by RIP RENSE
A LITTLE GUT MUSIC
Feb. 3, 2010
There we were, Annie and I, sitting
peacefully in Dizzy Hell---Disney Hall to you---in the “west
terrace,” which we had no more trouble locating than Mark Twain
had finding optimism.
Fully three ushers had
offered directions, and two were correct, but even that was not
helpful. We went up staircases, around crooked corners, into
hallways, out of strange, narrow hallways, around still more
until we at last came to what I had suspected existed only lore:
Frank Gehry, kiss my ass.
It is not “fun” to be disoriented every time I step into your
$274 million ego excretion. You know what you can do with your
“magic pencil.” And I look forward to the day there has to be an
emergency evacuation in that auditorium. The lawsuit potential
But yes, the acoustics
are superb. (No thanks to Frank.)
At last we were perched
and comfortable, awaiting the annual return of Zubin Mehta for
an L.A. Phil program of Webern, Bartok, Beethoven. Nothing to do
now but immerse ourselves in sound sculpture, and let the notes
have their therapeutic way with our battered synapses. Right?
Ah, you forget. I am
Rense. You never, never want to sit near me in a concert
hall, or stand near me in a line. Anywhere. Ever. If you do the
latter, be assured that you have chosen the line that will take
longer than any other due to: computer failure, vomiting babies,
bad credit cards, hurricanes, kidney stones. If you do the
former, you might “enjoy” the company of a chubby,
perfume-drenched young woman who conducts and sings throughout
the concert, a gaggle of Russian women who blabber through operas,
an elderly gentleman with uncontrollable flatulence (until, that
is, I turned to him and said, "Stop farting!")---
Or the 30-ish specimen of
L.A. humanity sitting next to us on this evening.
He and his swarthy
boyfriend sat down at the last minute, just before the downbeat,
in a cloud of alcohol, jalapenos, and digesting meat. I mean it.
Every time Cool Boy opened his mouth, the air for a good fifteen
feet in any direction was absolutely polluted. He and his mate
had obviously just ingested drinks and delicacies in the Dizzy
café downstairs, and were exuding the consequences. A little gut
Memo to Dizzy Hell chefs:
hold the garlic.
I’ve smelled better
homeless people. I mean this might as well have been
rotting baloney and Ripple, folks. With a touch of sweat.
Gastric juices are the great class equalizer.
“I think you’re in our
seats, but I don’t mind!” Cool Boy had sung out to Annie upon
arrival, shocking her with both statement and fumes. Huh?
Thankfully, the orchestra’s
confident, assertive reading of Webern’s roiling
“Passacaglia” shut him up. But it did not stop him from
breathing, sad to say. It’s very bad for auditory senses to have
to compete with olfactory. Perfume can be distracting enough.
But in this case, Webern just stunk. It was a synethesiac’s
nightmare. Strangely menacing Webern horns teamed with eau d’seared ahi tuna and stomach acid. Bold timpani flourishes
needed fumigation. The orchestra performed splendidly, almost
swaggeringly, the music was engrossing, but our immediate
atmosphere was gross. And when it ended:
“Is Dudamel conducting?”
I swear that Death Breath
really asked this. Just blurted it at Annie. Stack of Bibles.
“Yes, you total fucking
idiot,” I said. “He’s aged 40 years and become a Parsi from
Well, actually, I didn’t.
But I should have.
Instead of replying, "I'm
sorry, have we been introduced?", Annie patiently explained
that the celebrated young Gustavo had not appeared, and would
not appear on this concert, and would not, in fact, return to
the Phil until April. Caving in to my old fatal instinct of
“trying to be nice,” I mentioned to Breath Poison that Dudamel
would be appearing more frequently with the orchestra in coming
years. Annie added that he also has a “European gig,” at which
point the guy, quite amazingly, ticked off Dudamel’s various
currently held positions.
Ah, evidently a fan.
He had come not for
the music, you see, but for Gustavo Electrico!, as
the ad campaign goes, obviously enticed by the citywide banners
showing Dudamel apparently in the throes of quadruple orgasm.
Somehow, he had been unable to distinguish between a 28-year-old
Venezuelan and a silver-haired 74-year-old from India. Not that
it would matter to the L.A. Phil management.
After the second movement
of the incomprehensibly difficult, unpredictable, angular,
jagged rhythms of the Bartok Second Piano Concerto, while Mehta
and pianist Yefim Bronfman (who made the almost anti-musical
manic keyboard runs sound easy) paused to wipe foreheads, Death
Breath burst forth anew, and P.U.
“Why didn’t they
applaud?” he ejaculated (so to speak.) “I thought that was worth
applauding for! Didn’t you? Why didn’t they applaud? People
I sensed that he was thisclose to just launching a
one-man cheering section, there in the silent hall.
