Tuesday, November 27, 2007

a delicious taste of the Big Apple; moving; Dot Rama's big lesson

Going to try to catch up on several topics at once here...it's been a busy couple of weeks!

#1. We spent this past weekend -- our anniversary weekend in New York. Our seventeenth anniversary celebrated in the Big Apple. I think I want to move there forever I love it so much! (although I would get very tired of all those millions of people going the same places I want to go every day! i'm pretty religious about my personal space.)

Confession. I love to read those travel books with the suggested day trip itineraries. When Brian surprised me with the hotel reservations for our anniversary (which he had intended to keep a big surprise, but I've been pretty grumpy lately - actually downright depressed -- and he thought planning for our get-away might cheer me up. He was right. I almost memorized Frommer's New York City 2008.)For anyone else obsessed with travel, here's the itinerary I put together for us.

After checking into our hotel on the corner of 39th Street and the Avenue of the Americas, we walked two blocks to the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. We walked through Bryant Park which was full of twinkly lights and small boutiques (picture an upscale flea market) and an ice rink with lines of people waiting to skate. We only had a half hour to tour the library and I spent almost every second gasping at the beauty of the building -- stone, marble, wood, painted murals, books, oh my!
After the library security kicked us out because they were trying to close, we walked a few more blocks to Grand Central Station on 42nd and Park -- another grand structure I had never been in before. I'll admit (somewhat sheepishly) that I was somewhat disappointed with the mural of the constellations painted on the ceiling. I'm not sure why because I love the concept so much. The rest of the building was more elegant than I had imagined. We had dinner reservations at Michael Jordan's Steak House on the balcony overlooking the main terminal. This was quite a splurge for us...but 17 years is no easy feat and well deserving of a great steak dinner. It was probably the best steak either one of us has ever had, too.
Walking back to the hotel (through Bryant Park again) in the crisp air was an excellent remedy for our very full stomachs. Across the street from Bryant park (it must have been 41st?) we stopped into a small, friendly bakery to buy some hot coffee and tea and a package of organic shortbread cookies. I wish I could remember the name of the bakery...the cookies were delicious and a perfect companion to the hot beverages. (not that we needed more food, by any means!)

After eating a decent complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we took a cab uptown to West 80th street. We wanted to attend a church called All Angel's Church that we had heard about online, but we did not know the exact address. The cab dropped us off at West 80th and Columbus and we began to ask a variety of New Yorkers if they knew where the church was. Although we were on the same street as the church, no one could tell us where it was. It was a crisp sunny morning so we hoofed it all the way to the other end of the street (almost to Riverside Park) until we found the church. This was my first experience in an Episcopal church service and it was a very meaningful experience. As many of you know I've been studying the history of the liturgical service and the church calendar and this experience was like icing on the cake. The church was small and friendly and enthusiastic. I was moved to tears during the Eucharist...something so moving participating in the Lord's Supper that way.
Walking out of the church into the upper west side residential area was so much fun. I felt like we were walking on the set of You've Got Mail! I found myself fighting the urge to buy a bouquet of fresh flowers from the corner store (which happened to be what looked like an amazing deli; however, no fresh flowers in sight).
We walked about 10 blocks down Central Park West to the building where John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived (Yoko still does) and where Lennon was shot in 1980. The Dakota was built in 1980 and features gables and dormers and is aptly described in Frommer's as having a 'brooding appeal.'
We crossed the street to Central Park and purchased hot dogs from a vendor cart. After eating on a park bench outside of Strawberry Fields (next to a mosaic memorial to Lennon -- "Imagine"), we strolled across the park to the upper east side. The day was just perfect for walking and many, many other people had the same idea! Central Park is full of surprises and even though we make it a point to go into the Park every time we go to the City I still feel like I've barely seen any of it!
Up Central Park East to the Met! It has been over 10 years since I've been to this museum and that was with my five year old son so we really wanted to dedicate several hours to exploring this humongous collection of art. Brian earns a million gold stars for this because, while he is interested in some of the history, he would not list this place on his Top Ten places to visit in NYC. The combination of being tired from all of our walking and the absolutely overwhelming nature of this magnificent building, I found I had to sit down with a map and a Diet Coke to figure out how we should spend our time.
More true confessions. I love Art. I love museums. I love art history. I love NYC. I decided I do not love the Met. Shhhhh...please don't tell anyone! Maybe it was more that the place was so crowded -- especially the Rembrandt exhibit I very much wanted to see. Maybe it's the static nature of the many, many rooms of portraits we studied diligently. Somehow, it was not ringing my bell! The best part was the gorgeous European sculpture hall -- just amazing. I found myself wondering if part of our culture's gender confusion may have something to do with our prude attitudes toward nudity in art. (i guess that is a subject for another day...but it would be a good one! There is a glory revealed in the imago dei when it is crafted respectfully and excellently in art. I really think we've missed something here, but I'll stop for now.)
OK -- so by 4pm, we were plum tuckered out! We had intended to stop in a hotel bar on the upper east side, but upon entrance realized we were severely underdressed so we hailed a cab back for our hotel.
After resting our feet we took a subway to Union Square for dinner that is more 'us' -- a beer and burger joint. Pete's Tavern boasts it is the longest continually operating bar and restaurant in New York City. After opening its doors in 1864 (!), they managed to even make it through the Prohibition by masking the building as a flower shop (although they never removed the original rosewood bar so I'm guessing local officials were enjoying that 'florist' personally!) The tavern has shown up on several televison shows -- including Law and Order and Seinfeld -- and movies. BUT, even more exciting than all of that, it is the bar that O. Henry favored and in booth #2, near the 18th street entrance, he sat night after night writing The Gift of the Magi (which happens to be one of my all-time personal favorite Christmas stories!). I literally start losing my breath just thinking about it!!

