Mocktober nights: Artily pretentious self-consciousness and I
Judging from the deluge of e-mails and hand-written missives choking the hard drive, flooding the office and spilling into the hallways of Culture Vulture World Headquarters, local fans of faux-hillbilly chanteuse Gillian Welch and her musical cohort David Rawlings will be satisfied with no commentary on their idols’ performance that falls short of bestowing absolute divinity on the duo’s abilities, performance and manner of presentation. Particularly galling to some fans of the (we quote ourself) “deservedly acclaimed musical duo” was my use of the phrase used for the subtitle of this section of Culture Vulture. Apparently it’s not enough merely to state that they (and we again quote ourself) “conjure the angelic sphere with their voices,” one must also drool in awestruck wonder over their vintage duds, charming stage-patter and glamorously rococo guitar solos.
So, in lieu of an olive branch, the best I can proffer as a sort of passive-aggressive peace-making gesture and bottom line to this semi-interactive and profoundly self-indulgent line of blather is a whole-hearted recommendation that all and sundry go see Ms. Welch perform at the earliest opportunity—I doubt you’ll regret it. I can state unequivocally that her song “Orphan Girl” is one of the best things ever written and recorded, especially the version on Emmylou Harris’s masterpiece album, Wrecking Ball, which I also recommend in the highest possible terms to anyone who has ever enjoyed listening to recorded music very late at night.
Ambivalence as a source of divine reconciliation
I don’t know about you, but I spend quite a bit of time wondering about the divine nature of the universe. Is there such a thing? Is it aware of itself? Does the perception of beauty justify the existence of pain? Must good be balanced by evil? Does prayer work? That sort of thing. The same questions I’ve been asking myself since I developed enough language skills to formulate them in words. The questions stay the same but the answers fluctuate with my personal perspective. As an American I consider myself particularly blessed to even be allowed the leisure required to conceive of and spend time dwelling upon such questions. If I spent my days dodging death squads, enemy bombs and/or starvation I wonder if I would be interested in anything other than knowing whether or not prayer works. Every day of survival would be a confirmation of sorts, I suppose.
Sometime long ago I read a commentary by the Sufi poet Rumi to the effect that a poet’s criticisms of the human condition were not criticisms of the divine will of Allah, but were more along he lines of a lover’s disagreement. As the divine British comedy writer P.G. Wodehouse once had his character Psmith say in a socially trying situation, “I seem to detect a certain animus creeping into your tone. Surely we can be rivals without this spirit of hostility. My attitude toward you is one of kindly tolerance.”
Surely kindly tolerance is the key to all questions of divinity, regardless of one’s belief system.