“You generally wait until
the entire piece finishes before applauding,” whispered Annie,
whose facial tension told me that she would rather be cleaning
out one of our cat boxes than conversing further with this feral
specimen of monied, cool demographic.
And so we sat, choking on
air thick with the digestive gases of this twittering (lower
case “t,” but I’m sure upper case also applies) jackass. And
when the piece ended, of course, he brayed.
“That was great! I
thought that was great! Did you like that?” he said to Annie,
beaming, applauding madly, like he’d just discovered how. “That
And then came the
requisite cry of the modern cretin:
I’m no scholar, but I
think it is safe to say that this guy understood the Bartok
every bit as deeply as a collie enjoys Shakespeare. No matter.
This is the kind of audience member that L.A. Phil Director
Deborah Borda is aiming for: young, trendoid, musically ignorant
dorks with disposable income to spend at cool Disney Hall
watching cool Gustavo Electrico conduct some cool
music. Mercifully for us, he got up to cool his heels at
Now, I didn’t mention the
people on the other side of us, because by contrast, they
comported themselves with all the grace of courtiers at
Buckingham Palace. It’s true they talked during the music---but
frankly, talking during Bartok doesn’t bother me, as I can
rarely appreciate his work, anyhow. Plus the male of the duo was wearing a
leather jacket, which made squeegee noises whenever he shifted
in his seat, which was about every thirty seconds. But this was
atmospheric ambrosia in contrast with the idiot child on the
other side. Found music, even.
We also got up, a few
minutes after the Digestion Monster left, and wandered
outside into the garden area, which, though it is accessible
only from the concert hall, has ushers at the doors
requiring returning patrons to show their goddamn tickets to get
back inside. (Nice touch, Deborah!) I thought there might be
some fresh air out there, but of course, was quickly disabused
of this notion by insidious plumes of suffocating cigarette
smoke and lavishly attired women sneezing out flu virus without
bothering to cover their honkers.
Once back in terrace
west, why, it turned out that we actually had been in the
wrong seats! By one. So we moved over, which put us a precious
extra three or four feet away from Death Breath, who was
returning with his giggling partner, apparently freshly
lubricated (so to speak.) Again, the air filled with his unique
alimentary funk, tinged with some more alcohol, heated with new
sweat. I wound up talking to Leather Jacket, who turned out to
be a hell of a nice guy and a member of the medical faculty at
USC. We discussed the size of the orchestra, and whether Zubin
had beefed up the strings beyond Beethoven’s specifications for
the “Eroica,” which enabled me to tune out Borda’s dream
ticketholder. He was nattering on about Dudamel to Annie again,
but I was startled to hear him almost yell out---I mean
yell---just as Mehta took the podium to give the downbeat:
“Did Zubin Mehta used to
conduct the L.A. Philharmonic?”
Yes, a good time to begin
a conversation, let alone display ignorance. In a hushed concert hall, just before the first
two stunning chords of the “Eroica.” To quote Bugs Bunny:
“What a maroon.”
Annie nodded and I put my
hand up to signal something along the lines of: shut up right
away or I will pick you up and throw you over the railing with
the hope that you might wind up impaled on a contrabassoon.
Well, Zubin guided the
orchestra through a just-the-facts-ma’am rendering of the
Beethoven third symphony, which was a bit of a contrast from the
days when he might have produced an enormous, brooding, often
very loud tone poem-y rendition. I wondered if he was bored, or
had done the old “mellowing with age” trick that so many seem to
do. (Hope I might manage it, one day.) It was bread-and-butter
Beethoven, no surprises, no excess spin, no spin at all, really,
and not a lot of sustained dramatic tension. Lyrical,
rendered with love and extroversion by the orchestra, but when
it was over, I noticed that my socks hadn’t moved.
Not the case with Death
Breath. He was doing the Deborah Borda Two-Step, which is to
say, the automatic standing ovation. On his toesies, sphincter
tight, clapping like an excited schoolgirl, and yes, of course,
do I even have to add, is it remotely necessary to say. . .
Doing the “WHEWWWWWWW!”
thing as if he was in the audience for Ellen DeGeneres.
And yes, I would bet my
cats that his grasp of Beethoven, and this symphony, let alone
the performance, was every bit as thorough as Larry King’s grasp
of quantum physics. But then, everything is cool now. No
analysis of anything is required.
Said Annie, sotto voce:
“He is exactly the
demographic type that Borda wants. This is what they want in
the hall now. Not you and me. Not polite old fogeys who actually
appreciate the music.”
“It’s more of the
pervasive dumbing down of culture, assassination of
civilization, in the guise of making everything more
Death Breath turned to
“Nice meeting you!” he
I swear. He really did.
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