Anyway...the rest of the trip was sleeping in on Monday and doing some Christmas shopping on Fifth Avenue before heading home. Oh, yeah, we got the world's best caramel corn at Garrett's Caramel Corn, NYC on Fifth Ave. YUMMY!!!

I am so ready for the next trip. Next stop: Chinatown and Greenwich Village and the Museum of Biblical Art.

After almost two years of thinking and praying about moving closer to church, we've decided to test the waters. Getting the house ready to sell has been every bit of exhausting as we expected. We have a lot of peace, though, that God will meet every need and protect us from foolish decisions. We do have a house in Endicott that we liked a lot and, provided we sell this one soon, will purchase. In the meantime, there's this little holiday of Christmas, a son's 14th birthday and a daughter's 10th birthday to celebrate. Whew!

Check out my son's post about their gig last Friday night. I'm pretty proud of them and somewhat thankful they are getting to learn some of the harsh realities of pursuing a dream.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

from the journey of a blind woman: a discussion on Hallelujah (part three)

"It's a rather joyous song. I like very much the last verse. I remember singin' it to Bob Dylan after his last concert in Paris. The morning after, I was having coffee with him and we traded lyrics. Dylan especially liked this last verse, 'And even though it all went wrong/I stand before the Lord of song/With nothing on my lips but hallelujah.' "(Leonard Cohen, interview, Paroles et Musiques, 1985)

Question #3 (and the final question, thank goodness!), what the heck did Cohen mean when he wrote this song anyway? You know what I think? It matters. I think the process of trying to figure it out matters. I think that a piece of art that is spot-on obvious about everything it means, that leaves no mystery, no nooks and crannies to be discovered, does not contribute much to this world.

Having said that, I also really enjoyed getting to know the songwriter, Leonard Cohen, through this self-imposed assignment. He is, indeed, hard to pin down and at the same time very predictable. Of course, I can only know what his publicists allowed me to see. My friend Coleen encouraged me to email him directly, but I never got around to it. With all the research I still can not say (and am not sure I really want to) what this artist intended when he wrote Hallelujah.

But it does matter.

And, because it matters, here are some questions we could ask...

From what context does Cohen work?
Here's what I discovered about the artist himself. I imagine he is a man way more complex than this tiny list of information indicates, but hey, it's something!

common nicknames: "godfather of gloom"; "the poet laureate of pessimism"

married?: Never. He's "too frightened"

religious?: His maternal grandfather was a rabbi. He has explored a variety of religious practices, including and especially Buddhism.

"For most of my life I fought against a relentless depression that I didn't understand. I couldn't understand the origins of it and I didn't know how to shake it. So whether it was wine, women and song or a spiritual practice or pharmaceutical medication -- nothing seemed to make a dent in that. And, when I began seriously to practice in different religious disciplines I didn't enter into these practices with any exalted sense of achieving enlightenment...I was just trying to deal with this cloud that I couldn't shake." -- Cohen

Well, I'd say this guy is pretty gosh-darn authentic in his song-writing. Some of the comments in the first post discussing these song lyrics wondered if Cohen was angry with himself, with God, with women. We heard him in his lyrics...not just what he said, but also in-between the lines.

