Friday, August 24, 2007

The Universe. Brian Wilson. And a Theremin?

"Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aide." -Goethe

I know that is one of the most quoted quotations of all time, especially over the last seven years since Cameron Crowe put it into the mouth of his fictional mother in Almost Famous. But there is another reason why: because it's true and encouraging. We all need encouraging truths.

In my case the mighty forces are simply a force, which happens to be Brian Wilson. I know that Wilson said that "music is the voice of God" in his Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame induction, but seriously . . . my recent experience is a bit strange -- and apparently a bit "New York."

When we were looking for apartments we ran into a record shop on Bleecker Street (obviously we had already found our apartment and were goofing around, because we can't afford an apartment on Bleecker -- I'm a former English teacher from Oklahoma!). Rebel Rebel is the name of the shop. I don't know the guy's name that has been running it the last three times we were there, but he's cool and nice and doesn't at all resemble any of the dorks in High Fidelity. I grabbed a copy of Smile by Brian Wilson from this same shop on Monday. I had never heard it before and had the opportunity to have my initial listening experience on vinyl.

It's beautiful, strange and spiritual -- all characteristics of Brian Wilson's virtuosity. I simply wanted an album that I could listen to without wanting to skip every other song, and I found one of the best albums I've ever heard. I never read any of the reviews when it came out in 2004, and I'm glad I didn't -- now I can have this blind-sided crash into it. I love Pet Sounds, but this is simply in a different category (notice that I didn't say higher or better category. And for those of you that don't like the album, Smile, for it's lyrics: I understand. But you're missing the point).

This all leads to what happened yesterday. My wife had been eager to see Williamsburg the Musical but had forgotten to reserve tickets. So we walked down to The Village Theater and were informed that the show was sold out. An old guy dressed in black with some weird carrying cases strewn across the sidewalk beside him stopped us and handed us a flyer advertising Theremin. I can be a geek at times, but I'm apparently not a big enough geek to know what and who Theremin is (maybe I'm stereotyping this whole concept and everyone else in the world knows who Theremin is and I'm a fool for even considering otherwise. Okay, I'll accept that.). I once saw a long-haired weirdo playing a theremin on a Billy Joel concert DVD, but I didn't know what he was doing.

In a nut, Leon Theremin was the Ruskie who invented the theremin around the beginning of the 20th Century. The theremin is the first electric instrument and is played without the musician making any contact with it. He invented this thing, demonstrated it to the American public, and disappeared off the face of the planet.

What the hell does this have to do with Brian Wilson? Well, Brian Wilson started going crazy, due to his massive consumption of narcotics and his trying to deal with his own "musical genius." According to the play, Wilson believed that his destiny would be complete if he could uncover the mystery of what happened to this Russian inventor.

The play was fantastic. I'm not going to write a review about this, either, but will say that it encompassed everything I enjoy in theatre. A bizarre or unusual concept is brought to the public through a medium that is best suited for it. For example, there is no other medium that could tell a humorous, odd, and intelligent story through live performers consisting of four actors and a weird gray haired man in the orchestra pit, playing the only instrument in the pit -- a theremin. No other medium could produce the same ethos. I thought the weird guy and the concept of the play would make the production campy, but it didn't. Everything was entertaining and enlightening.

My main point: I've had two great experiences with art in the same week, both are accidental, and both involve Brian Wilson. What does this mean?

I don't know or care. I am simply delighting in the fact that this experience would be virtually impossible in Tulsa. Not impossible, virtually impossible. Is synchronicity limited to NYC? No! But this is eccentric, even for synchronicity. We're talking about vinyl and live theatre; both are, arguably, dying art forms, and, therefore, have very few compatible comparisons. It'd be like an accordionist stopping outside your window to play you and your wife's wedding song directly after you returned home from your honeymoon -- and your song is "Enter Sandman" by Metallica. This may be a stretch, but not buy much. I mean, come on, there is only one dying art form in this synchronous analogy, the accordionist, and he's only an outcast of pop culture; he is still in high demand in almost every state of the Union due to the not-so-subversive mariachi movement.


So, I give New York credit, even if it doesn't entirely deserve it. If you've had a similar experience in Quapaw, Oklahoma, excellent! But I'm going to continue to ride my displaced-person's high while listening to Mr. Wilson sing about his excitement over grocery shopping: "I'd jump up and down and hope you'd toss me a carrot." Genius!



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