Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Thoughts on Marriage Equality

June is an important month in the history of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender rights movement.  1969’s Stonewall Riots took place over two nights in late June; on June 26, 2003 the United States Supreme Court ruled that gender based sodomy laws were unconstitutional; exactly ten years later, the court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which outlawed Federal spousal benefits to same-sex couples; finally, on June 26 of this year, the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act entirely, along with all State measures prohibiting the same- thus legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.  It is all the more fitting, therefore, that LGBT Pride month falls in June.    

There was a flurry of internet comments that greeted the Court’s ruling.  One that stood out to me was in response to a gay man who stated he had no plan on marrying his long-term partner: “I don’t see why you should,” a respondent said. “It’s just a piece of paper.”

But marriage is so much more than a piece of paper. So much more.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.  As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.  It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.”

Well said, Justice Kennedy.  I only wish your views on corporate personhood were as enlightened.

It’s well worth pointing out that four of the five Justices who voted for marriage equality were appointed by Democratic Presidents: Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appointed by Clinton; Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, appointed by Obama.  The fifth Justice, Anthony Kennedy, was appointed by Reagan when his first two nominees, Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg, failed to gain Senate approval.  Whenever someone complains that there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats, I always point out the importance of the Supreme Court.  It’s appropriate to pay homage to another, unrelated Kennedy: Edward – without whose withering criticism theodious Bork would have likely won Senate confirmation.

Back in 2010, when Daniel and I had to go to Vermont to get married, I was impatient with the lack of progress on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Hate Crimes Legislation, and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  I noisily announced my intention to leave theDemocratic Party in favor of the Greens.  Two things happened which changed my mind: The Hate Crimes Act and repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell were passed and signed into law; and I witnessed the ridiculous behavior on the part of several Green Party members revolving around a local zoning ordinance – which led me to an epiphany: America’s Green Party and their members have accomplished nothing for the environment, and certainly nothing for human rights.  That’s when I recalled an old truism, which has applied in my own life as well as in most politics: Slow and steady wins the day.

Following the ruling, I was amused that thrice-married, twice-divorced Donald Trump promptly assailed the Court’s action and spoke out for the “sanctity” of marriage.  Trump sets a poor example for the country both on issues of marital fidelity and pronouncements on public policy.  There is an old adage which cautions to “Never speak of rope in the house of a man who’s been hanged” and that certainly applies to Trump vis-à-vis marriage.  I simply cannot take him or any of his followers seriously. I find it interesting that while numerous Republican or religious acquaintances have quietly told me that they don’t agree with their Party’s or Church’s stance on LGBT people, not one of them has stood up and proclaimed that view publicly.  Not one of them has joined the many groups, like Republicans for Marriage Equality, or an LGBT-friendly religious group, to express their belief.  This has led me to the conclusion that either these people were lying to me, or they simply lacked the guts to stand up for their beliefs.  As Toscanini said, “The spine curves when the soul is curved.”    

Their behavior was particularly galling in light of comments by all too many on the religious right, which affirmed my belief that many religions are little more than an excuse to hate.  While their leaders, and followers, endlessly repeat “Hate the sin, love the sinner”, it’s patently obvious that many of them hate the sinners as well.  It’s not enough of them to froth at the mouth, they lie while they do so when they claim that religious liberties are under attack – for the Court’s ruling affects Civil marriage only.  No priest, minister, rabbi, imam, or other religious figure will be required to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.  Frankly, considering how most religious institutions – with the exception of a few “open & affirming” congregations like the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarians – have made it part of their mission to slander and suppress the LGBT community, I can’t understand how any LGBT person of conscience can associate with them. 

