November 2011


Sympathy for the Devil?

You don't hear much of the devil these days. He used to seemingly be lurking around every corner, lying in wait to lead us astray. And you sure as hell don't hear the name Lucifer thrown around in mixed company. At least we haven't since the Stones' classic song Sympathy for the Devil (1968). And if you were forced to read Milton's Paradise Lost in your academic days, Lucifer is of course a main character in that epic poem. We also recall that in Disney's Cinderella, the name of this allegorical fallen angel, was given to the evil stepmother's cat.


But now here was that name being invoked, not in a film, not from some pulpit, not in some rock song, but by an attorney in a court of law. That is to say, the retrial of Amanda Knox. (And of an ex-boyfriend, whose name no one can remember five minutes after hearing it).





"One side of Knox is angelic, good, compassionate, and in
some ways even saintly. The other side is Lucifer-like, demonic,
satanic, diabolical and longs to live out borderline
extreme behavior."



We also learned that Giuliano Mignini, the prosecutor in the case, even went so far as to initially posit that the victim, Meredith Kercher, was killed during a "Satanic ritual." Then later revised that theory to one of a "sex-orgy-gone-wrong."


One would guess that in the country that gave the world Dante Alighieri, such unbridled condemnations might not be all that surprising:


She was so broken to lascivious vice
     She licensed lust by law, in hopes to cover
     Her scandal of unnumbered harlotries.

—Dante; Inferno, Circle II - The Lustful; Canto V (Penguin Books Ed)



We have no idea of Amanda Knox's guilt or innocence. Or how satanic or Lucifer-like she might be. We didn't follow the first trial two years ago, nor the retrial. But what caught our attention last month in the media as that trial was concluding, was that major moral issues of good versus evil were being so publicly addressed. And with such passione!


And then as Sarah Stillman, a visiting scholar at NYU writing for CNN, pointed out so succinctly in her opening sentence:


"There is something about pretty girls, bloody knives and the slightest whiff of sex that gets the international news machine humming like nothing else."


So now we too were intrigued to see how this would all play out. Especially after the unequivocal denial by Knox—an American girl out of Seattle— in the native tongue of her accusers:


"Io non sono quello che dicono io sono -- perverso, violento. ... Non ho ucciso.
Non ho violentato. Non ho rubato,"


"I am not what they say I am -- perverse, violent. ... I haven't murdered. I haven't
raped. I haven't stolen,"


We could not help but be impressed with the repetitive cadence in her plea.


We also couldn't help but compare this to O.J., who sat there mute and never dared to utter a word in his own defense or about his own character. One might say that there was no defense; that there was no character.


When the verdict came down, Knox once "guilty," on second thought was really "innocent" and allowed to go free. Sympathy for the devil? This is the stuff of grand opera. The libretto has all but been written. It needs just a musical score.








The mind perceives an object of three dimensions
by means of two dissimilar pictures. Each eye
views the world from slightly different horizontal positions


Sometimes I look in the mirror and think:
Where did I go?
Who is this looking back at me?
I can't quite place the face in my mind.


As each eye seeing a different image
creates the illusion that separate parts
come together to form something of depth
perhaps he is the present? And I the past?


Once I was a hunter. Beauty was my game.
And my Nemesis.
Some arrows I shot were badly feathered
and untimely deaths ensued.


No longer a Narcissus gazing into that pool
of self reflection— these eyes
now viewing the man in the mirror
from slightly different horizontal positions


are wary of he who looks back at him.
Have not strangers entered my rooms
bearing an assassin's knife of deception?
But if this be me, him I know I can trust.



                                                              —Ron Vazzano








Walking the Labyrinth



Upon going to the home page of CNN one Sunday morning last month, we came upon this eye catching headline in a section called "Belief Blog": My Faith: How walking the labyrinth changed my life.


It was written by Sally Quinn, a columnist for The Washington Post and the Editor in Chief of On Faith ("an online conversation on religion"). As a point of reference, she is married to the legendary Ben Bradlee, former TWP editor of Watergate fame. And while Quinn at times, has been very off-putting in her personality and commentaries, we decided to read on.


We were vaguely familiar with labyrinths, in that they are are not to be confused with mazes. Unlike mazes, they are not designed to puzzle or get one lost. Rather...


A labyrinth has only one path. It is unicursal. The way in is the way out. There are no blind alleys. The path leads you on a circuitous path to the center and out again.




They have been around for over 4,000 years and from a meditative perspective...


Labyrinths can be thought of as symbolic forms of pilgrimage; people can walk the path, ascending toward salvation or enlightenment.


Many newly made labyrinths exist today, in churches and parks. Labyrinths are used by modern mystics to help thus achieve a contemplative state. Walking among the turnings, one loses track of direction and of the outside world, and quiets the mind.

                                                                                                      (Source: Wikipedia)


Sounds a little too New Age for us. And we are about the least "New-Agey" type one can imagine. Nevertheless, since it worked for Quinn—not known for being a flighty person— and as we were anxious about a particular matter that was almost upon us, we decided to give it a try. Using a handy on line labyrinth finder, we opted for the one in Battery Park as being our best choice. It had been commissioned on the first anniversary of 9/11.


Finding the labyrinth itself once we arrived at the park, was not easy. And the irony of that was not lost on us. There were no signs or arrows pointing the way, and it seemed to suggest that stereotypical idea about New York attitude: "Ya just gotta' know where things are, or tough luck."


By chance we came upon an open gate… and there it was. And there we were. A solitary figure on these manicured grounds. Apparently no one else had read Sally Quinn's piece that morning.





Laying our self consciousness aside about how silly this all might be, we slowly began to make our way through the spiral marked by embedded bricks. While focused on a specific source of angst, we could not help but pause along the way, to take in a cluster of monarch butterflies— those beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright-like designs on their wings. At another point, a slice of the new World Trade Center going up in the distance, caught our eye.


