Randy Kaplan Will Not Be Seeing a Chubby Vince Neil in Concert [FIERCE ANTICIPATION]


The Difficulty of Crossing a Field – Long Beach Opera

I’ve seen a hundred-someard operas. Some were great, some were mediocre (or became mediocre in the hands of mediocre direction and/or design), and many were awful. I left the recent Long Beach Opera production of Moscow, Cherry Town at intermission vowing to stick to Shostakovich’s string quartets and symphonies. True, LBO budgets preclude those epiphanic experiences available at the Metropolitan Opera in New York where just the curtain rising on any Zeffirelli production is enough to fill you with awe and appreciation. But, to be fair, I’ve also walked out on my share of Metropolitan Opera productions – the most recent being John Adams’s Doctor Atomic. It stunk; but the clincher was that the Jets were playing the Patriots that night and it was on TV at O’Neals’ across the street. So, the search for the great American opera is still on, as it is for the great American novel (Huckleberry Finn falls apart at the end and I can’t seem to get a consensus on Philip Roth’s audaciously titled baseball book, The Great American Novel.)

This month, Artistic and General Director Andreas Mitisek’s semi-experimental opera company presents the short David Lang piece, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, written in the early aughts of this century. Lang is a co-founder of the Bang on a Can contemporary music festival in New York which has presented iconoclastic composers and performers such as Arnold Dreyblatt (whose 20-note octave is based on nature’s overtone series), Michael Gordon, Evan Ziporyn, Steve Reich, et al. Interesting company Lang keeps.

I have high hopes for The Difficulty of Crossing a Field in which Lang supposedly combines opera with other theatrical techniques. Field is based on the Ambrose Bierce story in which a planter in the pre-Civil War South disappears out of existence whilst walking across his field. Every witness has a different explanation and account of the events, like in the classic (and my favorite) Kurasawa film, Rashomon, whose screenplay was based on a Japanese story itself adapted from a Bierce piece. This quantum-edged conceit of inter-subjectivity just might make for a stimulating afternoon, if not the fulfillment of a life-long search for America’s Gesamtkunstwerk. Well, not a full afternoon. The production is only an hour and fifteen minutes in duration without an intermission. According to the LA Times, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field “is a major contribution to American musical theater” and an “astonishing work (that) must not be allowed to vanish into thin air.” I hope it’s great, or at least good enough to prevent me from vanishing into thin air before its conclusion. There are three upcoming performances: 6/15 at 7:30 p.m. and 6/18 at 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.


NHL Stanley Cup Finals: Vancouver Canucks vs. Boston Bruins

If the New York Islanders were in the finals I’d be clearing my schedule, stocking up on beer, and placing this in the “Fiercely Anticipating” category. I was enamored of the team from my native peat in the late 70s and early 80s; my grandfather had season tickets and brought me regularly to games. My interest eventually waned but, after a decades-long respite, suddenly and mysteriously waxed a few games into this past season. As if under a spell, I found myself ordering DirecTV’s Center Ice package so that I could watch every Islander game for the duration of the year. As soon as my order was processed the Isles embarked on a twenty-game losing streak. Needless to say, they didn’t make the playoffs. The Canuck’s Swedish Sedin brothers, on the other hand, have solved every goaltender they’ve faced this year, leading the Canucks to the finals and logging the most goals scored by any NHL team this season in the process. Hockey is outright Wagnerian; the players skate like Valkyries and beat each other’s brains in like Fafner and Fasolt. There’s no curtain that rises on the opening face-off but the pageantry of a hockey game is akin to that of an opera house. Even the sounds of the game are epic: sharpened steel blades shaving ice as players skid to a stop, wood or aluminum sticks bombarding vulcanized rubber pucks, sending them hurling through space faster than any fastball ever pitched.

