Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Boss Says "Build a House," We Comply

Did you see Bruce Springsteen last night?  I did!  And if you have never seen Springsteen live, you don't know what you're missing.  

It seems to be a media meme to downplay all things The Boss.  Slate, alone, has recently published or re-published three articles by Stephen Metcalf discussing Bruce's carefully contrived on-stage persona, and lamenting his decision to cheese-out at the Superbowl Halftime Show.

Though I was personally appalled to hear that Bruce had allowed the Superbowl producers to fill his "audience" with paid extras, I'm not sure that I agree that his performance there struck such a discordant note.

Now, I'm no expert on the man and his catalog.  I am necessarily a late-comer to his career, which started a decade or so before I was born.  But I can say, without qualification, that the two Bruce Springsteen concerts I have attended are, hands down, the best concerts I have ever been to.  And I have been to my fair share.

What is it that makes Bruce so enigmatic, whereas others that I love prove to be so damned disappointing live on stage?  

My only explanation is that Springsteen is, frankly, a Rock Star.  Unaccountably yet undeniably sexy, charismatic, energetic, frenetic, and most importantly, talented.  On Tuesday night he forced us to love him by grinning through the entire performance like he was having the time of his life; by picking up an adolescent boy to join him on stage, then fireman-hold-ing him back to his family; by clasping hands with a 16-year-old in braces held on the shoulders of her boyfriend and singing "Spirit singing our birthday song" to her and letting her sing it right back to him; by literally rolling around at the edge of the stage, and allowing the fans to hold him up and (miraculously) let him go ... twice; by taking poster-board requests that resulted in an awesome version of The Kinks' "You Really Got me Now";  and doing it all while playing really, really good music really, really well.

And that is perhaps the single greatest thing about a Bruce Springsteen concert.  You don't have to know every word to every song because every song he plays is immeasurably enjoyable the very first time you hear it.  With hooks that catch right into your ear, and harmonies and melodies that well up inside you despite yourself, and exuberant performances from every member of the band, you just can't help yourself from grinning right along with that neat guy on stage.

I am an acknowledged sucker for all things Cathartic Cultural Ritual.  I cheer when the lights go down, I cheer when the lights flash onto the audience, I drum the seat before me to coax them back for an encore, I jump out of my seat and clap to the beat, and I sing along when I know the words.

Despite this, I maintain that my constant analysis of just why this enclosed arena pumped full of eardrum bursting noise fills me with unspeakable glee, inoculates me from a certain someone's teasing suggestion that I would have cheered right along with the rest of the Colosseum as the Romans slaughtered tens of thousands of animals and people.  

It's a preposterous suggestion.  I, of course, would have been fed to the lions for being a Christian who campaigned for an end to slavery, animal rights, democracy and gender equality.  

I was totally born this way.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Algorithm Says ...

I had to almost immediately follow up my last post with something more lighthearted.  The Google AdSense Ads that appear on my sidebar are a subject of infinite fascination for me.  Like, Facebook, which recently decided that I have no interests other than weddings and now exclusively displays advertisements for pieces of the wedding-industrial complex, Google's algorithmic idea of this blog's target audience is rather titillating.

While reviewing my last post, I was offered these friendly purchasing opportunities:

1. A marketing method promising to be the answer to ineffective cold calling
2. Christian Fiction Novels
3. Historical Romance Novels
4. Tips on Writing a Book
5. "Inspiration for Females" - whatever that means.

They got me pegged, huh?


Are You a Bad Mother?

I listened to Terry Gross's interview with Ayelet Waldman, the woman who infamously wrote that she loved her husband more than her children (in a far more nuanced way, of course), and it stirred up all the fears and anxieties I have regarding motherhood.  It is more than worth a listen, not the least because Waldman's opinion of why you should love your husband more (or at least as much) as your children is an important counter-point to the beatific mother-as-jesus sacrificial figure we're inundated with, but also because she very painstakingly and painfully describes she and her husband's (author Michael Chabon) decision to abort their 4-month old baby boy after learning that he had a genetic precondition that might have resulted in his being born mentally retarded.

Except, it might not have.

What on earth are women to do in the face of choices like these?  How on earth are we supposed to make decisions like this?  Are we equipped to counteract what Waldman openly calls her own "cowardice" in the face of all that would be involved in caring for a disabled child.  "Our entire lives would have changed" she says, to which I reply almost instinctively, "well isn't that selfish!" Your life might have changed, therefore this child doesn't have the right to live?

My point here isn't to say that Waldman did the wrong thing.  My point is that it's impossible to say whether Waldman did the right or wrong thing because it's impossible to know whether her child would have been born disabled, or not, and it's impossible to know how their lives would have actually changed because of their son's (dis)abilities.

For God's sake, isn't pregnancy terrifying enough without throwing this Sophie's Choice into the mix?  Is it better to save a child years of a painful existence, or to let nature (or God, if you happen to believe in God) take its course, having faith that you are not being given more than you can handle - or, is it better to eliminate the chance of suffering even when you're also potentially eliminating the chance of a perfectly healthy life?

So, great.  Where does this leave us?  Stranded, that's where.  Stranded in a sea of choices, with plenty of "experts" on either side to tell us which is the right decision, and plenty of feel-good optimists on either side also telling you that you should just "do what you feel is right."

Thanks.  That's the problem, isn't it?  Knowing what is right?  Isn't that one of the most persistent and intractable problems of human existence - deciding what is right and convincing ourselves to do it?  Is it wrong to even tempt ourselves with these choices?  The problem of technologies such as these is that once they're available, it's impossible to take them back again.  You can't close that box once it's been opened, Pandora.  

And so we add another chip to the pile stacking up against ever making us feel that we are good enough to our children, our spouses, our society.  I guess things were just getting a little too rosy now that women and children were only occasionally dying during childbirth/infancy.

Embittered I remain until next time.