Thursday, January 26, 2006

Is Mozart overrated?

Well, it's officially here — it’s the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth Saturday, and all the attendant hyperbole and hoopla will get an official kickoff. I’m suggesting it’s not all warranted.

I own nearly 500 classical CDs and can count my Mozart CDs on the fingers of my two hands. He doesn't make the Top 10 of my classical composer playlist. He's certainly not No. 1 or 2. And who is that Top 10? ...

Going by sevens, my Top Seven are Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Stravinsky and Shostakovich. My Second Seven would be Handel, Schubert, Bruckner, Rachmaninoff, Schnittke, Penderecki, and Elliott Carter, I believe. That second seven is not as written in stone, but Mozart would not make the top seven at all.

Oh, by the way, some of you Mozart idolators might need to listen to some 20th century classical music. Start with the last three I listed. Add some Ernst Krenek. Throw in some late, serialist Stravinsky.

Child prodigy/voluminous output by itself does not make a genius. Saint-Saens was also a child prodigy; why does nobody discuss him like Mozart?

If you pressed me, there are two -- and only two -- must-have works of his; the Symphony No. 40 and the Requiem.

Otherwise, much of his early work was dilletantish salon music.

That said, here in Dallas, the Fine Arts Chamber Players is having a special at the Dallas Museum of Art Saturday. I'll be there.

It's free, and I never say no to free classical music.

Oh, and if you want a classical music birth anniversary to celebrate, circle Sept. 23 on your calendars. That will be the centennial of Shostakovich's birth.

More next week on details of why I think Mozart has gotten to be overrated; it's embargoed for now, as it's my newspaper column for next week.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Who’s hurt, and who’s diseased?

“I’m messed up, and I might mess you up.”

And where have I heard those lines before?
After more than seven years, I still remember.
I still remember Cathey’s self-defense
Cathey’s self-defense that made her sound diseased.

Sound diseased, though, isn’t the same as “felt diseased,” and
Felt diseased is the way I felt
I felt like I was a disease carrier
Carrier of something that could hurt her.

Hurt her? Maybe I could. Maybe I was too close,
Too close to the heart, too close to the defenses,
Defenses that were stout, but perhaps brittle with age,
Brittle with age, with heartache and more.

Age, heartache, and more?
I pulled punches seven years ago, trying to prevent,
To prevent Cathey from running, though I had no chance,
Once she saw I might be serious, though I tried to hide it, she was gone.

Gone? No? Memories of her are still there, and my actions,
My actions seven years ago, from which I learned,
Learned not to do the same thing again,
Again, as I face the same situation, or what seems same or similar.

Similar in situation, but not in response?
If she doesn’t want to share the hurt with me, then I can’t
Can’t continue to share my degree of yearning
Yearning and burning can’t be camouflaged.

I won’t camouflage one thing:
I’m not diseased and I’m not fragile.
Not fragile as china, to be boxed and padded away,
Boxed and padded away, out of sight, sound and mind.

We can’t talk

We can’t talk right now;
She is working on issues and pains
From a past relationship
And says she doesn’t want to hurt me.

I understand, I think, but I don’t like it;
I sympathize, but still yearn,
Yearn for her to change her mind,
And sooner, rather than later.

I feel like my emotions are on hold,
An interest, a budding hope and more,
Waiting, waiting, waiting;
Can't she see the “urgent” on her caller ID?

I wish I could make her understand
That, even if I am projecting my emotions
Onto an unseen her, never yet met,
This is more than normal interest.

But, she doesn’t want to hurt me.
She makes it sound as if she is a carrier
Of the latest exotic disease,
And afraid of infecting me.

Please, hang up the phone on the past.
Get the call blocking for that unwanted caller.
Put me on speed dial. Give me a call.
I'm not afraid of your emotional pain.

I want you.
I want you to talk.
I want you to
Talk to me.

But don’t wait,
Because I won’t
That long.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

I didn’t know he was turning 100; that must have been good drugs indeed

LSD inventor/discoverer Albert Hoffman, due to hit the century mark Jan. 11, reminisced about his discovery and its implications.

Jokes aside, of course, many people turned to LSD as a gateway to spiritual experiences, reputed to be better than mescaline and normally with fewer physical side effects.

Hoffman points out its trials in psychoanalytical work, which of course brings in one Dr. Timothy Leary. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson tried it (in between his séances) and thought it could be used to fight addictions.

But, the spiritual experience is there without LSD (or mescaline, or psilocybin). I’ve undergone self-hypnosis, years ago, and gotten “deep” enough to see spiraling mandala patterns, getting ever brighter as I focused on them, spinning more rapidly, and eventually becoming — a tunnel.

Yes, I was on the pathway to one of the most commonly cited phenomena of a near-death experience. NDE, meet LSD. Both of you, meet brain hardwiring.

