Thursday, November 5, 2020

The world came back to life!

André De Shields

     The sun rose clear Wednesday morning. Bright sun, cloudless skies. warm. I hooked up Kitty and we headed out, hoping the brisk walk would drive away the fantods of the long Tuesday election night vigil. It was 1 a.m. before I gave up and went to bed. How could he win again? How could he even come close?
     Music seemed essential. I set aside Mark Twain's "The Innocents Abroad," to find comfort in the first song I could think of, "I Still Believe," by the Call. A good anthem for when things get dark, with one of the better opening lyrics: "I been in a cave, 40 days, only a spark, to light my way..." and the chorus, "I still believe."
    Do I still believe? Sure, I still believe. But in what? America? In my fellow citizens? How can I? Even if Joe Biden should squeak this out, look how close a thing it was. 
Four years of staring at the monstrosity of Trump and millions and millions want to sign up for another go around.  We live in a time when belief has a bad name, when you see what people believe in. Maybe faith in the decency of America is just another baseless delusion. Not maybe, obviously. Look around. 
Old woman or young?
     Nah, I don't quite believe that either. If the past four years have taught me anything, it's the importance of framing—where you focus, which facts you spotlight. It's like one of those illusions you see first the young lady, then the crone. You can see those who are 100 percent committed to doing whatever Donald Trump wants, in Arizona, where they're behind, chanting "Count the votes!" while in Georgia, where they're ahead, chanting "Stop the count!"  Or you can see those who line up for hours to try to put an end to it, who march and argue and educate. 
     People are foolish and brave, hypocritical and idealistic . That I do believe.
     A neighbor coming the other way, another silver-haired man, also walking a little dog. I might have been approaching a mirror, but, well, he's taller and handsomer. He looked at me. I popped out an Air Pod.
     "The city didn't burn down," he said. Must be a Trumpski, if he's still fretting about those riots in May. Worried about Black people coming through his window in Northbrook and taking his Precious Moments figurines. Probably armed.
     "The sun rose clear," I replied, puffing the dust off a little Thoreau. "I was downtown last night. Very quiet."
     So the Trumpskis and the Bidenites are talking. That's good, right?
     We went our ways. I finished "I Still Believe," started it again, gave up—kinda mid-1980s—and switched immediately to "The Road to Hell," the opening number of "Hadestown," Anais Mitchell's Broadway musical.
     "And on the road to hell there is a lot of waiting..." 
     Ya think?
     Just before the pandemic set in, last February, my wife and I flew to New York over Valentine's Day weekend, to visit our older son. Our younger came up from Virginia, and I suggested the family take in a Broadway show. Through some rare, perhaps unprecedented arrangement of the spheres, they not only all agreed, but took my suggestion, "Hadestown." And there were tickets available.
     I had been a fan of Mitchell, and her initial version of the musical, for years, but the Broadway cast is even better
. I've listened to it several times since the pandemic set in. The musical is a mash-up of Greek myth, of Orpheus, who follows his love Eurydice down to hell, and Hades and Persephone, the king of the underworld and his queen, all set to a New Orleans roadhouse beat, with blatting trumpets and whisked drums, starring that longtime Chicago actor, André De Shields, who's in his 70s now, but radiates energy and charm and cool, with his precise singing style, all sly humor and calibrated and a kind of drawl.  He's Hermes, the messenger, narrator of the story—he won a Tony for the role. 
    De Shields' voice is a muted trumpet snarl, and sometimes when quarantine somnolence threatens to completely numb me, I steel my spirit just by thinking of him, in his French Quarter funeral finery, spreading his arms and exuding, "The world... came back... to life!!!"
     It's gonna happen. All we have to do is wait until spring.
     The lyrics touch upon a number of contemporary woes, from our ever more extreme weather, to the gap between those who have and those who don't, the world we dream of and the world we've got, with dewy eyed youth seeking something and crafty age grasping more, Orpheus penning his song in a bar and Hades building his wall in hell.  Like the seasons, there is a circularity to the story, an old story, whose ending we know, but we tell it anyway.
     By the time I got back to the house, I was fortified, ready to face the latest news, and found rays of hope piercing the gloom. A good walk and good music will do that. It's an old song, and in our hearts we know how it must end, in tragedy. But we sing it anyway.


  1. I saw HADESTOWN the first performance after the Tony Awards last year. André got a 10 minute standing ovation before he even opened his mouth. Glorious. Now I'm warming up to give Joe his due...any day now...

  2. I recently read a post on FB from "friend" who listed the last 8 or so Presidents with a we survived x years of each one. Two things struck me. For certain Presidents, a middle name was featured - especially the "Hussein". And, the list did not include the current human train wreck that sits in the White House. I figured it would have been totally appropriate to list him as well, and with his middle name "John". After all, he' and his minions have tried to flush our Constitution down the drain for the past 4 years.

  3. Neil, thanks for this. I’m Canadian, so at least slightly removed from what’s happening in your country, but still your third paragraph very much speaks my mind.

