Sunday, October 25, 2009

Layer 211 . . . Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Britain, Rome, Copeland, Private Passions and Music.

The clocks have gone back. Hooray – an extra hour before midday!
Boooooo! – dark before evening!

     Posthumus:    Kneel not to me:
The power that I have on you is to spare you;
The malice towards you to forgive you: live,
And deal with others better.
    Cymbeline:         Nobly doom'd!
We'll learn our freeness of a son-in-law;
Pardon's the word to all.

Cymbeline Act V Sc. V

"And deal with others better." A worthy goal for all of us. Social and emotional intelligence.

Shakespeare speaks of people having sufficient enlightenment and emotional & spiritual intelligence to practice restraint - to resist the temptation to seek revenge, and to show the capacity to forgive. His previously reviled son-in-law Posthumus demonstrates  his ability to behave intelligently and nobly, and the fierce king immediately responds to such generosity of spirit by exercising restraint and by giving a pardon to the wrongdoer.

The two sons of the king, missing for many years and believed dead, are reunited with their father.

      Soothsayer: [reads] '. . . when from a stately cedar shall be lopped branches, which, being dead many years, shall after revive, be jointed to the old stock, and freshly grow; then shall Posthumus end his miseries, Britain be fortunate and flourish in peace and plenty.'

     Cymbeline:     Laud we the gods;
And let our crooked smokes climb to their nostrils
From our blest altars. Publish we this peace
To all our subjects. Set we forward: let
A Roman and a British ensign wave
Friendly together: so through Lud's-town march:
And in the temple of great Jupiter
Our peace we'll ratify; seal it with feasts.
Set on there! Never was a war did cease,
Ere bloody hands were wash'd, with such a peace.

It was especially interesting to see this play (at the Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street) at the end of a week in which an unabashed racist and xenophobe performed his bullshit on the BBC's Question Time.

What kind of lunatics spend their lives banging on about Churchill, the wartime spirit, fighting foreigners, racial purity, etc?

Shakespeare understood very clearly the need for peace and prosperity, and knew that peace IS the greatest prosperity. Not money. Not possessions. He also understood the need for the flags of different nations to “wave friendly together”, and understood the ways in which Roman (and European) culture had enriched Britain and made it a better place.

Cymbeline and his people almost died in a battle brought about by his wife's greed and her demand for the king to cease paying to Rome the annual sum that had been agreed in order to cement Britain's political autonomy and independence from Rome. It was only after the battle was over, his sons reunited with him, and his wife deceased, that he understood how his capitulation to her demands had almost cost him his life and his kingdom, and the lives of many others as well.

The twist in the tale is that having defeated the Roman force, Cymbeline nevertheless saw the error of his ways, regretted his dishonourable behavior, and determined to resume the payments to, and the friendship with, Rome – a forerunner of the Treaty of Rome, dare I say. Stick that big fat piece of spiritual intelligence in your pipe and smoke it, Mr Griffin.

It was sad that the theatre was only half full for such a superb production with amazing acting, wonderful lighting, great costumes and some excellent music from semi-hidden musicians playing a full drum kit and guitars.

Stewart Copeland – Private Passions – Radio 3
Michael Berkeley meets rock great Stewart Copeland, drummer with The Police, and a composer of operas and soundtracks as well as songs. He recently provided music and narration for a spectacular production of Ben Hur at London's O2 arena. His musical tastes, all of which have influenced his own style, range from Wagner, Ravel and John Adams to Booker T, Paul Simon and reggae from Desmond Dekker.

According to Copeland, music should be about feeling – not intellectual tricks. I reckon you can say the same about any art – painting, poetry, theatre, whatever. This is why the challenging language of Shakespeare is no block to enjoying it - on the stage, at least.

Sitting alone and reading it is a different matter – a bit akin to sitting and reading the notes on a musical score. The words are mere vehicles for an experience that's meant to occupy all the senses – it's about movement, spectacle, sound, light, darkness, voices, music, costumes and the suspension of everyday reality in order to become immersed in something that speaks to and appeals directly to the soul, the spirit and the emotions.

I was never a huge fan of The Police, and certainly not crazy about the artist formerly known as Sting, but I like Stewart Copeland because he speaks well, he's knowledgeable about music, and he's down to earth, honest, original, thoughtful and often amusing.

He says the best music (“It's all about spirit”) is about a very simple beauty – which for me sums up the Blues. He reckons his discovery of Booker T and Green Onions back in the Sixties was transformational for him – then just a kid living in Beirut, listening to a weekly music programme on “The Voice of America”.

For me Green Onions sets out what 12 bar blues really IS. It's so easy to hear it in such pared-down music : 4 bars of the tonic. 2 bars of the 4th. 2 more bars of the tonic. One bar of the 5th, one more of the 4th . One more of the tonic and and one more 5th. Why is that so great? I've no idea.

Copeland's very keen on the concept of negative space, and says that leaving gaps in the music is a very potent force. Rock and roll is mainly about 'backbeat' – putting the emphasis on the 4th beat in the 4/4 bar. The reggae 'revolution' – and Copeland loves reggae - puts the emphasis on the 3rd beat and thereby creates space in the music. Dah, dah, DAH, dah, and not dah, dah, dah, DAH. Chuck Berry sang (in 'Rock n Roll Music') “It's got a backbeat, you can't lose it!” But backbeat isn't the be-all and end-all.

Copeland pointed out that in the 60's we didn't recognise the real greatness of the music that came at us then – we just thought it was fantastic!

He reckons musicians tend to have terrible taste in music – because they listen to the wrong things in their quest for novelty and utilitarian value. Also – they go for things that are difficult and clever and intellectually stimulating – whereas they ought to stay with 'the visceral'.

“Let's kick jazzers”, he says, “That's always good for a laugh!” He reckons he can wind up any gathering of music lovers by being critical of most jazz. I can see his point – most forms of music are full of dross, but for some reason most music lovers are reluctant to acknowledge some of the crap that comes out of the jazz scene is just that, or to admit that there's ANY crap within the jazz genre.

What's music FOR?  Copeland reckons it's flourished as an art form because it's a form of human 'plumage' for all those that play musicand sing songs - it's part of the human mating dance. He goes on to comment on the 'strange' behavior that music induces in those that listen to it - girls waving their pudenda, guys thrusting their groins – all part of the sexual display.

He reckons jazzers don't get any sex, though, and that boy bands and girl bands are far more successful sexually in spite of their musically crap offerings – presumably because they build dance and spectacle and  movement into their acts, whereas a lot of jazz can be pretty 'cerebral' and visually dull. The trouble with Copeland is that he takes his colourful controversialism too far, and he forsakes balance for brilliant polemics, as is obvious to anyone who's listened to the very best of jazz, which certainly has rhythm, swing, drive, energy, emotion, soul and spirit powering it.

Copeland also mentions young adolescents who use heavy metal sounds as 'borrowed chest hair'.  Wagner does similar things, he says

He discussed the power of punk, which was happening here just as The Police were getting their act together. Also at that time 'dub reggae' became very popular – he thinks because it was similarly militant, hostile, aggressive music – songs and sounds about anger and despair and injustice. Copeland attributes to Bob Marley, and to reggae in general, his friend Sting's sudden emergence into being a best-selling composer and songwriter. When Sting discovered Marley, everything changed, apparently. Though he credits Andy Sumner with being the member of the band that enabled them to take off musically – because of the sophistication and style of his guitar playing.

I agree totally with Copeland's choice of Paul Simon's 'Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes' as an outstanding piece of music. He said, “This track's so beautiful, so poignant,  it hurts me to listen to it.” Definitely.

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