by RIP RENSE
First of a six-part series about my trip to
Seattle this past August to see Wagner's "Der Ring des
Nibelungen" performed by Seattle Opera.
LUGNUTS FROM LOGE.
(Dec. 9, 2009)
I spent many years flying to the Orient and
lost my taste for extra leg room long ago. Plus I am not exactly
confident in my luck, generally speaking. Add to that all the
horror stories of air travel today, and it takes a lot to get me
on a plane. A lot, as in Wagner’s “Der Ring Des Nibelungen,” as
staged by Seattle Opera every four years.
No, I’m not a “Ringhead”---those who
travel the world in search
of “Rings” (where do they get their Rhinegold?)---but I am
elated to see these operas staged more or less as composer
Richard Wagner directed. Which is to say, literally---where Valkyries do not look like lesbian junky bikers, and Nibelungen
do not suggest the incarcerated of WWII concentration camps.
Thank you, Seattle Opera director
I’m one of those dullards who likes
forests to look like
forests, as opposed to abstract, austere light projections of
Bayreuth in the ‘50’s---certainly as opposed to Achim Freyer’s
L.A. Opera “Ring,” where everything takes place on a gigantic
Lazy Susan, and the action resembles an Alzheimer’s era Timothy
Leary fever-dream. And as opposed to crackpots who are turning
paratroopers in the Washington D.C.
Opera "American Ring," or those who would cast Donner, the god of thunder, as a baseball player wielding a
Louisville Slugger instead of a hammer-of-the-gods. (Yes,
someone has actually done this.)
So I took my shoes off for Homeland Security, obeyed orders to
remove the foil-wrapped antacids from my pockets so as not to
trip the metal detectors, stepped aboard one of those little 737
winged buses, chewed the complimentary peanuts, read the New
York Times, and looked out the window.
It was really, really good to get away.
I mean, it was good just to get 37,000 feet up and away. I
confess to having been rather battered recently, first by a
shoulder injury that landed me in the ER (where I regained a
slight amount of faith in humanity, courtesy of noble
paramedics, nurses, cops), and then by a very tenacious virus
that really, really liked my bronchial tubes, and environs. And
did I mention the acid-fried stomach lining? Well, skip that.
Anyhow, on top of all this, the week before departure was taken up
with much melodrama over a rescued kitten (I’ll tell you that
story when we meet for a long lunch, if you really insist), and
then this old friend began behaving like a new enemy, and, oh
hell, the truth is that I was a wreck. Still am, but at least I
was a wreck on vacation.
So I floated above California, Oregon, Washington, courtesy of
Southwest and Air Xanax. Hey, all the best people do. And I
thought a bit, fragmented thoughts coupled with occasional
hypnogogic hallucinations as I half-dozed, and some of my
thoughts were about Mikal Gilmore’s
Rolling Stone piece on the
Beatles’ break-up, which was in my lap, and some were about
Wagner and the “Ring.”
Both the Beatles and the “Ring” came into my life at roughly the
same time, circa 1964. My old man used to crank up “Ring”
highlights on our ahead-of-its-time monster stereo, and explain
the stories to me, explain Wagner’s
leitmotivs, leaving my ten
or eleven-year-old brain imprinted with Valhalla and
Maiden themes like a raccoon on the grill of a’56 Buick. The
whites showed all around my eyes (probably) as I listened to Fafnir the giant kill his brother, Fasolt (the astounding
bam-bam-bam of the Solti recording, of course), and as
hammer-wielding Donner summed the thunderclap to end all
thunderclaps (which used to drive our dog slinking from the
room, ears and tail down.)
Then, around the same period, came that Really Big Shew and
those four Beatle fellows. I liked them well enough---more than
I realized---but I was mostly baffled as to why “the girls” went
berserk at the mention of their names, and the sight of their
bouncing locks. Although “Twist and Shout,” which was played on
the school bus via microphone stuck up against a transistor
radio (nice bus driver), gave me goose bumps.
