Thursday, November 07, 2013

Tutti Morti

That's the day Italians remember their dead friends and relatives; it means "all the dead". It's actually Nov. 2, the day after All Saints' Day, which is in turn the day after Hallowe'en night. So, though I'm late, let's start with an Italian:

Lucio Dalla 
My favorite (non-operatic) Italian singer actually died, suddenly, last year, but I only found out about it recently.  Dalla's peak was in the '70's and '80's; he was fun-loving, romantic, and serious, all at the same time (or at least that's the impression he gave to me).  He gave off a bit of an anarchic, post-hippie kind of vibe, one which probably didn't survive the insanity and paranoia of the Red Brigades era (their crimes, their punishment) too well.   At any rate, though he continued to produce and was still revered, I don't think he captured the moment there quite so well after that.
He had good musical arrangements and was skilled at several instruments, but his particular appeal came from his lyrics.  They appealed to the popular sensibility and were written in a colloquial, but not vulgar, style. He sang about normal people and their aspirations, the craziness of society, things like that.  His political stance was to stay non-politicized. He was sort of their Bruce Springsteen.

Lou Reed  
Speaking of Italy (where Reed was very popular), when I first went there people commented to me about the play on words of his name:  "Lou Reed= Lurid" (with an Italian pronunciation; their word is "lurido", and it's not a compliment, either).   I had to tell them that if it was intentional, it was news to me.  Looking on wikipedia, it turns out his real name was Lewis Reed, so the nickname was a natural one, even if the transgressive suggestion of the stage name was intentional.

I am one of those hipster/anti-hipster types, so I have to disagree with the Conventional Wisdom of the elitist rock critics who worship the Velvet Underground.  They may have made some local commotion in the East Village and thereabouts in their day, but they were basically gone before they ever got anywhere.  Their music is about 50% OK and 50% totally unlistenable.   I recognize they were avant-garde, but so are a lot of others who never get the publicity; the fact that they were edgy is not so unusual or ground-breaking.   I don't find the evidence of "influence" on everything that came afterward very convincing.

On the other hand, the group did give birth to a couple of folks who made enduring impacts on popular music, "post-punk" (as those elitist critics like to say).  One was Brian Eno--a topic for another day, but let's just admit that this guy's far-out methods and vision have continued to break ground ever since.  The other was Lou Reed, who was both a genuine rocker and a bit of a poet.  

I won't say that everything he did was brilliant (I think I covered that idea already)--he did, after all, release "Metal Machine Music", one of the worst (if not the worst) albums I have ever heard all or in part.  He did do "Sweet Jane",  "Walk on the Wild Side", and a lot more over the decades.  He had legs.  I think he was also a decent guy; otherwise, he would never have won over Laurie Anderson, his wife in the later years, who just published a very moving obit for Rolling Stone.

Charlie Trotter
He ruled the Chicago restaurant scene for a couple of decades, and that's saying something.  There are a dozen or more of Trotter-knockoff-type restaurants in the area now.  I'm not sure that's a good thing:  basically the idea is that the chef is king, you eat what he wants you to eat and pay a lot for the privilege and the exclusivity, and if you work in the kitchen, you cringe and learn.

His influence seems to have gone well beyond Chicago.  He has contributed greatly to making nouvelle cuisine more than a fad and to inventing the fad which is molecular gastronomy.

I never ate at any of his restaurants.  I wouldn't say that I never would, but I'd have to think twice (once for the cost, the other for surrendering to a subservient consuming role).  He closed his main one a year ago.  I'm not sure if he knew then that he was going to die soon, which he did two days ago, aged only 54.  We'll probably find out the back story on that pretty soon.

The Tea Party
OK, I exaggerate.  When the death-wagon comes around and the call comes out to "Bring out your dead!", they're the ones who'll pipe up and say "Not dead yet!"   There will still be many Tea-baggers re-elected in 2014 in extreme right-wing districts (with limited exceptions, they've had very little success ever in statewide elections),  and they will poison wells in Republican primaries probably for decades to come.

But still, their movement is clearly headed for demise.  It's not so much Chris Christie's big win, which points to a path of hope for those Republicans who are not willing to accept permanent second-place status (or even third, in time) in national politics.  It's more that the Establishment of the party, which has tolerated them up until now, has decided to cut them off as being bad for business.  It was the shutdown, and their arrogant approach to try to drive the federal government from their position controlling 10-15% of the electorate, that was the cause of their non-tragic fall.

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