Arthur Honegger, Rugby, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit, Erato 2292-4542-2
Rice University Marching Owl Band, “Louie, Louie,” on The Best of Louie, Louie, Rhino R2 70605
Charles Mingus, Pithecanthropus Erectus, Atlantic 8809-2
Giuseppe Verdi, Otello, with Placido Domingo, Renata Scotto, Sherrill Milnes, National Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by James Levine, RCA RCD2-2951
Neil Young, “Down by the River,” on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Reprise 2282-2
Ruggiero Leoncavallo, Pagliacci, with Carlo Bergonzo, Joan Carlyle, Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, Deutsche Grammophon 419 257-2
Joe Turner, “Cherry Red,” on The Boss of the Blues, Atlantic 8812-2
Hector Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique, Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Georges Pretre, RCA 60478-2-RV
Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 5, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Georg Solti, London 430 443-2
Beethoven, Fidelio, with Kirsten Flagstad, Julius Patzak, Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler, EMI Classics 7 64901 2
Igor Stravinsky, Jeu de cartes. Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, CBS Masterworks MK 44917
The Velvet Underground, “I’m Set Free,” on The Velvet Underground, Verve 815 454-2
Sonny Rollins, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” on Worktime, Prestige OJCCD-007-2
I don’t know ANYTHING about the O.J. trial, I don’t CARE about the O.J. trial, I’m not gonna WATCH the O.J. trial, I’m not even CONCERNED that the trial be fair (’cause how could it be?), and the only thing all this O.J. biz has done for MY homelife is to strengthen my desire, fortify my resolve to get the fuck out of L. A. — after years of earthquakes and bullshit and just complaining. I saw ten seconds — no more — of the Car Chase (O.J./Day One, or was it already Day Three?) on somebody’s TV and promptly left the room. I don’t watch enough on my own — only Sumo Digest, every two months on UHF — to even bump into this shit. The minimum amount you can’t avoid, you can’t avoid. I’ll see a photo on People Mag or the Enquirer at a checkout but rarely even read the cover text. Do I know the name of the wife he’s alleged to’ve killed? Michelle, I think; I’m not sure. (A blonde, right?) The other guy, him I don’t know by name or face. Stabbing? Strangling? Stabbing, I think. Something also about gloves. And blood. DNA? That’s all I know. All I wanna know.
Does nothing EXIST anymore that isn’t TV? Does “existential” now mean “as received from hands dealt by FCC-licensed broadcast entities”? Is nothing perceivable (I’m talking even biologically) in terms other than those so dealt?
Deathstyles of the Rich and Famous...Brentwood 90049 (or is it Brentwood Place?)...every cheesy goddam “true” crime catch-a-criminal audience “participation” eat-my-whanger...celebrity cops vs. celebrity suspect; celebrity good vs. celebrity evil; celebrity prosecution and defense...one more life-assisted falsification of life...one more tweak on the ring through the fucking collective nose of the vast legion of empty U.S. lives (biggest tweak since the frigging Iraq War)...see Super-Spot runL.KEEP IT.
For being the star and patsy, focus and fulcrum, of this screaming mega-circus (or is circus by now too outmoded, too deconstructed, too “real [i.e., unreal] life,” a concept?) (are we down in fact to TV as the basic root METAPHOR for everything, period?), I say let the guy go, I don’t care what he did if let’s say he even maybe did it. He’s got constitutional rights — remember them? — they’ve been violated, totally, absurdly...case closed. (On to the next celebrity pigfuck.) The judge, whoever he is, for letting the current pigfuck go on AS SUCH...heck...where the hell is Theodor Adorno when we need him?
(How many years are we now past the LITERAL end of the world?)
But hey, I’ll confess. It’s not as if I never cared about O.J.’s, um, celebrity being, that I never paid direct attention to it. I never saw Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange, or Steve Van Buren — I’m not that old. The greatest running backs I’ve seen are 1. Gale Sayers; 2. Jim Brown; 3. O.J. If he’d played for a better team than the Buffalo Bills of the early ’70s, his career would’ve had more statistical ballast, but in terms of basic field moves and such he would still be number three. Three is fine. Nothing wrong with three. Don’t wanna fall in the tabloid trap of shit-for-logjc, shit-for-evidence, but PERHAPS Jim Brown was some kind of role model (Sayers’ career was too short to emulate). Jim went Hollywood, he was in his share of crummy movies, and fuggit, he used to beat women. But one thing he never was was bland.
Let’s face it: as football commentator, film actor, star of high-visibility commercials, O.J. was my-t-bland. You wanna take it a step further, he was exactly the sort of bland BLACK ex-jock TV is always hiring to be unoutspoken, undangerous. A figure of harmless (yet effective) delegated authority. O.J. the camp counselor-traffic monitor...hawker of products that will not give you cancer of the spleen. In his Metaphysics, Aristotle lists four causes — categories of explanation — one of which (final) is something like end to which action (consciously or un-) is directed. Teleology. Got no idea what the state is offering, specifically, as O.J.’s alleged “motive,” but a decent final cause (explanation) — nothing to do with intent, but so much more telling! (though no prosecutor will conceivably use it) — would be; to transcend his blandness. That’s as far as I’ll “speculate.”
