Friday, February 17, 2012
Before I came to this the work I did consisted of looking at the world as pictures without words: The Beatles rushing down the stairs together at JFK, Neil Armstrong on the moon, Salvador Dali's 1943 painting of an American messiah climbing out of an egg and another same year in a football helmet, Emanuel Gootlieb Leutze’s painting of Wasington crossing the Delaware, Holbein’s full portrait of Henry VIII which signified the beginning of our age. They form patterns and tell the inner story of our passage. One such photo occurred this week at the Grammy Awards. A sensational iconic photophraph taken by Matt Sayles of AP of Lady Gaga standing alone in the audience, looking mournfully to the left. It has that same quality of James McNeill Whistler’s “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1” of a woman remembering something lost. Lady Gaga has dressed herself in mourning and like Whistler’s mother she appears to be mourning for an age passed. Mourning for herself.
Generational historians Strauss and Howe (Spengler for dummies) write how history can shift in a few hours and this event was one such evening. I'm usually the last to know about these things because I live in the woods and wait until my kids tell of the world's turnings, but as the Sayles picture dramatically suggested an age receding, there on the front page of the WSJ was an image of the world beginning again: A video clip of Adele singing “Someone like you.” I was fairly new the song as my young daughter had been playing it gently on piano all year, but had never heard it by Adele.
Bob Dylan once said that every changed when he first heard Odetta perform on one of those early Sixties folk music programs. I'm old enough to have had that experience as well. But back then it was also humanly possible to be the only one or two white listeners to Ester Phillips in the quiet black clubs of Chicago night. They were gentle American secrets where you could smoke through the night in bliss with only a handful of others. There were as I recall no awards then which is why the creatively is pure and organic. With awards, thereafter the Mad Men would come looking for the next Ester or Odetta or Nina Simone and the next Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. It began in caves in the night in Chicago at 4 am with only four people left. It ends at a football stadium in the middle of the afternoon with 100 million people watching. Until you had marketed copies 60 years through the generations until it got to Madonna and Janet Jackson and at the very end a copy or a copy of a copy. And that which was once a song is now only a shout; until you get to lady gaga and that is what she was mournfully looking back through window upon window.
But when I heard Adele it was as if I was there again at the creation in Chicago where the world first began. There again at the beginning with Little Ester.