July 15th, 2005

operesque

Avant-grandparents

You carry your avant-grandparents inside you wherever you go. You carry them around inside you as voices you find yourself mimicking. It may well be against your will. It may even be your own "real" voice, but your avant-grandparents got there first. People hear you talking, people who knew your avant-parents and your avant-grandparents before that, and hear them. It makes you "cute", as cute as The Strokes. It makes you reassuring, reassuringly unoriginal. You fit a pre-cut hole. Hey, you sound just like grumpy grandpa Lou!

Lou's "up to Lexington, 125, feeling sick and dirty, more dead than alive" popped into my head, as it always does, when I found myself on Lexington Avenue yesterday. I also caught myself earlier in the day sounding remarkably like Laurie Anderson in my art show, with an 80s string machine loop backing a narrative about Hummers, recited in the glazed-appalled schizo-mesmer sprechgesang style Laurie has made her own over the years. And I've been doing the "prematurely air-conditioned supermarket" piece from Robert Wilson and Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach, adding the twist that someone on the beach is listening to it on an iPod.



How appropriate, then, that a certain C. Depp, who's working on Robert Wilson's archives, would kindly give Mai and I tickets to see Wilson's new epic, I La Galigo at the Lincoln Center. The piece, three hours long, was inspired by the Galigo Manuscript, a sacred epic poem of the Bugis people of South Sulawesi in the Indonesian archipelago.

Unfortunately, I La Galigo was like the school play from hell, a three hour yawnfest of frigid tableaux, depoliticized Piscator, pastel lighting, costumes apparently bought from Saks 5th Avenue, tepid humanism, slow-mo tai chi, fake, neutered ethnic music, the mannerism but not the viciousness of Peter Greenaway, and animal scenes worthy of "The Lion King". The plot (projected in supertitles above the stage) constrained the gesture, everything worked to diminish everything else, the cast of thousands felt like nobody was on stage at all, and I felt a curious absence of any guiding theatrical intelligence whatsoever. It was like some tourist folk dance spectacular staged at the Hilton Hotel, Jakarta.

The audience at the Lincoln Center—average age 60—seemed to love the piece, though, giving it a standing ovation at the end. The elderly Jewish couple in front of me were typical. The man fell quickly asleep, which was fine, he wasn't snoring. I kind of envied him. But his wife insisted on waving her hand in front of his eyes and talking to him continuously to wake him up. "You're missing it!" she hissed. "I'll wake up when important bits of plot are happening", he grunted. "You missed important bits of plot already," she said, lying through her teeth, since for the last ten minutes all that had happened was that people had walked very slowly across the stage, gradually rotating their hands.

A couple of balconies down from us sat Shazna and her friend Claudia. In front of them were Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, pals of Robert Wilson. Shazna tells me that Lou slept through most of the play, while Laurie watched with a fixed, blissful smile. Mai and I ran into them on the sidewalk outside as we headed towards the subway. Lou was wearing long shorts and a faded Hawaiian shirt, small steel-rimmed spectacles. They'd left the Lincoln Center but were returning against the crowd, as if they'd just realised they'd left something under the seat. Lou glanced at my eyepatch and I recognised him, shocked to see how frail, silver-haired and dithery he looked, like a Floridian retiree. Laurie walked close behind, blurry-faced, unexpectedly tiny. They looked like your avant-grandparents from the countryside, frazzled by the big city.

PS: Just a reminder that your very own avant-grandfather Momus plays Tonic tonight between 8pm and midnight, joined by Rusty Santos and the Billy Nayer Show. Also, uberdionysus has a page of drawings, photos and descriptions of his trip to "I'll Speak, You Sing" here.