Now I’m nearly 100 years old (well, closer to it than my
childhood), and Wagner and The Beatles still, to paraphrase
Paul’s reference too Ringo’s drums in “A Hard Day’s Night,” loom
large in my legend. Der Ringo des Nibelungen.
So my eyes were closed, and car-infested
hazily below, and I was thinking about how
Lennon the outsized
Lennon the cripplingly insecure,
capricious and mercurial egomaniac, gave the Beatles such
brilliance---and took it all away in the end. Really bringing
about Gotterbeatlerung. Beatledamerung. Twilight of the Fabs.
And how much better the “Let it Be” and “Abbey Road” albums
might have been had Lennon been more committed to the group at
that point. . .I heard his voice in my head. . . “One and one
and one is three. . .” Three Beatles Vs. McCartney, that’s what
it was in the end, driving their old bandmate/music
director/facile melodist away. . .So said Gilmore in the article
in my lap, and I think he’s right. Yoko and Paul are forever
blamed for the break-up, but it was John who told the others
that he was leaving the band.
Still, anything as
magnificent, powerful, ambitious, magical as The Beatles
was doomed as the gods of "The Ring."
I opened my eyes to volcanoes.
Mt. St. Helens lay below, peeking (peaking?) through clouds that
looked like cotton balls. And then the astonishing
snow-adorned in August. Colossuses as dramatic as Wagner
Valhalla, fortresses in the clouds, where gods
might have dwelled in castles built by giants, to be sure. And I
had a vantage point Wotan the god-king might have envied, or the
Valkyries, riding back to the heavens with fallen warriors on
their horses. Small wonder, when I got to Seattle Opera, the
poster showing Valhalla looked exactly like. . .Rainier.
Somehow, as happens so casually countless times a day the world
over, the plane fell out of the sky and set down easily on the
ground. Another twenty minutes and I was waiting in an
underground garage for a shuttle, when an old fellow appeared in
front of me. He wore a quasi-official outfit and cap, a trim
white moustache, and a practiced twinkle in the eye.
“So,” he said to me. “Want to hear how I lost my lugnuts?”
Now, when you’re on Xanax, and feel as though Muhammad Ali and
Joe Frazier had given your psyche a
Thrilla in Manilla of late,
you don’t bat an eye at things like this. And I didn’t.
“Well, see, I was driving up the highway, and got a flat tire. I
took the tire off---you know, removed all four lugnuts---and had
them inside the hubcap, when a truck blasted its horn. Scared
the pants near right off me! And up into the air went the
lugnuts, scattering all over the place. Couldn’t find ‘em!”
I smiled. What else should I do?
“So I noticed I was next to an insane asylum, and--- “
Now, I should note, I guess, that strangers do generally just
talk to me, and always have, all my life. But in this case, the
gentleman actually seemed to work for the shuttle service, and
had taken it upon himself, apparently, to throw in a little. .
.entertainment. At least he was certainly entertained.
“And this, I guess you’d call him an inmate, came up to me and
asked what was the matter. I told him, ‘I lost my
Well, he looked at my changed tire, with no lugnuts, scratched
his chin, and then said, ‘Well, why don’t you take one lugnut
off of each of the other tires, then each tire will have three,
and that should be enough to get you to a garage."
“Well,” said the old guy, “I was shocked. So I turned to him,
and said, ‘Now that’s really smart. Why didn’t I think of that?
And if you’re so smart, why are you in an insane asylum?”
At this point, I had tentatively concluded that I was going to
spend quite a while in the Seattle Airport parking garage,
possibly years, listening to this joke. To my great surprise, I
was proven wrong.
“Well, the inmate looked at me, and said, ‘I might be crazy, but
I’m not STUPID!”
I confess that I laughed, both because I enjoy genuinely inane
jokes, and because I wanted him to be happy.
after all, obviously sent by
Loge, the god of fire and mischief,
and you just don't mess with Loge.
next week: grinders, Rhinegold, and Achmed Abeboogiewoogie.
REVIEWS: SEATTLE RING CYCLE:
Seattle Opera Revives its "Green" Ring Cycle
Seattle Ring's Triumphant Finale
Seattle Humanizes Wagner's Ring
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