Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What I Learned at AI: St. Martin

A series based on my visits to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Okay, so most of us here in ‘Merica spend November 11 celebrating Veterans Day, which is all well and good because I certainly didn’t want to sacrifice my life running around a jungle or a desert or wherever else our government decided to send our military in this crazy world.  I wasn’t even too fond of the thought of drill sergeants yelling at me or having to get up and do more before 9am than most people do all day.  So for all you who did that… you’re nuts.  But thank you.  Sincerely.

A good chunk of Europe prefers to recognize Armistice Day, originally to celebrate the end of WWI and armies marching around pillaging their homelands.

The Commonwealth instead goes with Remembrance Day, which essentially the same thing with a side of bangers and mash.

However, way back in the 4th century, there was a Roman soldier named Martin of Tours.  According to legend, Marty was out cruising around on his horse one winter, and found a beggar trailside.  Probably with a cardboard sign claiming to just need bus fare to Sicily or something.  Marty sensed a scam since buses hadn’t been invented yet, however the beggar was clothed in rags and damn cold.  Marty did have a fancy cloak that day, drew his sword, cutting his cloak in half and sharing it with the beggar. 

That night, Marty has a dream that it was Jesus who was wearing his half cloak and thanking him.  Or in a more extreme telling, that the cloak was whole again when he awoke in the morning.  Whoa, magic.   The cloak was pretty much one of the best pieces of Christian memorabilia those days, so they assigned a priest to take care of it and gave him the fancy title of cappellanu so that he’d take the responsibility seriously and not lose it or stick in the cellar and forget about it.  Pretty soon they stole the word and called priests in the military cappellani, which eventually became the English word chaplain.  The word also evolved such that small churches are called chapels.  But I digress.

Marty ended up joining a monastery, got promoted to bishop, did a bunch of preaching and other good guy stuff, as well as adding some miracley things to his resume along the way.  He died in 397, but had done enough by then to become a rock star and subsequently a saint. 

He was buried on November 11, which became St. Martin’s Day or The Feast of St. Martin.  The tradition started in France, where he was doing most of his wandering back then, and spread throughout Europe.  You apparently eat some goose and as much other vittles as humanly possible, mostly because there was a period in which this preceded a 40-day fast.  That crazy fasting tradition went away, but the gluttony prevailed. 

However, it seems St. Martin’s Day has largely been shouldered out of the mainstream by the more modern day celebrations honoring our military… so definitely thank a veteran, but feel free to gorge on a goose and some mead.

How did I learn this at the Art Institute?  In 1597 El Greco did a painting called Saint Martin and the Beggar depicting the cloak event that started it all.  It was done for an altar piece for a church, and the original is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, but one of the repetitions that El Greco did is in the Art Institute.  Gallery 206.  Check it out.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Bob Dylan - Cadillac Palace Theater - 11/8/14

Okay, so Bob Dylan is a legend... I get it.  I don't consider myself one of his hardcore fans.  I was too stupid as a kid to get it, his voice kind of sucked, and it took me a while to finally appreciate the more acoustic or folky stuff.   But I came around.  I'm sure the day I did meant a lot to Bob.

So when he announced three shows in town, literally right around the corner from my place, I briefly perused the listing, saw the $160 ticket price, and then went back to looking at free porn on the internet.  I had seen Dylan with Tom Petty back in 1986, long before I could fully appreciate it, and at a festival outdoors last year which wasn't exactly conducive to a Dylan set.

However when a friend won tickets to the show that she couldn't use, I gladly accepted them, put on some pants and decided to honor Bob with my presence.  Notes from the show:

Bob Dylan dresses like a gaucho now.  Not Groucho Marx, although that would be amusing.  A gaucho.  A South American cowhand.  Like the guy on those crappy frozen beef containers from the grocery store.

Bob Dylan sounds more like Tom Waits than a young Bob Dylan now.  I kind of like it.  Makes him sound more badass than whiney.