  4. I've seen that young lady/old crone illusion at least a hundred times before and did indeed see the young lady first and then after a few seconds of staring, the old crone made her appearance. And she won't go away! No matter how long I peer at the picture, all I can see is the hook-nosed witch, not the fancily dressed 1800's maiden. Is that a ready-made allegory? What happened to the youth vote? Did the newly enfranchised young people proclaiming a desire for change and fairness and a modern approach to governance, get in that booth, lose their bravado, and poke a vote for yesterday and injustice and more of the same America-First gruel? Are we condemned to seeing the old witch for another 4 years?


  5. Illinois voters chose against the possibility of raising the tax rate on the wealthiest, meaning if taxes are raised, they will pay a greater share of the burden. Doesn't make sense to me, but perhaps I'm the crazy one. On Tuesday my primary care physician opined that our freedom to congregate is more important than controlling the virus. The virus is going to find everyone eventually so let it go, no matter that it would overrun healthcare resources, leading to more deaths. "Leave that to God" he said. I thought a doctors job was to combat the imperfections in the corporal mechanism, not to throw up their hands because it would hurt their portfolio. Of course he was wearing a mask and face shield so he wasn't too confident about his chances with Covid.

    1. Freedom to congregate? We're all gonna get sick? Leave it to GOD? Maybe you should find another doctor. Of course, when the same situation happened to me and my wife, almost a decade ago, we did not put our money where our mouths were...quite literally.

      Amost three years into Obama's first term, our dentist was cheerfully cleaning my wife's teeth when he began ranting at her about what a loser the POTUS was and how disgusting it was that he smoked. And he went on to say that Obama was destroying healthcare for most Americans. She didn't respond, of course, (and probably couldn't, anyway) but she was upset and sad.

      At that point, we'd been his patients for a couple of decades. He'd been very good to us...he let us owe him money and gave us "senior discounts" when we were hurting financially and had no insurance. I liked the dude.

      But I, too, felt bummed and conflicted. It was like finding out that someone you thought you knew had a dark side...I'll leave whatever you think the dark side might be to your own imagination. My dentist was--a Republican? Christ on a cracker!

      It just proved to us once again that you never know about people...even the people you know. Or think you know. Especially when they put instruments into your mouth and you can't respond...even if you want to.

      We stopped seeing him for dental care, without any explanations, and found somebody else. I imagine this sort of thing has become quite routine in recent years. The Great Divide is now commonplace in so many aspects of our daily lives.

    2. Change doctors if you can;let him live his angst out thru someone else.

  6. Neil, are you on Goodreads? I enjoy your book recommendations on here, & would follow/friend/whatever you on Goodreads if you're there.

    1. No, do you think it's worth joining? Kind of Linked in for book fans? I find my tastes are so particular that the rare times I take another person's recommendation, I regret doing so. After I broke down and let a local bookseller push "A Man Called Ove" on me I vowed I wouldn't do that ever again.

    2. Ha, yeah, I hear that but I do think it's worth joining. If you like what someone's reading, you might like the rest of their taste as well - or not. I like it more for tracking purposes; I don't have to remember what I want to read because I have a lengthy to-read list on there.

    3. a.) Though I'm not, my wife is on Goodreads and reads way more books than I do.

      b.) She suggests that, as an author, you might enjoy the connection it would provide to readers of your work and that you might benefit via the exposure to new readers.

      c.) I gave her "A Man Called Ove," I believe after seeing it on a N.Y. Times "best of the year" list. She didn't like it at all.

    4. Oh, the other thing I like it for is tagging. I have tags for things like addiction, boarding schools, Chicago...

  7. I couldn't bear the thought of another night like 2016. I didn't want to miss out if it was a landslide, though. So, we tuned in early, were quickly made aware that things weren't gonna go the way we hoped and switched to watching a few episodes of "Mozart in the Jungle." Checked back a few times, kept in mind that we'd been told for weeks that it likely wouldn't be decided on election night, and turned in, hoping for the best.

    Sure, just casually throw "the fantods" in there. I've never seen nor heard of that term before, but, of course, it's perfect for the occasion. It's almost as if you've got a much better vocabulary than most of us! ;)

    For people like us
    In places like this
    We need all the hope
    That we can get

    Very nice choice. That being said, the picture's an old woman and this country is fucked.

  8. My wife and I, after vivid memories of 2016, decided not to watch the news. Watching results filter in with nonsensical interpretations is stressful and useless.
    We read the paper. We'll know one way or another soon enough. We won't be able to do anything about it. Regardless who wins, our country is forever changed. The older I get, the less great this country is to me.
    With that being said, there are still many great people, and many great things to see and do. I won't let that stop me. If I do, Trump the bully wins.
    I will be inspired to be more supportive of those who are suffering as a result of the Republicans' agenda.

  9. Ha Ha Trumpty Trumpy.

    Cry baby cry
    Poke a finger in your eye
    Tell your mom it's just a stye

  10. Saw this on Facebook:
    I feel like half the country is trying to leave an abusive relationship after four years and the other half still doesn't realize they are in one.


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