The Court’s affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry is a huge threshold in the continued mainstreaming of the LGBT community – a phenomenon which has gained momentum since the 1990s.  About the most courageous thing an LGBT person could do back then was live openly in the suburbs – especially if coupled.  At the same time, there are members of the community who don’t want to be mainstreamed.  For every gay couple out there wanting to marry, there’s a self-styled “queer” who rejects marriage as “heterosexist” and “patriarchal” (even if the couple involved is Lesbian).  It’s no surprise that many of these people live in gay ghettos, surrounded by gay friends, shopping in gay shops, drinking and dining in gay bars and restaurants.  That’s OK, but it’s limiting – as recounted in Edmund White’s States of Desire, Travels in Gay America, it amounts to a “shtetl” mentality of separateness - where immersion in one's own Tribe comes at the expense of knowledge of the wider world.  Everyone should be free to pursue their own path in life – to pursue “happiness”, as stated in the Declaration of Independence.  No one should feel “pushed” into marriage any more than someone should be forced into heterosexuality.  For what the Court’s ruling acknowledges is that LGBT people have a legal “choice” – in other words, Freedom – to marry as they see fit.  I don’t see how any right-thinking person can besmirch that right – particularly as so many states still allow marriage between first cousins, which is virtually incestuous.

With rights come responsibilities.  Doubtless there will be some lesbians and gay men who frivolously marry, and those who marry to receive attention and gifts, as have many heterosexuals.  It will be up to individual members of the LGBT community to exercise their newly acknowledged rights in a responsible manner.

The work goes on.  In too many states, it’s still legal to fire an LGBT person without cause.  This needs to be changed.  There must be an end to job, housing, and other discrimination against LGBT people.

So, to quote fictional President Jed Bartlet: “OK, what’s next?”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

In Memoriam: James Horner

In previous posts, I’ve detailed how I entered the world of Classical music via the back door marked "film scores".  This started in 1977 with John Williams’ score for Star Wars, then Superman; and expanded to Jerry Goldsmith in 1979 with his score for the first Star Trek film.  (Coincidentally, I recently relistened to the first Star Wars score and was appalled how weak the playing of the London Symphony Orchestra was – with scrappy strings and repeatedly misfiring brass.) 

In 1982, a new name entered my pantheon of film composers: James Horner. 

Fresh out of USC, Horner got his start scoring documentaries for the American Film Institute in the late 1970s.  From there, he went on to score several small films, including Roger Corman’s schlock-fest Battle Beyond the Stars – the score was the best aspect of the movie.  His work got the attention of director Nicholas Meyer, who was looking for a composer for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Partly on the basis of his work for Corman, partly because he could compose a score in four weeks – as opposed to the twelve weeks required by bigger names like Williams and Goldsmith – but mostly because his fee was lower, Horner was selected for Trek, which turned out to be one of the largest hits of 1982.  This is how Horner came to my attention.  Upon seeing the film (for which I waited in a long line the day after it opened), I purchased the soundtrack LP – which still graces my collection.  Horner’s work was impressive enough to Trek’s team that he was selected to score The Search for Spock in 1984.  Leonard Nimoy’s decision in 1986 to forego Horner for The Voyage Home, in favor of his old friend Leonard Rosenman, was ill-advised.  Rosenman’s score mishmashed Schonbergian pretentions with a cartoonish mentality and was the weakest aspect of an otherwise fine film.  It also went against the inner continuity of Trek’s de-facto trilogy.

Born in the United States, James Horner was raised in London, attended the Royal College of Music, and spoke with a British accent.  His music was cosmopolitan and adapted to the needs of the films he scored.  Horner’s scores covered a variety of genres, from the jazzy, strolling theme from Sneakers to the otherworldly dreamscape of Brainstorm.  His music for Field of Dreams has a uniquely American flavor, and his use of orchestration, repetition, and thematic metamorphosis take the movie’s emotional climax to a level that reaches straight for one’s heart.  Without Horner’s score, I doubt Field of Dreams would have become known as the film that made nearly every American male weep.  

Horner’s best known score is undoubtedly to James Cameron’s Titanic.  The director’s selection of Horner to score the film was counterintuitive – an epic film would normally call for a pompous, bombastic score.  But Horner’s scoring, which used an orchestra lightly enhanced by female chorus and synthesizers, was decidedly Irish-hued, briskly paced, and hovered around in major keys (until the ship hit the iceberg) and helped the three and a half hour film move along.