What did Cohen say about the song?

"It's a rather joyous song." (interview, Paroles et Musiques, 1985)

And, at a Warsaw concert in 1985, Leonard Cohen introduced the song with this statement: (after talking about the struggle the people were experiencing with their government) "I know that there is an eye that watches all of us. There is a judgment that weighs everything we do. And before this great force which is greater than any government, I stand in awe and I kneel in respect. and it is to this great judgment, that I dedicate this next song, Hallelujah."

In a magazine interview, "Hallelujah is a Hebrew word which means "Glory to the Lord." The song explains that many kinds of Hallelujahs do exist . I say : "All the perfect and broken Hallelujahs have an equal value ." It's, as I say, a desire to affirm my faith in life,not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm, with emotion."

In Montreux in 1985, "This is a song about the broken."

In Antwerp in 1988, "You know,I wrote this song a couple of..,it seems like yesterday but I guess it was five or six years ago and it had a chorus called Hallelujah. And it was a song that had references to the Bible in it,although these references became more and more remote as the song went from beginning to the end.And finally I understood that it was not necesary to refere to the Bible anymore.And I rewrote this song;this is the "secular" Hallelujah."

What do other artists (and their critics) say about the song?

For starters, a couple of statistics...
  • Between recorded and live versions, approximately 87 artists have covered the song.
  • The song has been performed in several languages, including Spanish, Danish and German.
  • The song has been included in over 30 movie and television soundtracks.
  • In 2004, Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah" was ranked #259 on Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time."

"It's not hard to see why [Allison] Crowe's Hallelujah -- recorded in a single take -- is popular. It's one of Leonard Cohen's most affecting songs, and the 26-year-old, accompanying herself on piano, makes it her own with raw honesty and formidable vocal power. It's simultaneously heart-breaking and redemptive, and it has captured the imaginations of thousands around the world."
~ Times Colonist (Canada)

Another interesting review of the song is found here.

Before his drowning death at age 30, Jeff Buckley recorded one album Grace. On the album he re-defined Cohen's song from a lush, fully orchestrated song into a far more poetic -- even prayerful -- version. This recording seemed to catapult the song's popularity more than any other recording. In fact, in the Unplugged episode that started this whole frenzy, Bon Jovi tells a story of hearing Buckley perform the song live. Before that time he had never heard the song.

And, in a fun turn of events, I was able to ask Lincoln Brewster over dinner why he had chosen to record the song. (wish you all could have been there...Brian had given me strict instructions to not ask Brewster's band fifty million questions. Naturally, this is the one I picked!) I was very surprised when all of Brewster's band reacted in surprise to my question. None of them had heard of either Jeff Buckley or Leonard Cohen. Of course, I had to help Lincoln out with their education.

In answer to my question, Lincoln told me that he had seen and heard the performance several times and had noticed the overwhelming response from the audience each time. He wondered what it would be like to bring the song into the church environment. He couldn't believe how simple it was to get permission from Cohen's people to rewrite the song. He then told his band they would listen to Buckley's performance in their ride back to Syracuse. I felt pretty satisfied that my work there was done. (between that conversation and the discussion I instigated about the drummer getting a drum solo)

...yes, but what does the song mean?

"The meaning of the song is left intentionally vague...Much of the song's success unquestionably stems from this internal ambiguity as it manages to be many things as one. Few songs pack quite as much emotional complexity into just a few verses." 

And here a moving blog post about the "cold and broken hallelujah" Jesus gave on the cross.

For myself, I am moved as much, if not more, by the transcendant quality of the composition of the melody and the poetry of the lyric as by any inherent meaning from the songwriter. It is this idea of a song, a piece of artwork, that moves beyond any rationale and human intention and digs roots down into a soul -- that gives words to our unspeakable longings and laments. I also can not move past the unspeakable grace behind the truth of the lyric, "And even though it all went wrong/I stand before the Lord of song/With nothing on my lips but hallelujah."
If I had a personal audience with artists, songwriters et al, who are also followers of Christ, I would plead with them to heed Cohen's definition of a good song:

"I think a good song has windows and doors that you can penetrate if you want to, but the song itself has to move swiftly from heart to heart."

I, for one, am deeply grateful for the fresh breezes of Goodness, Truth and Beauty that have blown through this song, past the wounds and brokenness of human artists, and have connected me to my Creator once again. Thanks for walking the journey with me. I hope my ramblings have enlightened our blind gropings just a little bit.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...