Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Get off my lawn!

I did not intend my corner of the internet to be a place to either publicly gloat or complain, but feel compelled here to do a little of both. You see, after coming home from New York (see previous post), we were beset with news both good and bad. First, the good news. It turns out storms dumped snow on Independence Mine State Park at Hatcher Pass, and the powers that be started grooming trails. C and I were able to get in the first ski of the season nice and early this year. The problem with Hatcher Pass is that to get to the ski loop, you must first climb a ¾-mile hill. So, here we are, out of shape and weak, and the first thing we have to do is climb and climb long. It is a rude awakening to every season, but we are happy for it just the same.

And now the bad news. There is no way to sugar coat this, so I am just going to come out and say it.  Slayer canceled their show at the Sullivan arena that had been scheduled for October 22, apparently realizing that it costs a ton of money to ship their tour set up to Alaska. They officially blamed “logistics,” but I expect that means “dollars.” Maybe they thought we were just north of Vancouver at the time they scheduled? What ever the reason, it has brought a dark cloud across the Cobrasinalaska household. “Why? Why must you toy with our emotions, oh Godfathers of thrash?” I cry to the bleak and uncaring skies.

Of course, I use “we” pretty loosely here. As you might imagine, this cancellation has had a bigger impact on me than on C. Indeed, C—by her own choice—didn't even have a ticket to attend. Upon learning that Slayer was (purportedly) coming to town, the conversation went something like:

“Slayer is coming to Anchorage!”


“FUCKING SLAYER!” [Which is, by the by, the universal and officially sanctioned greeting of Slayer fans worldwide, either followed by or preceded by an out-thrust of the arms in a devil-horn salute.]

“What does Slayer sound like again?”

I proceed to cue up and start the 1986 masterpiece Reign in Blood, an album that leads off with the at times controversial “Angel of Death.” Precisely 7 seconds later: “You have got to be kidding me.”

So I bought a single ticket. But as already mentioned and whined about for some length, I never got to use it. And now I wander the halls and wonder if my life will ever have meaning again.

That I have reacted so strongly to the cancellation of a single concert may suggest that we do not get much in the way of nationally recognized live acts in Anchorage (my prior discussion of the Red Hot Chili Peppers being the exception that proves—that's right, proves—the rule). But we did get the chance to watch some of this year's Lollapalooza streamed live. Readers of a certain age (read: mine, plus or minus) will remember Lollapalooza as the brain child of Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrel, a music festival that criss-crossed the country in the early- and mid-nineties. It disappeared for awhile, but has resurfaced as a single three-day festival in Chicago. And technology having reached the point that it has, several of the sets by the festival's top acts were streamed live. And because one of those sets was by The Cure, I decided to tune in and watch. And I walked away wondering, “What is wrong with kids today?”

You see, from time immemorial rock-n-roll has been about two things: repulsing parents and inspiring children. If a kid needed a role-model for debaucherous living, was he going to look to his own parents? Of course not. But the rock star in leather pants, empty bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand, a gold record in the other, with vomit drying on his shirt? That is an image that gives a kid hope that the future will not be bleak and populated with responsibility and the routine of 9-to-5 (or, more accurately, 8-to-6, Dolly Parton movie or no).

One look at some of today's top acts makes clear that something has gone awry. As the following scientifically rigorous graph demonstrates, the social respectability of your typical rock-star had been on a consistent downward slope, but has taken a surprising upswing that brings today's top acts in-line with Please Please Me era Beatles.

Really, what message is it sending our kids when Vampire Weekend (photo at far right of the graph) is made up of a bunch of Columbia graduates and is perhaps best known for a song that is single-handily responsible for teaching an entire generation about the Oxford comma? Do we really want the youth of America to come of age aspiring to an Ivy League education and a comprehensive understanding of grammar?  And what are they wearing, anyway?  Sweater vests?  Suffice to say, not a leather jacket in the bunch.

On further reflection, though, I may be looking at this all wrong. Perhaps rock-n-roll has nothing to do with inspiring kids and everything to do with repulsing parents. I may not have kids, but I fit the demographic. And really, how can you repulse someone who came of age with this?

