Comments by witwaltman

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Posted on April 25 at 11:38 p.m.

Good column, Starshine. This article satirizes what to my mind is a critical question: Do I regard the errors of others as 'mistakes' calling for correction, or as 'sins' calling for condemnation and attack? And to what degree am I willing to put my knee-jerk ego-reactions in check, and give my imagination a little stretching room to consider whether there might be a backstory here. Some famous writer (I forget who) attributed all moral failing to a failure of imagination. We don't stop to put ourselves in the place of another, precisely because (1) it takes effort, and (2) it might take the wind out of the sails of our agitated self-righteousness. Yet, unless we do stop to listen to our 'second thoughts,' we will continue to run headlong into unnecessary wars, we will continue to choose punitive justice over reformative justice, and we will harm our own children through physical and emotional violence. Sadly, all of this only masks a secret self-contempt. As you suggest at the end, no one can name others as a-holes without naming oneself, however subconsciously. A wise rabbi once said, "judge not, lest ye be judged."

On No More Meanies

Posted on April 13 at 2:03 a.m.

I met Claire while singing in Canticle. We both joined the same season, Winter 1996. I had never done formal choral singing before, and found the 15 weeks and the performances exhilirating and frightening. Claire joined me for tea after the first performance. We went to Frimples, or whatever it was called at the time, there at State and Valerio. It was the perfect evening of debriefing, after the long uphill trek, and the frightening glorious vistas. We were both older than most of the singers, and were not part of the social cliques.

Claire was a sharp, quick-witted, compassionate woman, with wonderful musical gifts. One thing I remember in particular from our conversation. I was describing to Claire a segment of a movie on PBS I had happened to catch, a British film about a woman who has lost her husband, a cellist, and his ghost hangs out to help her psychologically move on. I never caught the name of the film, and wished I could find it, to watch the whole thing. Remarkably, Claire instantly knew it was "Truly Madly Deeply" with Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman. I can't think about that film without thanking Claire.

On Obituary for Claire Jeanne Sangster

Posted on August 5 at 2:10 a.m.

One perspective yet to be considered in this long string of comments, is that of the accused's son -- the boy's friend. Think about that for a moment. Did HE suspect anything was happening all those years? If so, think about the mesh of secrecy, hypocrisy, disgust, shame -- and conflicting loyalties to mother, father, friend.

Here might be the most obvious victim. The accused's husband is another victim. The "victim's" parents and family are also victims. It is impossible to imagine being any one of these people and not feeling harmed.

The broader point here is that while the relationship of the woman with the minor is the focus here -- that relationship did not exist in a vacuum. Apologetic arguments based on the principle of consent fail for me, because they are based on the fallacy of isolation. No human interaction is hermetically sealed -- especially sexual interaction. An intuitive recognition of this fact, I think, forms the basis of laws regarding sexuality.

On Woman Accused of Sex with Minor

Posted on June 16 at 11:17 p.m.

If transient means passing through, ephemeral, fleeting, momentary -- then we are all transients. The difference between Gregory Ghan and anyone else is only one of degree and not of kind. And kind means kindness. We are all camping. We do all sorts of things to try to hide this fact, and superimpose appearances of permanency to placate our insecurities. But sooner or later each must face up to the truth.

On Victim of Isla Vista Assault Dies

Posted on May 1 at 2:49 a.m.

Do these three musicians wish to communicate with us? Do they care we are here? Would it be such a compromise to the purity of their artistry to bend so low as to please their audience, to flatter our expectations, to stir our memories, just a little? (How 'bout a little "Spain" from the "Play" album?) Was it just me, or did I not feel a great relief and longing surge through the audience at the 'blues moment' an hour into the concert; and then again at the Monk groove in the encore? DeJohnette seemed to voice my complaint, in the freedom of the moment, when he growled "this has gone on way too long: it is time for the blues." But the most disturbing confessional moment came (if spontaneity is anything, it is often transparently unguarded) for me during the "broccolini and mashed potatoes" rant. McFerrin suddenly asks (in what was the "singer's" only use of "words" in the whole concert), with a child's stratospherically high falsetto "Mommie? Whatchya doin'?" He then voices the mother answering that she is making dinner 'broccolini and mashed potatoes' and the child must eat it because it is 'good for you.' By the time I got to asking myself whether the concert was nutritional or not, candy or vegetables McFerrin worked himself into a manic repeating rant "Is this entertainment? Are you being entertained?" Over and over, until "Are you being entertained to death?!"

Is that then the point? McFerrin the performance artist is too creative to be boxed into a "jazz concert"? And the audience (was there an edge of contempt and accusation there?) is too square and staid to appreciate such fine artistry? Yes, Bobby, Chick, and Jack I DID come to be entertained. How foolishly traditional and uncreative of me!

On Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, and Jack DeJohnette.

Posted on May 1 at 2:45 a.m.

I think Charles has it right: "circus" "vaudeville" "shenanigans". Might as well come right out and say it: Bobby McFerrin is no longer a jazz musician; he has morphed into some sort of performance artist. Which is fine if that's what he wishes to do, but the concert should not be booked as a jazz event. And not just because it didn't swing -- until the encore -- but because it really isn't about the music. Most of the people I went with really enjoyed it -- but all of them said they would never listen to a CD of the event. They just liked to see three men playing like children, having fun, spurning convention, being present in the moment.

