Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Music's Immune to Parody

The brilliant Tim Minchin is armed with a grand piano in his stand-up comedy. His monologue consists of a series of songs, filled with satire. So, his music is parody, but it doesn't matter. It's still sweet, sweet music.

Here's one example of Tim Minchin playing with different genres of music, when joking on a subject – in this case ironically about having depth and a dark side, too:

Although his use of music is aimed at parody, it's still quite enjoyable as music. I think this is true only for music: It's immune to parody.

No matter how much you try to make fun of it, the music takes over and what we hear at the end is a song we like or not, regardless of its aim. Not even exaggeration works – it's just more of what we do or don't like. The parody is lost.

In this aspect, Tim Minchin reminds me a lot of Frank Zappa. His concerts were filled with parodical songs, making fun of several musical genres. It all turned into music, mostly very pleasant, inspiring, and intriguing, independently of the satirical ingredient.

Here's an example of Frank Zappa's musical ironies, making obvious fun of several genres in a single song:

Whatever his intention might have been with Florentine Pogen, and in spite of the singer's contortions, sweet music ensues.

Well, Frank Zappa was quite aware of it, so he allowed his songs to evolve into a festive meal of music, shown in the above song by his own guitar solo. This was more the rule than the exception with Frank Zappa. Even songs that started as the most poisonous satire grew into celebrations of the power and joy of music. He was probably completely aware of the golden rule: music's immunity to parody.

Another example from past years is the band Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, having several hits with songs that were ironic to say the least. Still, a vast audience took them to their hearts. It must have surprised the band.

A flagrant example of parody failing is Sylvia's Mother, which was drenched in honey but still became a hit and inspired numerous sincere tears all over the world. In this version the band has sort of given in to that fact:

Oddly, the parody intended is much closer to work in a version taking the song totally seriously. See Jon Bon Jovi's cover version, completely devoid of humor. Because he preforms it without any irony in the subtext, he comes as close to parody as ever possible with music:

Like so much in life, the best parody is unintentional.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

With One Person I Never Got Bored

We come to this world, don't ask me where from, and we leave it after dancing on it for a while, don't ask me where to. But some of us are otherworldly all through. I had the fortune to get to know one of them: Charlotte Zutrauen, who passed away this spring after more than a century on the planet.

Charlotte was born in 1908 and already at a young age she became an institution, an icon, in the emerging Hollywood. She was connected to an Indian guru, who was a spiritual advisor behind the scenes to movie moguls and other leading figures of the silver screen industry. Soon, so was Charlotte.

I met her in 2001, when I spent a couple of weeks in Los Angeles, several times in her inspiring company. Already at our first meeting she did, as they say, blow my mind.

Having written books on astrology and what-not, I've had my share of encounters with self-proclaimed New Age gurus, few of them making any kind of impression. Charlotte was nothing of the kind. She was the real deal.

Me and my friend Philippe Morotti picked her up at her rather modest house high up on the Hollywood Hills, for a ride downtown and a lunch. Before we were even halfway down the Hills, she had described my personal life dilemma in a nutshell. My curse. I get bored so quickly – with people, activities, anything.

She told me not to feel guilty about it, but to accept it and come to peace with it. That might not sound very profound, but think again: What could me more of a blasphemy than boredom? A splendid universe opens up to us when we leave the womb. Billions of people surround us, ready to interact and share. How ungrateful it is to quickly grow bored of this formidable gift!

So I tend to get bored, and then to be ashamed of it. Much of my life I spend struggling to hide my boredom, like a perversion even Dante could not have imagined. My dark secret.

When she revealed this, just a few minutes after meeting me for the first time – and showed complete acceptance of it – I felt deep relief. Instant therapy. Those words of hers still have the power to console me.

Later, when I got home to Sweden, I told my mother about this encounter and what Charlotte had stated about me. Although we had never ever even touched the subject before, my mother immediately nodded and mumbled a spontaneous confirmation. She knew in a second that Charlotte was right.

But Charlotte wasn't ready with me just yet. She made me start working on a movie script – giving me the glimpse of a theme and urging me on. Not that a movie script changes the world in any way, or even me, but because I just had to do it. And she understood that writing is what makes me tick.

When it comes to my writing, I never allow anyone else to guide me. I never listen to suggestions. There's no point. What I need to write is so particular to me, others are extremely unlikely to contribute. It's just a waste of time.

Again, Charlotte was different. She found the seed of the story deep within me – or she planted it there, what do I know? Anyway, I felt it rising from inside, like any other story I ever wrote, and I threw myself at the laptop, starting to write.

It was finished in a few months, which is sort of record time for me, at least the last couple of decades – my first full-length movie script. It's called Chastity and is set in Medieval times. A drama about impossible love. It's still floating around somewhere in Hollywood.

I wouldn't mind seeing it turned into an actual movie, of course, but that's not as important as the experience of writing it. The plot, the dialogue, everything came to me automatically, and the result was a story of which I felt immensely proud. It was what I wanted to write, without previously being aware of it. Many thanks, Charlotte!

