Saturday, December 29, 2007

Foreboding, Hope, and Peace

I have a powerful sense of foreboding today. The first contributing factor was last night's dream. I dreamt of leaky roofs and water running down our interior house walls, probably because it rained rather hard at one point during the night. Pam was marching around the house, hollering that we needed to do something, while I just looked at the walls and shrugged as if to say, do what? I can’t control these things.

The other factor was Andrew (always the kids). He drove to Long Island yesterday. We had lunch at Mike’s Hot Dogs and he left from there at about 1 in the afternoon. By 5:30 we had no phone call; naturally, I was mentally pacing by that time. I dialed him and got his voicemail. He called soon after 6; traffic from the northern suburbs and across the ThrogsNeck bridge had been heavy, slow going, but he made it with little problem. I shouldn't worry, he's a responsible and careful person; but it's instinctive for parents, I guess.

So it’s not the rain and a leaky roof. And Drew is no longer driving all over metroNewYork, and will be in good hands with his girlfriend and her family through New Year’s. The first isn't reality, and the second is just parental fears.

The final factor is Bhutto. Her assassination is startling to me. It could be foreseen: attempts on her life were made the day she re-entered her native Pakistan in October. She was under constant guard, and she choose to lift her head through the sunroof of her protected vehicle. She now becomes a martyr, but with a different style: female, beautiful, Harvard-educated, the political daughter of a former prime minister who hugged her father before he was hanged for political reasons years ago. I do not know the social, political, and familial dynamics of that country, but she seems to represent a social order that is the current antithesis of the religious intransigience from Al-Queda and the Taliban.

The Jewish/Islamic middle east has five fuses: Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. They have been smoldering for decades, and a few of them have exploded at various junctures. Bhutto’s death might signal another explosion, and it could be the most dangerous of all.

We just celebrated Christmas, a holiday that represents the essence of hope and peace. Hope for Peace.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Within a Forest Dark

A friend of ours, Michael Virtanen, has published a book. Within a Forest Dark is the story of Jack Kirkland, an insurance adjuster in Saratoga Springs whose life is unraveling – his wife has left him, his secretary calls him a jerk, and his boss is cutting him out of the business. The core of the story revolves around a life insurance case he is investigating in which the widow may have had a hand in the death. Jack falls in love with the woman and has to deal with his own conflicted feelings as he digs into the details of the case.

As they say, those are the facts of the case. But the book is more than just a detective whodunit. Since Michael is a member of our book group, and we have selected his book to discuss at our next meeting, I can't express more than this.

I can say this: buy the book. You won't be disappointed.

Within a Forest Dark: An Adirondack Tale of Love and Suspicion, by Michael Virtanen. Lost Pond Press, Saranac Lake, NY. .

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Jethro Tull

Andrew and I attended a rock concert on Thursday night, where a flute and string recital broke out.

Jethro Tull has existed for nearly forty years. They started as a blues band and migrated through heavy rock, pop, extended soft-rock operas, and Celtic-influenced folk music. Ian Anderson, the leader of the group, is a rakish fellow from Scotland with a devil complex. His signature instrument is the flute, which he plays while hopping around the stage or standing on one leg, the other doing its own little back-and-forth exercise like a flamingo.

The first number in the concert was Anderson and his guitarist, Martin Barre, doing a short blues song in a single centered spotlight. Anderson played a harmonica between phrases, Barre throwing in the typical blues riffs in response. That was the end of the R&B portion of the night.

In fact, the rock groupies in the crowd were likely disappointed by the whole evening. Jethro Tull’s signature album was 1970’s Aqualung, a loud dark collection of true heavy rock. Because classic rock radio has kept that flag flying for four decades by playing songs such as the title track, Cross-Eyed Mary, and Locomotive Breath, all but diehard fans associate Jethro Tull with these guitar-driven rock songs.

But that is not what Ian Anderson creates today, nor where the group even shines. Some of the change is due to musical maturation. Some is simple age and health – Anderson’s voice no longer has the strength or range to holler all those lyrics over the decibels of big guitars and drums. The weakest number all night was Thick as a Brick, a long piece whose thin construction was exposed ; Anderson is no longer capable of holding a note past a couple of beats, and he had to take a break while the band did an instrumental.

And so, the flute takes the lead. A string quartet consisting of four young women from Boston joined the group on stage for about half their numbers. Their first foray was with a medley of songs from War Child and Songs From the Wood. Anderson would throw in a flute line, and then run off stage, only to return a few bars later to toss another flute solo over the warm strings. This was all done over strong understated percussion played by the drummer on bongos and the bass player on hand tympani.

Anderson joked between every song, usually telling some cute story about the next number. He introduced Aqualung by saying that the next song would feature a way to insert his flute into the classic “Stairway to ….[pause] Aqualung.” The strings started the number, and Anderson played the opening vocal parts on his flute. The song had a totally different life, one with shifting tempos and patterns; only once did Martin Barre step to stage front fringe and rip off the signature riff at full volume.

And so the night went: familiar tunes were toned to a different level, as the group clearly demonstrated its Celtic roots over any other influence. And it worked. The flute has center stage, and Anderson takes the lead. He creates his own language with the instrument by grunting, groaning, or talking through it while still producing raucous or lilting runs. He rarely stands still.

They ended the show with Nothing is Easy, and they made it sound easy. It could have been lifted right off their greatest hits collection. The crowd stood, cigarette lighters mixed with cell phone screens in the dark theater. The encore started with one spotlight on the keyboard player, and the rest of the band kicked into Locomotive Breath.

They ripped and tore right through that one. Rock lived.