In a shorter time than expected (we have no sense of direction even when not in a contemplative state) we found ourself in the center. We must have spent fifteen or twenty minutes sitting there on the grass in what now seemed like a private eden of sorts. Then retracing the path that had let us in… we were back out. Feeling an overwhelming sense of calm, we made our way from the park and headed in the direction of Wall Street.


Whereas we tend to zip along throughout the day, we were now walking at a much slower pace. Not by intent. But as if compelled in some way, we seemed unable to move any faster. And in this state we soon found ourself in Zuccotti Park, where the "Occupy Wall Street" protest was in it's 23rd day.


It was as if stepping back in time. We were once again in the 60's, absent the waft of marijuana. Though that collective body language of defiance and attitude, was once again there. Right down to a bare-chested guy with an acoustic guitar who had claimed his piece of turf, and was in it for the long haul. Yet throughout all this retro-intensity about us, we maintained our "labyrinth high."


We would like to say that the labyrinth experience sustained us for the entire day. But it didn't. After about five hours or so, we started to return to our original self. Which is a far cry from what we had expected to say, that being: "This whole thing is nonsense, with no redeeming value." But we couldn't. It had worked. And as for that matter that was causing us such anxiety? It would come to be resolved with very positive results.


We will be back in Battery Park real soon.






Quote of the Month


Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith….Don't settle.


                    —Steve Jobs

                                                                        Excerpted from a commencement speech
                          at Stanford (2005)







Saint Anthony of Bennett




As Saint Francis of Assisi took to animals, Tony Bennett takes to singers. He loves them all. And they in turn love him. All ages, all styles, all genres.


It appears that his mission in life has become one of: to sing a duet with everyone who has ever sung. And that just might be possible. At age 85, he has been around almost as long as pop music itself. Though that said, after his current smash album Duets II, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200—making him the oldest living artist to ever reach that top spot—he has said of these types of collaborations: "I definitely won't be doing a Duets III."


What we love about the man, is that he cuts down the barrier that invariably exists between past and present— that eternal generation gap. "We" knew how to do it, but "these kids today" don't. Or that we jazz people (read "hip"), are far superior to these homespun country and western folk. Call it a culture gap.


We guess in that way, we see Tony Bennett as a metaphor for all that is possible in bridging gaps that appear to exist between people, and yet can disappear, once we're all in the same room singing from the same music sheet. And yes, we are aware of the controversy his remarks about terrorism caused on Howard Stern's show this past September. As well as we are aware that he was engaged in battle at the front lines in World War II. Tony Bennett reminds us as well, that things are not always black and white. But that somewhere in between, there lies a surprising and refreshing area of gray.


We have been following the man since his first number one song, "Because of You" in 1951, when not yet seven years old, we were doing a rendition of it to the delight of patrons in our uncle's bar. (What we were doing at that age singing in a bar, best not be reported to the authorities). And in the sixty years since, he has remained true to himself:


"I'm not staying contemporary for the big record companies, I don't follow the latest fashions. I never sing a song that's badly written."


Yet, it's not as if there were no bumps in the road. And it's not as if all of this has happened by chance. It took the astute management of his son Danny, to realize that younger audiences who were unfamiliar with his father, would respond to his music if given a chance. The culmination of this "new audience strategy," was realized with Bennett's appearance in 1994 on MTV Unplugged. It might be said that his rejuvenation itself is now getting on in years, as it approaches its second decade!


On Duets II, our favorites are "The Lady Is A Tramp" with Lady Gaga (reminiscent in its playfulness of "Makin' Whoppee," which he had done with Cyndi Lauper), and "Body And Soul" with Amy Winehouse. The latter is particularly heart wrenching in that it is believed to be the last song she recorded. And as she had acknowledged that Dinah Washington was a great influence on her (speaking of generational bridging), that is very much in evidence in this particular song.


If you haven't already, join the 4.6 million who have "YouTubed" each of these duets.


(Gaga; Winehouse


Finally, as if it would really need saying, Tony Bennett is the epitome of aging gracefully, and with great vitality. And while the man is not really a saint, there is something saintly about the man. At least in the way he goes about his business.






On The Bus



As Tom Wolf recounted in his classic book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Ken Kesey—author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest—perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the 60's, in his famous "You’re either on the bus… or off the bus" philosophy. In becoming a metaphor for "you either get it or you don't," it has far transcended the initial world of the hipsters on that ride in the summer of '64. To expand a bit on exactly what Kesey said at the time:


"There are going to be times, when we can’t wait for somebody. Now you’re either on the bus or off the bus. If you’re the bus, and you get left behind, then you’ll find it again. If you’re off the bus in the first place then it won’t make a damn."


Most of us like to think that we are on the bus. But when it comes to the artist Red Grooms, he is not only on the bus, he has created his own bus—literally. Not a psychedelic painted school bus like Kesey's, but a New York version complete with passengers. Done up of course, in his own inimitable style.


Like Kesey and his merry band of men—but without the acid—Grooms has a decidedly skewed view of the proceedings around him. He sees the world in caricature, and freezes it brilliantly in three dimensions. He is the personification of a "pop artist," in that, to quote the gallery one-sheeter…his work is well known for its witty commentaries on modern life and his affectionate yet satirical portrayals of urban culture.


A serendipitous marriage between pop art and metaphor… we jumped at the chance to be on this bus.


photo montage by Ron Vazzano


Red Grooms' work has been exhibited in galleries across the United States, Europe and Japan, and is included in the collections of over forty museums and public institutions. Keep an eye out for him. Speaking of buses, to experience his work up close is to be transported.








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