So, I suppose it is some sort of zen exhibition. But let's face it, some of this is more "be here then" than "be here now." The routine of the three of them plucking, bopping and scraping under the piano lid -- didn't we already cover that territory with Keith Jarrett in the 1980's? We got it: -- all sounds are equal . . . music is in everything . . . it is only convention and expectation that makes us prefer the keyboard to the mallet.
McFerrin, of course, is the ambassador of spontaneity, and is ever in pursuit of the unique gift of the moment. And so this concert (as also his Voicestra concert last year) resembled a kind of workshop. He is even quoted in the program, proudly guaranteeing minimal rehearsal. But it is an old truism that you only get out what you put into something. Had these cats not been who they were -- I don't think the audience would have been as warm to them. In the balance of star-power and substance, I'm afraid the former tilted the scale by far. A spontaneity workshop can be a great thing -- but don't ask those of us who love jazz to shell out $70 to watch it, without our permission. Spontaneity should be a love-dance with tradition, not a spurning of it. McFerrin seems intent on never doing a song that we might know, or that -- god forbid -- has already been written. It is as if improvisation, the quicksilver of every jazzman, has grown impatient with playing merely outside of keys and rhythms, and now must play outside of every definition and expectation. And one of those is the concert itself. "Outside" is a relative concept, and derives its artistic value through its contact with an "inside." The more outside you go, the less shared reference with the audience, the more self-involved you become, or appear to be.
(see below for remainder of my comment.)

On Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, and Jack DeJohnette.

Posted on December 27 at 12:14 a.m.

There is a lot in this little article. I think it is an intelligent and succinct salutation to the solstice. The four candles and the casting of dead leaves into the fire are excellent rituals. What better way to breathe fresh life into these year-end festivities then to blow the dust off the ancient honoring of the solstice at root.

Thanks, Starshine, for sharing these ideas with readers and their families.

On Merry Solstice

Posted on November 29 at 1:35 p.m.

So much for "innocence," (my above comment.) As for "information," I do not think the woman in the story was merely educating her sons. There is something prurient about recalling her own experiences and displaying a vibrator to them. I do not believe it is a line, as you have described it, between information and disgust. To merely describe it like that puts it on par with getting grossed-out over open-heart surgery on the science channel. This is not merely a matter of anatomical disgust, and I would guess the boy's "discomfort" is far more complex. If an adult outside of your own family were to tell your son about their own sexual experiences, and exhibit a sex-toy, I am sure you would consider that borderline, if not outright, sexual abuse. The fact that the adult in the story was not an outsider, but the boys' own mother makes the story that much sadder to me.

How many billions of neural connections are evolving daily in an adolescent boy's brain? It is like a wildfire. The front edge is the burning line of attention. In its wake is formed his concept of selfhood, values, goals, motives. When and how sexuality is introduced into this dynamic interior world is not a trivial consideration. As you correctly say, kids will learn one way or another. When knowledge of sex comes through the backdoor, it will most likely be a distortion which can infect the imagination, as I think my personal story illustrates. The sad thing is when, for many kids, like the boys in the story, there is no front door.

On Innocence Glossed

Posted on November 29 at 1:25 p.m.

As always, Starshine, I appreciate your frank approach. In this essay, however, I think the subject is more complex than "information versus innocence."
You might be giving the parent of the other boy short-shrift. Innocence does not necessarily mean under-informed, or a puritanical denial of life and passion. It may mean guarding the imagination of a child, not so much from the facts of sex, as from distortions and dysfunctions of the adult world around the subject.
When I was a nine-year-old boy, in fact, my older brother and sister showed me my father's secret stack of Playboy magazines on the upper shelf of his office closet. I didn't really know how to assimilate this fact. It created a tear in the fabric of my world-view. Why do these women take their clothes off for the camera? Why does my father have these? Does my mother know, and what does she think? Would I get whipped if they found out I knew? There was a bad or shameful feeling about the whole thing. The fact of the magazines colored the way I looked at my father. When I was with him, I would try to imagine him buying or looking through the magazines. I was trying to put my mind around an apparent duplicity.
Meanwhile, every so often, when I could get away with it, I would climb up on a chair in the office, and look through the top two or three issues. By the time I was 12, I was getting very aroused by the magazines, and by the age of 14, I was looking at them almost daily and relieving myself by masturbation. This practice became a habit and an addiction which carried with it unbearable secrecy and shame. The duplicity of my father had now become my own duplicity. I was desperately afraid someone in the family would find out, or my parents would suspect what was happening.
This "lost innocence" became a drain-hole in my life, sapping my energy and attention. If I was not daydreaming about sex, I was pre-occupied with shame and a feeling of being soiled.
With my daughter I have tried over the years, during "teachable moments" to emphasize the wholesomeness and poetic beauty of sexuality. I told her, when she was younger, that the outer facts of sex might sound grotesque, but as her body, mind and emotions matured she would experience desire and perceive the poetry. I also told her that many people in our culture don't get it. They trivialize, deflect and caricature sex with crude humor or expletives. But I told her, as you move through and observe all of this, somewhere preserve the thought that sex is sacred.
I'm tempted to specify a Hindu maxim in this respect. Its general form is "Those who preserve dharma (law, order, the natural way of things), dharma will preserve." Here, I would apply it, "Those who preserve sex, sex will preserve" or at least, "Those who do not debase sex, sex will not debase."

On Innocence Glossed

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