It has been disparagingly noted that Horner occasionally borrowed from other composers’ works (and often his own), far more liberally than most of his colleagues.  Two things are worth bearing out: film composers work under nearly impossible time crunches, and Horner was known as a “fast” composer who could deliver the work on time – an important consideration when an offset premiere date can mean the loss of millions of dollars; also, the actual uniqueness of the music itself must be secondary to its ability to enhance the action on screen.  Max Steiner’s scores were heavily influenced by Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss – and it can be argued they often distracted from the action on screen and lacked the physiological insight of Bernard Herrmann’s scores.  Just as Williams’ score for Star Wars is in influenced by Walton and Elgar, Horner’s scores (particularly the early works) are shadowed by Prokofiev – including paraphrasing from Alexander Nevsky and Romeo and Juliet.  But most often Horner borrowed from himself – one of his standard motifs involved a flatted 6th alternating with a natural 5th, played by the brass, usually to denote building tension.  Making repeated use of the same motif is in the tradition of Beethoven himself, whose three dots and a dash motif appeared in the Fourth Piano Concerto, and Appassionata Sonata, and throughout the Fifth Symphony.  Speaking of Beethoven, has anyone else noticed that the theme used in Titanic’s “Take her to Sea” sequence is based on Beethoven’s Ode to Joy? 

Borrowing and all, I’ll take Horner’s work over the percussive hammering of Hans Zimmer and the empty gimmicks of Michael Giacchino any day.

The news of Horner’s death brought me more than the usual twinge of sadness.  Only 61, he had many years of creative live left to him.  As Grillparzer said of Schubert, “Here music has buried a treasure, but even fairer hopes.”

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The true cost of War

The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.

World War II was the worst catastrophe to befall the human race. The percentage of people in the world who were wholly unaffected by this global conflict is comparatively small.  The Soviet Union, China, and Germany suffered disproportionately - although it can be said the Germans largely brought their fate upon themselves.  The British lost about one percent of their total population, including 43,000 killed in the Blitz.  The Americans lost about one-third of one percent of their population, almost exclusively military - the least in terms of percentage of any of the major powers.  Pointing this number out is not meant to denigrate the heroic conduct of our fighting men, particularly in the latter stages of the war.  But it's no exaggeration to say that the United States gained the most from the war, in terms of global and economic power, with the least blood shed.  The British wound-up bankrupt, parts of London decimated, their Empire collapsing. The Soviets lost nearly an entire generation of men.  It's no wonder they retained a buffer zone over Eastern Europe after the war.

No Purple Hearts have been manufactured since 1945, when the US military stocked up on them for the anticipated invasion of Japan.  To this day, Purple Hearts which are awarded to American military personnel derive from this old stock.  This fact belies the notion that Harry Truman's decision to use the Atomic Bombs against Japan was based on anything other than a desire the end the war as quickly as possible with the least lost of Allied personnel.

One small correction to one bit of information presented: The video refers, almost in passing, to "homosexuals" killed in the Holocaust.  In reality, it was homosexual men who were persecuted by the Nazis - who refused to acknowledge the presence of lesbians.  They felt that as long as Aryan women were available to impregnate to further the Master Race, it mattered not whether they were attracted to other women.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Horowitz's Scriabin - Toward the Flame

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Scriabin's death, Sony has published a compilation of Vladimir Horowitz's RCA and Columbia recordings of his works. Click here to read my review.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Smash Cut

Brad Gooch's memoir of his relationship with Howard Brookner and their life in New York has just been published. Click here to read my review

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ivo Pogorelich on DG

Deutsche Grammophone has reissued Ivo Pogorelich's complete recordings for that label. Click here to read my review.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Trip to London - final entry

I am devoting this, my last post on our trip to London, to brief descriptions of a number of places we visited during our trip.
The London Eye on the South Bank of the Thames  was intended as a temporary feature when it was constructed for the Millennium celebrations.  It quickly became one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and is now here to stay.  Although it has been described as a giant Ferris wheel, a cantilevered wheel is more accurate.  Unlike with a Ferris wheel, the cars are self-contained, do not dangle, and can accommodate a few dozen people (there were about eight people in our car).  I never had the slightest sensation of vertigo even as we approached the peak.  As it’s one of the tallest structures in London, the Eye offers a great way to take in much of London in one glance and get a lay of the land - I was able to get some good photos from there.  I recommend the London Eye as an early stop for first time visitors.

