The Blog

| November 3, 2018

Number 268


Are "Appalachian Spring" by Martha Graham  and "You Can’t Hurry Love" by The Supremes the same story?  Discuss.

We’ve had a weekend of Culture. Capital C. Friday was the ballet, Saturday was an art house movie about Colette starring Kiera Knightly, who is always and ever, everything you want someone named Kiera to be. And Sunday was the opera – I know, right?

But here’s the thing. It also sounds very highbrow and fancy and, in its way, it is, BUT…and it’s a firm but…and a big but…it’s all what the available culture of the time had to work with. And all of it was marinated in shock value, and carefully staged to entice and entertain and, to borrow an overly used word right now, be a disruptor to the culture. I hate the newly co-opted word disruptor. It bugs the hell out of me actually, because anything and everything worth their salt have been disruptors. Socrates was a disruptor, Michelangelo was a disruptor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a disruptor, Cher is a disruptor, so let’s get over that. “Disruptor” equals creatively or intellectually talented. Simple as that.

And then, add to that the idea that there are no new ideas, only reenvisionings of the same basic ideas – Love, Hate, Fear, Sorrow, Joy, Inspiration – which brings me back to my point.

At the ballet, we saw Appalachian Spring by Martha Graham, Aaron Copeland and sets by Isamu Noguchi. Truly memorable, ultimately odd. So here you have this wonderfully abstracted woman named Martha who calls up her good buddy Aaron, the outwardly closeted but inwardly free-form genius, and says basically, “Aaron, I have an idea for a dance piece about choices made, choices pondered, choices lost, happiness vs insecurity somewhere in the midwest, but the sets look like Star Trek meets Salvador Dali – I’ll call Noguchi, he’ll take care of it – and there’s a diabolical Yul Brynner kind of preacher (Translation: Johnny Depp), and a Sandra Dee (Translation: Mandy Moore) kind of bride, and a hunky husband, second tier, like Cameron Mitchell (translation: Channing Tatum) and a couple of others, I haven’t figured them out yet, but you get the idea. Epic storytelling. Very Greek but very American. See what you hear.”

Sorry. Writing break. Gimme Some Lovin’ by The Spencer Davis Group just came on. Concentration is not possible. Back in a minute.

Okay, we’re back. So, as I was saying, here’s this remarkably peculiar thing in front of you that feels odd and sometimes silly but always engaging (and would that we all knew more people that fit that description) and I’m thinking, “What’s it about, again? Is the bride happy or afraid of her future and what she hasn’t yet lived? Is the husband angry and scared that he’s maybe not up to the role of breadwinner and head of this or any house? Is the preacher man, having his Dior New Look moment in that coat with the flair, good? Evil? Both at the same time? Representing god or the devil or you and me or just the snake? And those other characters – the Greek chorus, as it were, or maybe the soap opera chorus…either way…

Anyway, time past and the ballet was over and it was wonderful and memorable and danced by young beautiful people who, now that I’m not their same age, I realize carry with them an inevitable sadness as well as bravado, since we now know their career window is about ten to fifteen years tops. And they didn’t choose this. It chose them. As is true with so many of life’s most concrete defining moments.

So, we come home and what is the first song we hear when we turn on our trusted Sonos but You Can’t Hurry Love by Holland–Dozier–Holland and performed by The Supremes, which I love for too many reasons, all tied to being a teenager and “of a time.” And then it hits me that the song and the ballet are telling the same story, each in the language of their moment.

“Love don’t come easy. It’s a game of give and take.” Amen to that, sister.

Am I right? It’s all the same, yet so very different. And that’s where the art comes in.

There are no new ideas. Only fresh versionings that speak to the right audience at the right time. And nothing is simpler or more complicated than trying to understand love. So, abstract it into beautiful geometric shapes or flow it forward with a Motown beat. But make it your own and, hopefully, make it art – an unforgettable, haunting thing.

And isn’t that what culture is? Isn’t that what art is? Isn’t that what life is? Not so fancy. Not at all. In reality, pretty basic.

But, the ability to see it, the ability to hear it, the ability to create a version that is unforgettable and evokes not just an emotion, but also a time – thatis very fancy indeed and thatis a gift to the creator and their audience.

My dream goal in life is to create an ideal thing – a moment, a painting, a collection of words, a vision – that is uncompromising, honest, naked and true. Something that creates a moment for someone else. Something that echoes through people. It must be a remarkable feeling.

We’ve had a weekend of Culture, in its truest form. And isn’t that a wonderful thing?


The only sin is mediocrity.
– Martha Graham

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