that he was one of them by carrying a lunch box.  He was not.  His wife looked like she’d taken enough pills that we could have performed minor surgery on her without complaint.  We later learned that was most likely the case.  At fifteen, I was already pretty well-versed in the ritual of shaking hands.  This wasn’t my first governor.  

My mother began to work the room.  These were her people, and there was an open bar.  “I want to look at the paintings,” I said as a way of announcing that I was going off on my own.  More than anything, I just wasn’t in the mood for a grown-up party or any kind of party, even though I really loved the concert.  

I found my way into a room to the side of where they had the staging area set up for the party.  It seemed to be used for storage.  In a couple of years, Elise Winter completely remodeled and restored the Governor’s Mansion.  Rumors and tales of the damage they found left by the Finch administration passed around Jackson for years.

I recognized a girl standing by a window as the governor’s daughter.  She was something like two years older than me and held a glass of chilled white wine.  “Do you want one?” she asked.  I was pretty sure she wasn’t supposed to have one, and I was absolutely sure I wasn’t supposed to.  I’d snuck alcohol from parties before, but considering the guest list at this one, I was under some pressure to be good.  She sounded like this was maybe her third glass that night.

“What’s your name?” She asked.  Her hair was unnaturally blonde and sculpted with aquanet and a blow dryer.  Her voice had a cadence that told me we weren’t from the same tribe.

“Alexander,”  I said.  I did that sometimes when I didn’t want to have to explain that my name was Boyd with a “D” and not just “Boy.”  I still do it sometimes.

“Did you go to that thing?” She asked, gesturing toward the Auditorium.  

“Yeah, my dad was a sponsor,”  I said.

“That’s not my kind of music.”  She said and gripped the back of my arm.  “You’re so big.”  She said.  I’d heard that before.  “I can get you a glass of wine or a beer if you want it.”  She said, demonstrating her power and connections.

“Can’t, I’m in training,”  I said.  It was mostly a lie, but if she hadn’t figured out I was just fifteen, I didn’t want to be the one to spoil her delusion.  

Glancing left and right, she moved her hand around to the front of my arm and squeezed my bicep.  Then she leaned in and kissed me.  I could feel her tongue brush against the tip of the cupid’s bow on my top lip.  This, too, felt like a show of power and connections.

I pulled back.  “I’ve got to go check on my ride,”  I said.  Saying that my ride was my mother wasn’t cool, so I left that part out.  After I found my mother, I never saw the governor’s daughter the rest of the night and never spoke to her again the rest of my life.

There were stories about her career at Ole Miss, but I’m sure she was a pretty nice girl.   A few glasses of wine and a really boring party can lead a girl to silly mistakes.  

I didn’t feel like I’d been kissed by a pretty girl at all.  I felt really dark and misunderstood.  I felt like if she had any idea who I was or what I was like, she never would have kissed me.  Sometimes, it’s a lot easier to kiss a stranger.  I experienced that a few times.  It’d be another year before I felt like I had a handle on this being around girls thing.  So much had to happen before that.  Some of it was really dark and painful.  I wasn’t really ready for what life would become.  I’d had a taste of it.  Some of my friends had lost a parent, and I was just beginning to realize that I’d lost my brother, or at least lost the person he was before he got sick.  

Van Cliburn’s career would continue to rise, but I would always associate it with something entirely different.  His was the music that played when I went through one of life’s more difficult doors.  Hiding a pretty girl in one of the rooms didn’t make things much better.

Monday, May 23, 2022

My White Plume

It's come to my attention that there are those who have never known the name Hercule Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac.  Why should they know him?  Edmond Rostand wrote the play in 1897 and he wrote it in French, of all things.

A secret few know that I have two totems in literature: one is the creature-god Kong, and the other is Cyrano.  I've never denied it.  I have seen and studied every possible production of the play that came within my grasp.  The most recent production in 2021 adds two remarkable new facets to the story: its music and the actor Peter Dinklage.

Rostand's play tells the story of Cyrano, a brilliant and gallant soldier who secretly loves his oldest friend Roxanne.  Secretly because despite his many gifts, Cyrano is deformed.  Traditionally portrayed with an enormous nose, but in 2021 as a dwarf.

At a play, a cadet in Cyrano's regiment named Christian de Neuvillette sees Roxanne and instantly falls into infatuation, as she does with him.  Later, Christian confesses his love for Roxanne to his commander Cyrano and asks for help making Roxanne love him.  Christian is shy and uses words poorly.  Cyrano knows Roxanne loves wit and poetry.  He also knows that Christian is brave and as beautiful as Roxanne herself.  He agrees to write letters to Roxanne, pretending to be Christian, so that Roxanne may fall in love with him.

The plot works.  Roxanne confesses to Cyrano that she loves Christian, not knowing that the words she loved were of her friend, Cyranos's own devotion for her, not Christian's.  

Cyrano's regiment goes to war.  Cyrano uses all his skills and all his bravery to ensure the cadet Christian's survival.   He also risks his own life by secretly delivering letters to Roxanne pretending to be Christian but telling of his own love.

Ordered into a suicide mission, Cyrano's skills grant his own survival, but despite them, Christian dies.  Roxanne has one last letter from Christian that she keeps on a ribbon around her neck, stained with tears she believes are his, and her own.

Many years later, Roxanne lives in a cloister.  Still faithful to her beloved Christian, she never took another suitor.  Regularly, her friend Cyrano visits her and delivers the news and styles of Paris.  

On this day, he is mortally wounded by bandits.  He hides the scar under his hat and meets one last time with the now older Roxanne.  Knowing he is dying, he asks Roxanne to read Christian's last letter; he knows she keeps it close to her breast, aloud to him.  The letter he wrote himself.  I won't give away the end.

Besides switching Cyrano's nose for Dinklage's dwarfism, what's remarkable about this production is that it's based on a stage version written by Erica Schmidt, Dinklage's own wife.  Many great actors have sought to play Cyrano as they do Hamlet and Othello and Lear, a privilege denied to Dinklage because of his condition.  The play is Schmidt's love gift to her husband.

After a successful run, funds became available allowing them to mount a film production, but Covid prevented its broad distribution.  It's not available on any of the streaming services, but you can rent it from either Youtube or Amazon for just a few dollars.

It's worth the viewing based on the performance by Dinklage and Haley Bennett as Roxanne.  The locations and cinematography are beautiful, and the music is memorable and charming.  It's nominated for several awards, including BAFTA, Golden Globes, and Academy Awards for acting and music.

Of the many interpretations of Cyrano, this may be my favorite, based mostly on Dinklage's performance.  I also found the audacity of mixing up a piece considered a classic a brave move, fittingly inspired by a real-life true love.  

Official Ted Lasso