Photos from and of the London Eye
If you’re going to the Eye, it’s logical to also visit the London Dungeon next door, especially if you have kids (visitors to either attraction have the option to purchase tickets for both at a discount).  The Dungeon is a haunted house type attraction slanted toward the scarier parts of pre-20th Century London history – both historical (Jack the Ripper, Guy Fawkes), and fictional (Sweeney Todd).  It was all in good fun, but those with questionable hearts (and backs) should probably avoid the Drop Dead ride.
The Tower of London is one of the most famous sites one can visit in all of England.  So much history has occurred here, and the best way to learn about it is to wait for one of the periodic tours led by the iconic “beefeater” Yeoman Warders.  After the initial tour, which includes the Scaffold site where notables such as Anne Boleyn were executed, visitors are taken to the Royal Chapel (where visitors are reminded to remove their hats and “silence that instrument of the Devil, the Mobile phone”).  From there, visitors can roam on their own to such structures as the White Tower, which features collections of armor and armaments – including Henry VIII’s armor, which features an enormous codpiece that was symbolic of his rank.  Tickets are £24.50 so be sure you give yourself plenty of time to get your money’s worth for the visit.
The Tower of London -
Dan was very impressed with Henry VIII's "armor".

Entry to the London Zoo is expensive, £22 at the gate for adults, £16.50 for kids under 15.  The selection of animals is not especially noteworthy.  A quick summation is that if you’ve been to the Cleveland Zoo (entry to which is only $12.25 for adults, $8.25 for kids under 12), then you’ve no need to visit the London Zoo – at least that’s my impression after spending several hours there.
Dan & I did not partake of shopping at any of London’s more upscale stores.  Frankly, neither Selfridge’s, Harrods, nor Fortnum & Mason hold much interest for either of us.  We did visit Foyles and Waterstones bookstores, along with several independent shops – including Gay’s the Word.  I was reminded of my days living near Boston, when I’d spend hours perusing bookstores there – most of which are now sadly closed. 
We did, however, sample some of the gay nightlife in Soho.  Our favorite place was Village, which featured a very friendly staff and daily events.  Village has two main level bars, along with a basement bar with a small dance floor which opens on Saturday.  On our last night there, I was persuaded to do something I hadn’t done in over 20 years – sing Karaoke.  Dan joined me for a duet rendition of the theme to Goldfinger.  Despite its rather small footprint, Admiral Duncan is likely the most well-known gay bar in Soho – perhaps in all of London.  Both times we went there we found ourselves being hit on - which, as someone who’s pushing 50, I found rather flattering.  A nice way to cap off the evening was to head to Snog for a frozen yogurt.

At Admiral Duncan
Scenes from Village
Final thoughts…
Ages ago, my 8th Grade history teacher described Britain as “Socialist, that’s one step from Communist.”  (Then again, my 8th grade history teacher also said that Hitler was a homosexual and that Franklin Roosevelt knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor in advance, both conspiracy theories that have been soundly refuted by the empirical evidence.)  Well, even with the presence of the NHS – which no politician would dare propose to abolish – the British would never refer to their nation as Socialist, and I heard their leaders specifically refer to their system as Capitalism while watching the news there (which is far more substantive than our news, by the way).  I saw more evidence of the entrepreneurial spirit, more “get up and go”, and more small businesses during my time in London than I’ve ever in any American city.  Those who read my blog with any regularity know I am an inveterate booster for redevelopment in Cleveland.  But ten days in London firmly put Cleveland’s fair-to-middling efforts in perspective.  We have a lot to learn.
Dan & I had a wonderful ten days in London.  We found the people to be kind without being obsequious.  Despite cautions I’d read in travel articles warning of crime, we felt completely safe.  Indeed, the biggest crime related story I heard about while in London was the mugging of a retiree in the lobby of his building – while there were several shootings in Cleveland during the same time period.   It’s worth pointing out that police in England, with rare exceptions, do not carry firearms.  Indeed, a proposal to arm them with Tasers is being met with some resistance.  London has a variety of cultural events, restaurants, nightlife, and tourist attractions that will appeal to anyone.  There’s always plenty to do here.  It’s also quite practical as a jumping off point for other areas of the UK.  But ten days afforded us barely enough time to scratch the surface.  There’s so much to see, from Abbey Road to Brighton to Stonehenge.  We will most assuredly visit there again.