Bob Dylan seems to have rearranged all his songs in a country swing style.  I like the sound.  He has a solid backing band.  But they don't sound like Bob Dylan songs to me anymore.  Maybe he or his fans got bored with the traditional arrangements.  I wasn't.

Bob Dylan doesn't play guitar anymore.  He alternated, almost every other song, between playing piano and just singing while letting the band handle the guitars.  That's fine, and I suppose he's earned that right, but my image of Bob Dylan is that of the folk troubadour strumming his tunes on an old acoustic.  Probably not necessary, but throw on an acoustic and strum along for a couple to placate dumbasses like me.  Or maybe just do one acoustic number... just him and the guitar.  That said, seeing him rock along on piano was impressive and refreshing.

Two forty-five minute sets and a two-song encore.  Not bad.  We all got the early bird special at Denny's and made it home before 11pm.

Bob Dylan doesn't do banter.  At all.  Zero.  No hello, no thank you.  The dude has been around for fifty years and I wouldn't mind some insights or anecdotes about the songs on the setlist.  Or that night with Joan Baez in the Village... crazy!  Not that I would have been able to understand him.  But it was worth a shot.

Bob Dylan fans fucking love Bob Dylan.  I felt like a fraud being there, and to be honest, I kind of was.  Despite all my ridiculous observations, I did enjoy the music and feel pretty lucky to say that I got to see him live.  A few times he stepped out from behind the mike and did this little marching in place, swaying side to side thing, ever so subtle, but evoking a response from the crowd as if he were Shaun White landing a frontside heelflip 540 body varial.

Rock on, Bob.  Your fans love you.  And they should.

Video Spotlight: Simon and Garfunkel

Now that the internets have been around for, what, 20 years or so, I've pretty much got my expectations in line with the reality of the world.  I try to avoid the comment section of any post but every once in a while I scroll a little too far south, and I'm reminded why it is a bigger waste of time than polishing my shoes before jumping in the mosh pit at Lollapalooza.  Assuming that it rained all weekend and that I actually ever went to Lollapalooza and that I wasn't too old and refined to mosh.

So I expect, in the comment section, to see an occasional thoughtful remark.  A racist remark.  An illiterate remark.  A funny remark.  An incoherent remark.  Something attacking Obama, liberals, conservatives.  Angry people and unprovoked attacks.  No matter what the topic or original post, I've pretty much lowered the expectation so much that the bar is buried six feet under the ground with my dead granddad.  And yet today, I read a comment that I wasn't expecting.  On a Simon and Garfunkel video, of all things.

I was sitting at my kitchen table on a Sunday morning, eating a scone and sipping my chai tea and stroking the kitten on my lap while reading the New York Times and decided to add a little Simon and Garfunkel to the mix.  Summoned youtube and pulled up Bridge Over Troubled Water.  While waiting for the chai tea to cool, the comments loaded.  I expected comments such as:

"This song means so much to me.  It reminds me of having to overcome the death of my best friend."
"Paul Simon is a fag and so are you for listening to this."
"Bridge over My Pants... lol"
"Can somebody tell me which chord is played in the bridge after the A7m?"
"Why did Paul have to go to Africa to work with those apes?"
"Good luck getting over the bridge while Obama is in office."
"I cry every time, even though I made it through the pain."
"37 people who gave a thumbs down are retarded."
"Your retarded"
"Thumbs up if Lebron James sent you here."
"My parents played this record every Sunday morning when I was growing up."
"Fox News bleaches my anus."
"Malaysian pursestring entering easy HVAC."

None of those comments would have surprised me.  In fact, there are a high number of thoughtful comments on this one, much higher than normal.  But on Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel, the "top comment" as determined by the Google itself was simply:

"My ex always played this song when she wanted a spot of back door action. Not sure why."

I didn't shake my head in disgust.  I didn't quite laugh.  I don't think he was trying to be funny or go for shock value.  It was relevant.  It was rather tactful given the subject.  It brought up a really good question.  One which I shall ponder as I finish my scone.