Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, February 23, 2004


Paintings of Mary Mother of God from the early Renaissance (or earlier) through the baroque and mannerist periods (don't listen to me, I'm guessing) -- anyway -- whuh? -- for some hundreds of years some hundreds of years back, Paintings of Mary Mother of God frequently showed her wearing a blue cloak of stars.

Queen of the Night! You better believe it the Mother of God is a serious Goddess in her own right, in all but name.

Having just blown my art-historical credibility by being too rushed to do some homework on the chronology of that Cloak of Stars right now -- but this is an aside, and not the main point -- late Medieval or early Renaissance paintings -- say, before Leonardo and Raphael in Italy, and before their influence was felt in the North -- (bwuh, I don't even know Leo & Raph's dates!) -- Madonna and Child paintings before Leo & Raph show a feature of Mary that the silky smooth & lovely High Renaissancers -- whaddaya say -- smoothed over, suppressed, etherealized, idealized: In earlier Mother Mary and Baby God paintings, Mary looks TIRED. Over and over again. And often not even particularly supermodel-esque. Just, you know, a tired mother who happens to be the Mother of -- you know. Leo and Raph (and others, I'm sure -- Botticelli!) changed all that. Only ethereal beauties need apply.

Kind of a drag.

But not my main point!

This evening, while busily packing and picking up the house, getting ready for my personally sad-making first trip away from home alone since baby was born (see previous post), I was listening to a "fado" singer from up the road in Vancouver BC whose name I never remember. A pretty woman with a gorgeous contemporary plaintive voice whom my wife & I heard at a festival last summer. (The baby heard her too, but I'm sure he wouldn't remember, though we did dance quite a bit.) "Fado" is a Portuguese style from mid-20th century (I'm guessing again) that sounds influenced by tango to me (I've never read anything about "fado," only heard a little). Lots of dramatic rubato -- subtle speeding up and slowing down and pauses at the ends of and between phrases -- which I LOVE; gorgeous melodies; sinuous rhythms.

The singer, whose name I forget, grew up in Canada but her father was Portuguese and she grew up some of the time there too and speaks the language. So the music is related to her paternal roots, for whatever that's worth.

I was full of the emotion of imminent parting. One song -- and don't complain, you probably weren't going to try to buy the CD anyway, and I don't even know if it's findable online, but if you're interested, e-mail me & I'll find out what I can -- on one song the singer filled the weep-ful melody with wrung out sorrow, and I flashed on the Pieta, Mary grieving over her dead Son draped across her knees. The sorrow of the singer wept over the suffering world. The Mother of God wept for her children. (I don't understand a word of Portuguese.)

And that's what happens when music really happens. A god or goddess is made manifest.

In "The Iliad," people can't get anything really done without the presence of the capricious, unpredictable gods. If the god is with me, I can slay my enemy. If not, I'm in trouble. This view of life is deeply congenial to me, as a basketball fan and sometime player. A great player practices and practices and practices, over and over again, but when the game is on, whether any particular shot happens to go in depends upon whether the capricious god is present. (Nothing to do with the Christian God, who from what I've read hasn't gotten involved in human contests, at least since after He let the Babylonians defeat the Israelites.) The greatest players -- Michael Jordan comes to mind -- can get into what many players have called "the zone" seemingly at will. The gods are seemingly at their beck. The gods are still capricious, though.

I've long felt that theater exists to make the god manifest on stage. And listening to the "fado" singer reminded me -- the same is true of music.

Which is the practical difference between being on the observing side of a musical communion and being on the performing side. The musician, when the music is really happening, partakes of the divine. Dancers do too.

(Well fuckin'-A, how's that for pretentious? Give me my horn, let me toot it!)

The divine, by which I mean, (prepare for some shallow surface scratching) -- that which is beyond our comprehension, the immensity and complexity of existence, the incommensurability of the processes through which existence is perpetually transmuting itself, the unimaginability of the source and origin of existence, the mystery of time, the immeasurability of space, the unknowability of one's own body's deepest processes, the multiplicity of the rhythms through which the various planes of our existences swing.

And music, when it's really happening . . .

Music is my religion.

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