He gathered his middle-aged friends as a backup band in the middle of the country and performed his new and old middle of the road songs - which is not to denigrate the performance at all; it was wonderful. His songs were about the stuff that are likely to concern a sixty year-old man: the passing of a parent, the empty nest, a favorite old guitar, a departed pet dog, God. Now being an old man himself, he also put his famous song Old Man into perspective. (People cheered when the banjo part came in.) I've never heard Neil Young sound so direct, perceptive or musical. This concert had soul. And Young even looked good and dressed well - I suspect his wife Pegi picked out his on-stage wardrobe.There were no long Cowgirl in the Sand-style electric guitar solos and no amplifier noise or grunge. Young was content to play an old Martin D-28 acoustic that once was owned by Hank Williams. It seemed that everything was done in deference to the venue, the Ryman, where many legendary musical performances have taken place. (This was one of them, I'm sure.) I hope to see the place sometime; I especially hope to hear a good concert there. And call me odd, but I'd like to find the Ryman doorway were Porter Wagoner once depicted himself as a wino on an album cover.
The other production I saw was a completely different matter, not at all suffused with the warm, human glow of Neil Young's sentiments: The Architecture of Doom (1989), about the artistic aesthetics and leanings of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. Like German National Socialist beliefs about art, it was a bit tedious. Much time was given to depictions of the Nazi "Degenerate Art" exhibitions of the 1930's (I own a book about them), where party flacks took modern, often expressionist, art to task. And there were also a lot of footage of what the Nazis called socially "healthy" art: nude blondes with their hair in braids staring out at some wonderful NSDAP horizon, middle class mothers embracing children, buff nude men with Aryan features striding confidently forward - that sort of thing.
The problem is, I think a lot of what gets discussed about art in this context is invariably colored by association with the Nazis - it must be bad because the Nazis liked it, and you will agree that it was bad. My own perception is that some of the stuff the Nazis decried as being degenerate was degenerate, and some of the stuff advanced as socially healthy art was socially healthy art. (A sort of Norman Rockwell realism with German accents, if you will.)
Of course, any art critic worth his National Endowment for the Arts grant will savage me for even proposing that there is such a thing as "socially healthy art." To them I'm sure it very much smacks of a totalitarian, controlling government and, besides, the role of the artist is not to console anyone. (Quick, somebody tell Neil Young!) It's to annoy, provoke and call attention to social wrongs. Whatever. There are ideologues on the Left as well as the Right, and when it comes to art, hey, I like what I like.
I must admit that I was impressed with the footage of those massive, staged Nazi rallies. What political theater! Watching, I was stuck with a thought (it happens): I am certain that being in them was either an exhilarating and powerful experience - Look How Strong We Are (what red-blooded, two-fisted male couldn't be up for that?) - or a tiresome pain in the neck, what with the endless staging in place and standing around, waiting. Maybe both. I bet plenty of Nazis locked their knees while standing and passed out - it used to happen all the time in the long formations I was in while in the Marine Corps. The memory of craggy old Master Sergeants walking up and down yelling "Don't lock your knees!" is one of my enduring memories from my time as one of Uncle Sam's Misguided Children.
Well, say what you will about the German National Socialists being vicious, genocidal, crazed, ruthless killers who espoused all that was vile, hateful, bestial and evil in human nature - they sure could stage impressive rallies! Not to mention come up with good-looking uniforms... but I disagree with the Gestapo's use of the death's head, however. (For the record, I disagree with everything about the Gestapo.) While I know it also appears on much American heraldry and patches, often in connection with the special forces, I just can't bring myself to agree that the death's head has a place in a modern Democracy. There was a hilarious skit about that in a British comedy, once: Are we the baddies?
Fun fact: I learned from this documentary that Hitler himself, a major wanna-be artist, designed those Romanesque NSDAP Deutschland Erwache banners. Didn't know that.
(Necessary blog disclaimer: I don't find Nazis or laudable or at all worthy of praise. I take a great deal of personal pride in the fact that my own dear Pappa was in Germany with the United States Army in 1945, doing his part to kick Nazi butt. As bad as they they were, we wuz badder. There is no part of me that wants to be a jackbooted thug. And while it is true that there are some modern day American politicians I'd like to slap around a bit and that I have played some rugby, I am not by nature a violent person. I am not composing hate speech, nor do I allow hate to shrivel my soul. And remember, when you point a finger of accusation at somebody, you have three fingers pointing back at yourself. So there.)
Tomorrow my bride and I are planning to stroll by the Potomac Tidal Basin to see the lovely pink cherry blossoms. (See? Would a neo-Nazi do that?) Depends upon the weather, however - Cari is not a big fan of being cold. And hopefully there will be a yard sale or two... we've got to get this season started! C'mon, people. Bring out those classical CDs and good books you don't want anymore...
Have a great weekend!