The Canucks have never won the Stanley Cup. Their first trip to the finals was in 1980 where they were unceremoniously dispatched, swept in fact, by Al Arbour’s great NY Islanders who were in the process of cementing their 80s dynasty with their third of four Stanley Cup championships in a row. The Canucks were back in the finals in 1994 but were defeated by the New York Rangers in seven games. The last time the Bruins won the Stanley Cup was in 1972 when Bobby Orr scored the winning goal in game 6 against the New York Rangers. They’ve lost in the finals five time since then. So, a lot is at stake here. And if games one and two of this series are any indication, we’re in for a great and competitive one, maybe even a seven-gamer. We’ll get to see Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara unleash his 105 m.p.h. slap shot at Roberto Luongo, nicknamed “The Brick Wall” for his stingy play. Chara hits the puck so hard you can’t even locate it without Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

If you’re not a sports fan, tune in and listen to Doc Emrick’s play-by-play in the manner that Billy Collins reads the bridge column in his local paper – for pure pleasure of language. You’ll hear him mention Johnny Boychuk a lot. “Boychuk somehow keeps his back skate on the blue line.” “Held and given across to Boychuk.” “Boychuk plays the angle.” “Boychuck deflects it back to Chara.” “Boychuk” might sound like “Boychick” to you in which case you can imagine that you’re listening to a madman narrating a Saul Bellow novel. As Loudon Wainwright III sings in his song “Dump the Dog” – “Baseball’s fine, football’s rougher, basketballers are all tall. But I like hockey, hockey’s tougher. You must play without a ball.” Unless there’s a series sweep game five is tonight (6/10). Game six (if necessary) is on 6/13 and game 7 (I hope it’s necessary) is on 6/15.


Mötley Crüe at the Hollywood Bowl

I LOVE Mötley Crüe’s first record, Too Fast For Love, from 1981. I listened to it in cassette form in its entirety many times in the good old 1980s. I hadn’t heard it in decades so I downloaded it the other day and listened to it on my iPad while hiking with my dog. The hard-to-admit thing is, I still totally relate to the juvenile and adolescent sentiments of every song: I still consider myself a “live wire,” I’m still “young and running free and a little bit better than I used to be” (well, young by today’s standards. By the standards of the 18th century I’m a wizened elder), and I certainly can’t count the times I’ve “laid awake at night thinking, ‘Am I going down now?’”

The band consists of founders Nikki Sixx on the bass guitar and Tommy Lee on the drums; rounding out the roster are Mick Mars, the guitarist from Newfoundland, and teen-age-girl-hysteria-causing-but-now-chubby Vince Neil. Neil is over-the-top, a bit like Liza Minelli, with whom he has more in common than the fact that they’ve both performed at The Hollywood Bowl. In the song “Come On and Dance,” for example, he slurs the word “dance” in a lispy, campy, Lizaey way. “You should have seen her djeeance.” I love it. On side one of Too Fast for Love the cowbell is as ubiquitous as the word ‘ubiquitous’ is in a color commentary call by Clyde Frazier, without being obtrusive. There is also bold and prodigious use of the phaser pedal, even on the drum kit. You can even view the gratuitous umlauts (some call them rock dots) in Mötley Crüe’s name as ironic if that will make you feel better.

So, after all this gushing, why wouldn’t I go if you paid me? One of my many credos is that I will only listen to rock music under aurally controlled circumstances, i.e. on my iPod or on my car stereo or at home, where I determine the volume. Remember, I like unamplified opera; the loudest sound I’m comfortable with is that of a Pittsburgh Penguin being hip checked into the glass by Zenon Konopka. I don’t want to be in the presence of any percussion waves that would redline Herman Helmholtz’s equipment. So, if you don’t mind paying through the nose for a ticket and wearing earplugs or getting tinnitus, go ahead and attend. I’ll be at the opera house. There are certainly those who aver that Mozart wouldn’t be in the opera and symphony business if he were here now. He’d be doing something cutting edge, filling the Hollywood Bowl, maybe fronting a rock band. I say he’d be making modern Gesamtkunstwerks as good as his masterpiece Don Giovanni. But, you never know, modernity can break a man. Mötley Crüe will appear on June 14 at The Hollywood Bowl.