Archive | April, 2014

Is the son of a god a god? The problem of famous sons

13 Apr

 

charlie  parker

 

In Bob Dylan’s remarkable autobiography, “Chronicles Vol. 1,” there is a retelling of the evening he went to see a performance by Frank Sinatra Jr.

 

It was an unusual turn in the book. After reading about the young man from Minnesota finally winning the day amongst all the competing voices of Greenwich Village, we have him stopping in – very deliberately – on someone so apart from folk culture that the attraction cannot immediately be understood.

 

Dylan very much liked the performance. He liked the voice and style of the man who could never, ever, stand outside his father’s shadow. In the book, Dylan expresses true sadness for the predicament of the junior Sinatra, perhaps knowing that someday his own children would face this struggle for meaning, purpose and acceptance.

 

bobdylan1I’m not sure why, but we expect greatness from the off springs of the great, or at least some semblance of distinction. And like Dylan, we take the disappointment to heart.

 

There was a great man of jazz that many young people may not know. His name was Charlie Parker, but everyone called him “Bird.” He played the saxophone and was an incredible innovator and force in the world of music. “Birdland,” a jazz club in New York, was named in his honor.

 

Frank-Sinatra-jrJust recently Charlie Parker’s son died and I read his obit. I hadn’t known this man even existed, but apparently he lived a couple towns over from mine, in Lansdale, Pa. Learning of his simple, pedestrian life, one of relative failure, troubled me.

 

The great man’s son – Charles Baird Parker — had for a time worked in the bakery of his local supermarket. But for many years prior to his death he was unemployed. He lived off the royalties of his father’s music.

“The jazz world expected Baird to fill Bird’s shoes,” his late mother, dancer Chan Woods, wrote of her son. “Those expectations almost destroyed him.”

 

I’m sure his father, who died in 1955 at age 34, wasn’t around much to guide him. Bird, for all his success with music, had nearly destroyed himself with drugs and alcohol. Sometimes he would play on the street for drug money. It is even said that he once pawned his instrument.

 

Yet Bird is a music god, and the common belief is that the son of a god also deserves worship. Because it is impossible to worship a supermarket baker, we end up feeling sorry for the baker and for the god.

 

The obituary did not list the time and date of the funeral. Had it done so, I might have gone. I can’t say why. It would have been strange … about as strange as Bob Dylan going to a performance by Frank Sinatra Jr.

 

Lanny Morgnanesi

 

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Let me tell you a story about a man, a horse and a joke

5 Apr

The jokes of a people tell you much about the people.

A little hobby of mine is to learn of and listen to the jokes of foreign cultures. I’m proud to say that with patience, an open mind and an attention to the nuances of language, I’ve been able to laugh alongside many a hysterical foreigner.

In so many cases, it’s really about the language, which because it is not English can be used in ways that English cannot.

Chinese, for example, has so many sound-alike words that there is an entire genre of Chinese comedy called Cross Talk, where Abbott and Costello-like characters stand on stage and grossly misunderstand each other. These bits are much like “Who’s On First.”

This week, large numbers of Chinese people are cracking up not over misunderstood language but over a short video. It is of a man getting brutally kicked in the head by a horse. The humor is not in that brutality but in a message conveyed by the kick – a message that has nothing to do with animals.

Here’s the background.

In China, there is a popular idiom that translates literally to: “Pat the horse’s ass.”

When someone pats the horse’s ass, they are sucking up to the boss or flattering people to get ahead. We use the similar expression, “kissing ass” or “brown nosing.”

While many Chinese have benefited from patting the horse’s ass, there is a danger to the practice if it is too transparent. It can backfire. Most Chinese who watch their sycophantic colleague advance would prefer that they fail. No one likes as ass kisser.

In the video widely circulating among Chinese, the victim, prior to being kicked so hard and so directly, walks across the street and actually pats the horse’s ass.

The payoff for doing so is pretty damn clear.

And that’s why it is so funny to this culture that relies heavily on metaphor and symbolism. The humor is achieved without a single word.

All right now Mister and Misses America — DO YOU GET IT?

Lanny Morgnanesi

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