Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mission Pastorale and Arcadian Philanthropy

The transformative power of music on one's life and perception needs no comment from a musical dullard like myself (My dreams are often accompanied by frantic scores apparently composed by my subconscious, and which sound like something Andrew Lloyd Weber, Phillip Glass and John Cage might create together after messing with a monster stash of crank and animal tranquilizers), but I never really grasped its power to alter personal space and one's larger mental world map until a friend gave me an iPod.  He was upgrading or something so the 'Pod (See how tech-noir hip I am?) came preloaded with close to 15,000 selections.  Really!  Every damn artist and group you can think of from every genre.  It's so packed that I'm paradoxically furious with my buddy when an occasional old chestnut is missing. The cheap, lazy bastard! I rage.   This thing is positively skeletal, the iPod from Auschwitz! Goddammit!    Then I calm down and enjoy Beethoven or The Band or some gooey but soothing piece of Ambient rambling

Everyone knows that without John Williams Jaws and Star Wars would have been dead flounders and Speilberg and Lucas would be filming industrial documentaries about bubble wrap manufacture or safety videos for school crossing guards.  An experiment I recommend is re-scoring a favorite movie scene to something really insipid, like covering the helicopter battle in Apocalypse Now with "Dancing Queen" or a Neil Diamond song (actually, thousands of people do this daily on YouTube, without any trace of irony.  And that's really funny).  It's very instructive, and demonstrates the absolutely essential and symbiotic relationship between cinematic imagery and the right music.  Stanley Kubrick forever changed the nature of cinema itself with his combined baleful eye and unerring musical sharp-shooting.  My favorite score of all time is Jerry Goldsmith's avant garde 1968 Planet of the Apes.  It's great with or without Charlton and Cornelius.  

Of late I've been editing and scoring the morning wake-up sequence at the Mission to the first movement of Beethoven's 6th symphony, the Pastorale, using the iPod and a bunch of cliche'd camera moves swiped from various directors.  First I tried Scorsese, but he's bit too jittery and frantic for this job, so I melded Disney (Fantasia, which I'll get to shortly, is inextricably tied to the Pastorale, just as Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd can't be separated from Wagner), with a bunch of generic hacks and came up with an acceptable style.  

Beethoven's 6th is one of his few explicitly narrative pieces, depicting a visit to the country, which the musician loved.  The first movement, which is literally an account of Beethoven's arrival in a peaceful rural landscape--with its gradual, swirling, sprightly uplift, ever-rising, ever-brightening, ever-renewing flutes and oboes and clarinets--transforms the Mission morning wake-up call, breakfast line-up, carbo-chomp, and final diaspora of stooping, limping men across the moonscape railway yard into a magical phantasmagoria. 

Lights switch on by some sorcery.  Awakening guests fling themselves out of beds, rear on hind legs, and expand their chests like centaurs.  A Disciple fleet as winged Pegasus swoops down the aisles, the wind of his passage empowering the feeblest and most exhausted.  Cherubic cage attendants cheerfully distribute milk crates cradling precious goods.  Men slowly descend the stairway to the breakfast line with heraldic dignity.  Gliding trays laden with nature's bounty flit and drift about the vaulted cafeteria, skim over the fruit bins, glance off  the thermoses, settling feather soft in glowing yellowish rows upon the tables.  The Guests smile and nod and pray to the Gods, partaking of libation, exchanging wisdom, giving oracular advice about the Welfare office and that fucking bitch food stamp Goddess Raedawn.

Outside, as the music becomes ever more majestic, the Guests head north toward the moonscape in the orange light of morning.  Each man must pass the green grassy field--an ancient Arcadian realm, flowered and  landscaped with care, set apart and bordered by outward curving ironwork and curls of barbed wire atop the northern wall.  Beyond the green field, the tops of the money-changers' buildings rear up to Olympian heights.  This is the part of the mission no Guest is allowed to enter.  The penalties are severe.  Occasionally Disciples can be seen tossing Frisbees or taking a bit of exercise on the green rectangle, nearly the size of a football field.  The first movement of the masterful 6th ends (with the help of the iPod repeat function) about the time I reach Mondo, sitting on his overturned shopping cart and shrieking at the sun. 

One night a group of beautiful high school students (check out this shocking centaur scene from Disney's  Fantasia , nearly pornographic in its sensuality, to get a sense of these kids and their terrible, unearned youth and sexual power) were invited to camp on the lawn in tents, chaperoned by adults and a news crew.  A line of port-o-potties marred the serenity a bit ("Those kind of people don't ever take shits!" said my friend Joseph), but the kids laughed and squealed, tossed their hair and footballs, ate breakfast burritos wrapped in shiny foil, and in the morning helped ladle out food in the breakfast line.   In an interview with a reporter on the scene a pretty girl in pigtails and shining braces said, "The experience gave me a new insight into how the homeless live, what they have to go through." 

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