A Life for the Tsar

At last this horrid, endless election process will be over. MY LORD, I am sick of it. Of course, saying this is kind of like observing that Heath Ledger was really great in Batman. However, being number 9 billion in the cue hasn’t stopped me before.

The election has troubled the waters even in our usually politically harmonious house. I agree with the spouse much of the time. I am the bigger pacifist (massive hypocrisy alert, folks; you’ll see soon); having been deep in the reeking political sea for much longer than I, he is more realistic and generally more despairing about the current climate. Frankly, if I immersed myself to the degree the spouse does, I would move. Period. Costa Rica appeals, as do France and Ireland. But, in the time-honored American tradition, I distract myself with work, family, crappy food, reality TV, and in all the other self-absorbing pastimes that make this land…..what it is.

Perrinista has made clear his refusal to vote for President Change for a while, but never pressured me to do the same (t’ain’t how we roll). The Eldest, however, has been positively adamant in her lectures to me to not vote for anyone for president. The poor kid, way too smart and perceptive for her own good, has already seen through the hollow sham that is our current political system, and 2 Saturdays running has burst into tears when I have said that I had planned on casting a vote for the big O for some time now – but not for Biden! – but that if I could hear sufficient good reason to not vote for him, I wouldn’t.

I’m glad that, as a result of her diatribes, I did more soul-searching than ever before, but unfortunately I never came up with reasons that could get me to not fill in the little slot next to his name. Honestly, I will do pretty much whatever is in my power to make the kid happy, and I truly wanted to report to her that she’d effectively swayed me. She didn’t. In the end, I felt too sick at the thought of not voting to justify doing so. I truly fear a McCain administration. I never would have thought one administration could fuck things up as horribly as Bush/Cheney has, and even though O appears to have a lock in Michigan, I bought into what is likely b.s., that white folks will support O like crazy, then get to the polls and chicken out. In hindsight, that is truly a stupid argument. (Especially in the rosy light of November 5th.) But politics in America is 9 parts fear, all other parts divided between tribalism and confusion.

I hate politics in America.

So I got to my little voting cubby and the pen just jumped to Obama and I filled in the slot, despite his policy to blow the shit out of a whole new set of Middle Eastern states – and then stopped cold in my tracks. Because there was no separate box for V.P. Mother of God, I had just cast a vote for Joe Biden, one of the biggest scumbags in Washington.

I stood staring at the ballot for a full minute. I could feel the bile rise, though not quite high enough to choke back. I looked at Nader’s name, thrown in at the bottom with some made-up party’s name attached, an afterthought or joke, depending on who you talk to. Should I swap my ballot and start again?

Did I really want to?

I kept it. I whizzed through the rest of the ballot as quickly as possible. Levin has always been anti-war, and both he and Dingle are pro-universal health care, desperately needed here in Michigan. Hathaway’s commercials make her look somewhat progressive, and that other guy looks like a dick. Every place else I voted Green or nothing. I voted for our 2 props, medical weed and stem cell research funding. I submitted the ballot.

Ultimately, my reasons were: I hate and fear McCain, Ginsburg is about to croak, and at least a Democrat (even one as disgusting as Biden) will appoint someone left of Scalia to replace her. I desperately hope, even as I know the odds are against it, that Obama can get some sort of universal health care system in place, that he will keep to his “aggressive diplomacy” policy (fat chance) as opposed to blowing up civilians, and that the rest of the world will be relieved that we don’t have another nut in office. Some of my more conservative relatives will be pissed, which gives me a little snarkisfaction. The scolds of friends who would be appalled if I didn’t vote for Obama, most of them white, don’t matter. But friends who would be more aggrieved than snippy, most of them black, do matter. I am not immune from wanting to get caught up in the symbolism of electing the first black president. I know it’s a Barnum and Bailey world (something the spouse has been singing for about a week as he makes his morning coffee), I know it’s all fake.

That’s all the energy I want to expend on it.

I did get a marvelous and serendipitous coda to my day, thanks to the glories of Sirius radio. On the way home, I abandoned a cloying number on the Broadway channel for Met Opera. As I thought to myself what a bad idea it is to listen to the opera station on a short drive, one of my favorite operatic pieces began to play: the opening of Boris Godonov by Mussorgsky.

First off, Mussorgskyrocks. A bad boy in late 19th century Russian music (remember this is the era of the glorious and melodic Tchaikovsky), his music was criticized by his peers as coarse and crude. To me, it has an ugly beauty or a beautiful ugliness; the Mongols are always knocking on the door, threatening to break in, as Moussourgsky’s clumsy hands beat the instruments until they scream. Godonov is about a tsar initially anticipated and revered as a man of the people who will dramatically change things for the better (the opera is based on history). Naturally, things go very, very wrong; to quote Bugs Bunny, “Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?”

The opening is Boris’s coronation. M’s genius is to foreshadow the reign to come with a procession of harsh, joyful bells punctuated by disastrous blasts from the brass section. A soaring, lyrical melody, reminiscent of the promenade from Pictures at an Exhibition, is then sung by the chorus. Boris bellows about how fair he’ll be, that he’ll never forget his roots – some politician, this tsar – then the beautiful choral melody merges with the dissonance of the bells. It’s one of the most chilling celebrations I’ve ever heard.

Whether pure luck or genius ironic commentary, that overture made my day. In the end, music can get you through all sorts of crap. I truly hope Obama works out better than Godunov. Now we have a chance to see.

4 thoughts on “A Life for the Tsar

  1. Politics like life is about trying to choose the lesser bad.

    I’m one goddam working-class liberal who is going to be very happy to have a Dem president to bitch about for a change.

  2. I come here via a link from The Perrinista’s site. He seems to have been hiding you from us! And yay for comments boxes.

    First off, I’m a Brit, living in Brit-land. I recognise that we won’t stop blowing up poor people around the world without a lead from your guy. That, and the fact that I’ve been obsessively interested in US elections since 1980, make Dennis’ site, and now yours, must-reads.

    Those McCain supporters have it easy today. Nowhere so lonely as out here to the left of the President-Elect.

    Anyhoo, fascinating reading and I look forward to seeing your stuff pop up in my feed reader!

  3. The Boris Godunov coronation music is glorious. Mussorgsky’s genius was to use the fundamental harmonic interval of bells–the augmented fourth (tritone)–as the basis of the theme, even though it is almost always avoided in Western music as harsh.

    The augmented fourth is an agonizing interval for Westerners because the ear strives to resolve it up to the fifth, and can’t. It epitomizes dissatisfaction and frustration, and unreachable goals. When one adds the fact that church musicians in the Middle Ages called it the devil’s interval, using it as the background music for the brave new world we’re embarked on is very, very apt. Bravo!

    (The coronation music was also used as the theme for an Excedrin commercial many years ago. I leave the appropriate analogy to your imagination.)

    Oh, and listen to Ravel’s Valse Triste, too: music for the unraveling of a civilization.

  4. BTW, in rewriting my comment as a post on my own blog, I remembered another wonderful example of the tritone used to express longing, one that you know very well: the song Maria from West Side Story.

    Bernstein: another bad-boy genius. I remember playing clarinet in a symphonic band adaptation of his Symphony #1 (Jeremiah) and watching the entire band twitch spastically as they tried to keep up with the time signature changes in practically every measure.

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