A couple of more screenplays quickly followed. Now, I'm back to books again, but the scripts took me on a voyage I had not imagined beforehand. I'm sure I will get back to it, one of these days.

I left Los Angeles. Charlotte and I exchanged a few letters and an occasional phone call, but I never saw her again. On May 1, 2011, she passed away, 102 years old. I don't care. In my mind she is still very present and active. I never get bored of her.

The portrait photo of Charlotte above was taken by my old friend Philippe Morotti, who was also the one to introduce me to her.

PS: Charlotte's last name Zutrauen is German for confidence. Indeed.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Time Flies Past a Building

This year I revisited Monaco after almost 40 years. Oh, how time flies! I didn't remember much more from my first visit than the odd decorative patterns on the facade of a house.

I took the above photo of the Monaco house in 1972, and the below photos on my revisit in late October, 2011. Actually, it was right in front of my hotel. New buildings have appeared around it, but that funny house stays the same.

The pattern on it looks like wallpaper, doesn't it? As if someone had turned the whole house inside out.

Apart from that I rediscovered that Monaco is a ridiculously expensive place to be. The pyramid of have and have not remains. It is older than the actual pyramids and more solid than any building. And not that funny.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Poodle Bites

Recently, I was in Romania for an aikido seminar. That was my first visit to the country, and a delightful one. Something that I found odd was the great number of stray dogs in the streets, running free and somehow finding their way to survive and reproduce.

Dogs have been companions of mankind for many thousands of years, maybe about 15,000. Before that they were wolves. According to Wikipedia, there are 400 million of them in the world, all of them living in sort of a symbiosis with our species.

But that can change. If we don't do our part of the age old agreement, they have no choice but to become wolves again. I could see tendencies of that in Romania. Not in the daytime, when their behavior was quite yielding, going about their business in a fashion showing respect for the creatures that seized the planet. But at night, the attitude of the stray dogs changed.

They became aggressive, standing their ground, challenging people as to remind us of what party broke the contract. They moved in packs and turned any place where they happened to be into their own territory.

Dogs, like humans, are flock animals. When they form a flock they feel the strength of it and cease to yield. So they did. So do we.

When dogs get this confident and don't depend on humans for their meals, it's not too hard to guess what will happen. It already does, to some extent. Just in Bucharest, the capital, there are 11,000 annual bite victims. Romanians are aware of the hazard and treat it with caution. Not unlike the wariness needed to manage in city areas harassed by gangs – human gangs. Dogs have gangs, too. It's the flock thing.

So, animosity increases, and will keep on doing so as long as the dogs are stray, still finding ways to survive and reproduce. Dogs are good at that, whether domesticated or not. And in the city their only bane would be the humans.

The people of Romania are struggling with the issue. The dogs are being sterilized, as well as can be managed with limited resources. This seems to be what animal rights groups advocate, as if it would be a pleasant alternative for the dogs. Actually, it's what racial biology and its political supporters suggested for “inferior” ethnic groups of people less than a hundred years ago.

I don't know. The alternative is to shoot the stray dogs. That's regarded as monstrous. Inhumane. As if nature worked any differently.

When the government took initiatives in this direction, the 1960's movie star Brigitte Bardot reacted. She is devoted to animal protection. My Romanian hosts told me that she took a plane to Romania and agitated strongly against the idea. Romania is not that used to visits from the jet set crowd, no matter how withered their cause for fame might be, so the officials gave up the idea, and the dogs continue to run free.

I really dislike the wiseacre attitude Bardot demonstrated. What does she know about the local situation? She's lived a charmed life since her movie debut in 1952, when she was only 18 years old. What right does she have to put any demands on how Romania should act on its own problems?

It's not that she offered to solve them. She just insisted that they should do it by sterilization, regardless of how difficult and inefficient that solution might have proven to be. Then she went home, proud as a peacock of her manifestation for animal rights. I don't think she brought any of the dogs with her.

A lot of celebrity activism is the same. Between gulps of Dom Pérignon, they protest one thing or another in politics, without the least concern for how complicated a lot of situations can be in real life. They live in a dream world, as if there were no reality outside of the silver screen and the tabloids.

For example, I saw on the Internet that Hollywood actor Matt Damon isn't pleased with Barack Obama's performance as the US President. Well, does he have any idea of how difficult that job is? Especially in the present economic situation. Obama inherited a nation on the brink of bankruptcy. What would Damon do?

People who have success tend to be cocky to the same extent. They should work on their modesty. Fame comes and goes. So does popularity. While these people have their fifteen minutes in the spotlight, there are thousands of others continuing with the tedious work of keeping society from collapsing.

Brigitte Bardot made her success by exposing what was in the 1950's an unusually large percentage of her skin. How would that qualify her for solving any problem in Romania? Matt Damon is an excellent actor in several Hollywood genres, but the silver screen is flat, whereas reality has at least four dimensions. Both of them should start by bowing in respect of how difficult the world is to run without a script.