 (Slayer, circa-1984)

Yup. Sweater vests. Long live rock-n-roll. These kids may be on to something yet.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

C has a friend, Heather. There is actually more to this story than that, though, although it requires some background. Heather sings, and sings well. Someone with a background in music and voice could probably describe her singing with more nuance than that, but what do you expect from a lawyer? “Well” is as good as it will get. But you can judge for yourself ( From the layman's perspective, let's just say she sounds professional, which she is. The kind of voice that astounds as an instrument, makes me simultaneously want to break into my own aria and never open my mouth again for recognizing that some things I will never be able to do. Sing an opera is one. Heather can, and has. These days she sings on Broadway. Heather is a cast member in the longest running musical on Broadway, working in the ensemble of Phantom of the Opera. But she also understudies for the role of Carlotta and at times gets to strut her stuff—fittingly—as the operatic diva of the Paris Opera house. A couple of weeks ago, C received an e-mail from Heather announcing her schedule for filling in as Carlotta. C had never heard Heather perform, but always wanted to. As it turned out, C was in up-state New York, visiting family, and as such in the neighborhood for one of Heather's scheduled turns as Carlotta. C rebooked her return to allow a side trip to Manhattan, and I flew out for a long weekend.

We saw the show, which despite its long running tenure had an incredible line at the door 15 minutes before curtain. As I suppose it has several nights a week for 25-years, the chandelier came crashing to floor, Christine Daae was both repulsed by and drawn to the Phantom, and the diva pouted as divas do when younger voices muscle in on their spotlight. After the show, Heather led us backstage to marvel at the wigs (which we learned quite a bit about from another friend in Manhattan; suffice to say, I never much thought about Broadway wigs before, but the hair you see on stage could be the subject of another complete blog post), see the inner workings of theater magic, and stare out at the empty seats of the Majestic Theater.

But the excitement of Broadway and catching up with old friends was only part of the trip. Walking the streets of New York also gave me the opportunity to dabble in comparative urbanism, a school of study in which I am something of a hobbyist. I can't claim any formal training, but have, of course, read the classics. Being in New York gave me the chance to come home and look at my current hometown of Anchorage with new eyes as compared against one of the world's great—some would see greatest—cities.

Clearly, the foundation of a great city is great architecture. Buildings and living space provide the framework upon which a vibrant society is draped. The buildings and structures of New York are true icons, recognized the world over. The Empire State Building, the Flatiron, the Brooklyn Bridge, they are unmistakable symbols of urban America and the pull of the new world.

Well, Anchorage does not have the benefit of long history, but just as New York stands shoulder to shoulder with Paris, London, and other giants of the old world, Anchorage is itself home to inspiring architecture enhancing life in our city despite its relative youth. In just a few short years, classics like the abandoned layer cake church, the Wal*Mart, and that weird shanty like building in the middle of mid-town have been built and inspire Anchorage residents on a daily basis to strive for greatness.

Similarly, great cities have great cuisines. Some of the best restaurants in the world (or, at the very least, the most expensive) are found in New York, but classic eats are found at all points on the economic spectrum, including the classic New York slice.

Not to be outdone, Anchorage too is known far and wide for its food specialties, like the classic waffle, biscuit, gravy, roll, a celebration of carbohydrates smothered in fat.

Great cities often have rich spiritual traditions. Home to famous cathedrals, New York embraces religion at all scales, and it is not unusual to turn the corner and find streets closed to accommodate a procession celebrating the Virgin Mary.

Anchorage's houses of worship similarly operate on all scales, including the humble Wilderness Village Baptist Church.

But a rich and complex urban life is built on contradictions, and just as New York welcomes its residents to worship in its great churches or in the city streets, the city billboards make its residents question the very utility of prayer.

Anchorage's contradictions are evident only in geography. The Wilderness Village Baptist Church is, after all, located directly across the street from the city's most famous strip club. I like to think that gentleman, having spent a night and the bulk of their savings within the dark walls of the Alaska Bush Company, stumble out into the bright light of a Sunday morning and directly across the street to pray for forgiveness. A closer look at the Wilderness Village sign, however, makes me wonder if that is such a good idea.

The Wilderness Village congregation appears to have very specific ideas as to what should be done to sinners. That is a picture of two angels pushing some poor man to an eternity of damnation in the fires of hell, right? I think I would want to make sure I knew what side of the line I stood on before I walked through those doors. Maybe safest to just head back to New York. At least there you have a chance of getting lost in the crowd. Or you can hope that the two angels will get distracted by the bright lights of Times Square and maybe forget about you altogether.