At the end of the interview, Hoffman sounds like a New Ager himself, when asked what LSD did for his understanding of death:
When asked if the drug had deepened his understanding of death, he appeared mildly startled and said no. “I go back to where I came from, to where I was before I was born, that's all,” he said.

Well, ’twould be nice if it were true, but since there is no “I” after death (and, arguably, no single “I” while we’re alive), nobody’s going noplace, acid or not.

And, speaking of that (and read my posts here, here, and here) just who was going anywhere on those acid trips, anyway?

This could explain bar pick-ups

Duke University Medical Center researchers have found that alcohol has less of an effect on rats during estrus.

The research shows that alcohol has less neurotransmitter effect on female rats in estrus.
When tipsy females were at their most nimble, during their pre- and postestrous states, the ethanol had 10% less impact on neurotransmitter activity than it did on the drunken males' neurotransmitters. These results suggest that the gender gap in alcohol behavior may have to do with how hormones play into both gender-related and estrous cycle-related changes in central nervous system excitability, the team reports this month in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Given that we know human females generally have a higher sexual drive during their cycles, the fact that they are less affected by alcohol could have several implications.

    Wide-eyed women can be more choosy at the bar as drunken males slobber on them.
    Women can remain in control of sexual situations during their period.
    Women should be careful of their drinking levels when they are not in their period.
    Speculatively, would bisexual women be more straight or more lesbian in their tendencies during their period, seeing other relatively sober women?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Ruminations on Rousseau

This comes after reading the generally excellent new biography: "Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius," by Leo Damrosch.

I say generally excellent with the one noteable exception that Damrosch protests too much against the idea that JJR was a quasi-totalitarian in "The Social Contract" with his famous quote, “Whoever refuses to obey the general will must be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing else than that they will force him to be free.

Sorry, Leo, but that IS totalitarian. If people don't know individually how to be free in and of themselves, how can can a general will worth following ever be established?


No matter; here is the longer, philosophical and literary rumination on the life and ideas of Jean-Jaques Rousseau.

Monsieur Rousseau — I understand and empathize with the traumas of your childhood, including your mother’s post-childbirth death, your father’s estrangement from his in-laws and his greed for your inheritance, his casting off of you and your brother, and above all, your disciplining at the hands of Mlle Lambercier and its induced arousal at the age of 11, and your early seduction by Mme de Warens at the age of 16, and your repulsion of that.

I can understand how the enticement of discipline at the hands of a woman — the first grown woman in your life — caused arousal only to be followed by the raising of fear, nay, terror, even, of sex in the arms of a woman, with seduction by the next grown woman in your life.

I can understand how with genetic, or natural, traits that you recognized are individual to each person as a child, you would be so sensitive. I can understand how your childhood upbringing intensified the expression of those traits.

But I cannot understand how, being so sensitive, you could wear your emotions on the sleeve of your coat. I even more cannot understand how you seemed to do this even more the older you got, despite your growing distrust of the philosophes and others of the intellectual and political establishment, knowing well — or so your “Julie” and “Emile” would have us think — your own temperament. A degree of reserve, even if not that of Hume, to be unburdened later, would have served you much better. A Socratic self-restraint, if you will.

I also cannot understand how, in all of the rest of your largely accurate self-analysis, you could not see the roots of your later paranoia arising from that sensitivity, especially with you wearing it openly.

And, to the degree the paranoia became an affected cloak, I cannot understand how you did not notice that oversensitivity, and your indulgence of it, in your “Confessions.” An Enlightenment program for self-improvement, a la Monsieur Franklin, but still retaining what was good and pure of the uniqueness of your character in this area, might have been good. Or, if you deliberately passed over in silence this hypersensitivity being an affectation, at least in part, I call you on this hypocrisy.

And, I point out a more noticeable hypocrisy. You very publicly deigned not to accept stipends from nobles and royalty later in life, but never inquired about what the rent might be at all of their houses, chateaux, and estates in which you stayed. Eh, bien? Monsieur knows that those do not cost nothing, yet does not mention paying for them while staying for months or even years.

Monsieur, I do see much that was good in both your thinking and feeling. You deserved better than what you got from Diderot, from Grimm, and above all from that dog Voltaire, who obviously was riven with jealousy of your deeper insights.

But, as you may have vaguely alluded at times, you often made yourself unrespectable by kicking against people who wanted to help you — who liked you.

And what of Thérèse? Not only could you not be as effusive of the intellectual and social development of women as those despised philosophes, you would not tutor her your mistress, nor move beyond her for someone of more intellect and let her life a quieter life in peace.

So, no, monsieur, you are not to be as respected as your most ardent defenders, either.

But, you are to be pitied, pitied indeed for a tormented spirit whose hair shirt you could never totally escape. I empathize, and so I pity.