Wednesday, November 14, 2007

And He Keeps It Out of Sight

Last week I reunited with HK Gruber as he conducted the Zankel Band over at the Zankel Concert Hall at Carnegie. He was there as part of the Berlin in Lights Festival which has been sweeping all of New York's cultural institutions major to minor, including this blog page now. Gruber and the Zankel band were presenting the music of Weill and Eisler, composers near and dear to Gruber's heart.

A couple of weeks ago, in Indianapolis, he and Karen and I had sat down for a private dinner during which he spoke to us about all of the influences--personal, political and social--that went in to the composition of Frankenstein!!. While he spoke, I furiously doodled ideas and hung on his every, animated, passionate word. There has been something about Gruber that has stirred me at a deep and elemental level; I feel like I've connected with someone directly connected to the legacy of Brecht and Weill and the energy of Weimar Germany and he has allowed me, invited me and inspired me to play with these impulses that arise at the intersection of art, politics and a good German jazz tune.

That sounds lofty and I flinch a bit to write it. Not to mention that I've been frollicking in orchestral concert halls endowed with names like "Carnegie," a fact which slightly undermines certain aspects of the Workers-of-the-World-Unite nature of this excitement. But, thus has it always been in New York. Midtown's still tingling with the reverberating echoes of the showdown between Rockefeller and Rivera over the wall paintings--you can't always hear it because of the music coming from all of the Starbucks, but it's there. Besides, I really live below Astor Place in a corner of the Public Theater and I work for little more than a song.

Last night, Heidi (who's on her way to Broadway, assuming the strike gets settled by the end of the year) asked me what my next project was going to be and I looked at her and said I was just trying to absorb the last month. I've got a lot on my mind of late and all of it is good and inspiring and it reminds me of something Dore Schary said to me when I was about twelve years old. Dore Schary was head of MGM from 1951-1956 and was an activist liberal during the McCarthy era, but I met him years later when he was a guest at James Madison University, a visit my father had arranged. He and I were in the back seat of Kay's red Volvo and I wanted to tell him the story I had planned for a comic book I was going to write. "Never talk about what you're going to write," he said, "just write it." That advice has been one of the single most influential things that has ever been said to me and I'd say more about that, but here I'm just going to drop it in as an anecdote illuminating why I have seemed to ramble as of late before moving on.

At one point, during the rehearsals with the Zankel band, Herr Gruber offered some guidance to the classically trained musicicans who were about to perform their hearts out in concert a few nights later. "Remember," he said, "The banjo is the harpsichord of the proletariat!"


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