Culture vulture

Monks and metalheads
Beyond having been intrigued by the publicity photo showing a trio of the monks sitting in a row decked out in peaked hats and saffron and maroon robes, each holding a yo-yo-shaped drum decorated with a rainbow spiral, I had no specific expectations for their performance other than that it would be an entirely benevolent invocation of peace, love and harmony within the human universe. And such it was, served with a dollop of youthful high spirits to remind us that peace, love and harmony, besides being fit subjects for deep and solemn contemplation, are also powerful and essential ingredients in the recipe for good, goofy fun.

Having treated us to much beauty, mystery and joy, the monks ended their performance with a speech informing us that the struggles of the Tibetan people are ongoing, included were statistics on the number of Buddhist monasteries destroyed and monks killed by the occupying Chinese government. Capping a performance of such joyful exuberance with this recounting of grim governmental realities cast a bit of a pall over the proceedings but also served as a reminder that urges toward peacefulness and acceptance are only two aspects of humanity, often balanced by an equally strong desire for control and domination.

From the balcony of Laxson Auditorium above the chanting monks to the VIP box of Sleep Train Amphitheater above the howling electric guitars and maelstrom of frenzied bodies whirling around the stage-front mosh pit seems like quite a jump. But with 24 hours between them, the events seemed to share a few complementary qualities. Metalheads are a strange lot, probably at least as misunderstood by the average citizen as are Buddhists. At both shows the performers were delivering a sacramental energy gained by years of study and experience, and at both shows the audience was there to receive and encourage that energy. The polite pitter-patter of softly clapped hands conveyed the approval of the monks’ audience, but the pumped fists and full-throated roars of the metalheads were no less heartfelt and no more sincere in expressing their appreciation.

Both events filled me with exhilaration and optimism that humanity may yet learn to balance its often contradictory impulses and achieve a peaceful but not unexciting oneness.