You want a soundtrack, though, okay, I’m a whore just like the rest—here’s a soundtrack. Soundtracks are about manipulation. (In this case: further manipulation.) Even “high art” uses of music with image serve (or seek) to deliver otherwise undeliverable footage in dotted-line context, to underscore it, italicize it, make it grip (and “move”) an intended audience otherwise ungrippable. Godard liked using gratuitous surges of thematically irrelevant (all-too-relevant) music to accentuate (subvert) both its invasiveness and generic necessity. TV’s use of virtually ANY audiovisual interplay is inherently evil (a description, not a judgment). The only music-over-visual I’ll admit to ever seeing TV handle both benignly and well, one of the few times in fact I’ve seen the medium use music that wasn’t meant to kill, was in New York somewhere in the ’70s after the Mets or Yankees — I forget — had just blown a pennant. Over end credits, some local non-network station ran Frank Sinatra singing “Put Your Dreams Away for Another Day” with a shot of a grocer looking out from under his awning in the rain (it had also rained that day— the team lost out of town) — no customers, disappointment, take a breath, sigh, what the hey. Whew. Think of it, meantime, at its customary worst; bank commercials w/ “We’ve Only Just Begun”; the death of John Lennon w/ (hint! hint!) “Give Peace a Chance”; the mind-thudding, protein-rattling JFK funeral.
So go ’head, make your own evil daily O.J. a/v montage. Mute the sound (do you really wanna hear what the players are saying?), switch channels, and play these as needed or desired to accompany the unfolding “drama”....
If Arthur Honegger’s Rugby, from 1928, is not really “about” football, don’t worry — it’s not really about rugby either. No more programmatic than his earlier railroad whoozis, Pacific 231, just a lively, uncomplicated, “masculine” eight minutes of lightweight orchestral hoop dee doo.
The stadium version of “Louie, Louie” is without a vocal, but who could ever figure out the lyrics anyway? Just the sort of brassy bombast our suspect would’ve heard through locker-room walls over umpteen autumns of Sat./Sun. halftime hokum.
Gary Giddins once wrote that Pithecanthropus Erectus is about murder, a theme Duke Ellington wouldn’t have touched but one which Mingus, the arch Ellingtonian, found easy — although Greg Burk thinks it’s more on the level of killing mastodons. Either way it’s okay for our purposes: one of the great evocations, anytime, ever, of human — or proto-human — violence.
In the Verdi opera, as in Shakespeare’s play, Otello/Othello doesn’t stab Desdemona, he strangles her, but the racial (i.e., interracial) angle makes it crassly usable. There’s a nice sequence in the last act, beginning when he kisses her to wake her so he can strangle her, continuing to where she’s dead; then at the very end when he’s blubbering over the body (“How pale you are, and wan and mute and beautiful, good creature born under an evil star”) — cuts 13 and 15.
Once again, the narrator/protagonist of Neil Young’s “Down by the River” hasn’t stabbed his baby, this time he’s shot her, but the tune itself is too good to pass up. “Be on your side or be on my side”: the wages of me/you right/wrong are quite the same as those often assigned by certain factions to sin. Great “death” guitar, or is it guilt (remorse) guitar?
With Pagliacci we’re getting closer. Stabbing; stabbing of a second person, male (though specifically the first stabbee’s lover); confusion of levels (performance/life, etc.). But skip Canio’s famous soliloquy and go instead with his late second-act rant ’bout how his “manhood claims its rights again,” his “bleeding heart needs blood to wash away the shame,” then Nedda’s “I never knew you were so frightening” riff, followed by Canio’s “Do you still not understand that I will not give you up?” — some intense shit — culminating in two snuffs and all the various levels at last one: “The play is over.” (Tracks 8 and 9.)
Joe Turner said it, not me: “I ain’t never loved / And I hope I never will / ’Cause a lovin’ proposition / Gonna get somebody killed” — love equals death, y’see? Could the Bard himself have expressed it so neatly? With some fine “sexual” trombone by Lawrence Brown.
Even with the death penalty ruled out, Marche au supplice (March to the Scaffold), the fourth movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, is a pretty good take on the momentum of the accused to oblivion, the bleak inevitability of punishment: full speed ahead! No way out! Though the middle gets a little grandiloquent, sounding almost like “The Marseillaise,” it begins fine and ends fine — a drum roll and then...that’s that.
Even grimmer is the march that opens Mahler’s Fifth, a relentless and merciless slam HOME: the home whose gaping maw awaits our celeb at the end (perhaps) of his max-lengthy stay in a cage, just as it awaits us all at the end of our imprisonment in this here some-call-it-life. Or it could play after the fact as Mrs. Simpson’s Trauermarsch, that’s right, funeral march.
From O.J.’s p.o.v., on the other hand, you’ve got the thorny issue of unjust imprisonment, the subject of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, with its massive, almost manic-depressive mood swings. While the overture is a real rouser, a Bastille-rattler, the prelude to the second act is a monstrous downer, setting shop in a dark dungeon where Florestan lies in chains, moaning, “Gott! welch ’ Dunkel hierl”—whatever that means (this version has no libretto), though the poor wretch is clearly unpleased with his conditions of confinement. There’s also a couple dandy prisoner chorus numbers, expressing first their joy at being allowed out in the sun (“O welche Lust"— first CD, selection 14) and then their dismay at being sent back to their cells by the evil Don Pizarro (“Leb wohl, du warmes Sonnenlicht” — second CD, first selection).
A good track for the O.J. defense team, whatever its hand (house?) of cards may turn out to be, or for all-purpose cut-and-shuffle, back and forth, the whole courtroom number, Jeu de cartes is one of Stravinsky’s better neo-classical whatsems, a 1937 ballet for people dressed as, dig it, cards.
And if he gets off (y’never know, right?), you can’t beat “I’m Set Free” by the Velvets: “I saw my head laughin’ / Rolling on the ground / And now I’m set free-ee / I’m set free-ee!”
And every break for a commercial or lunch or the news of the so-called rest o’ the world should have as its ID the Sonny Rollins version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Nobody deadpans, or mock-deadpans, a standard like Sonny, the great ironist, or is he the great literalist? — no diff here. ■