Ashes

Emotional pain is an insidious thing. Unlike a sprained ankle or a toothache, it burrows into nebulous recesses of the psyche and ‘hides’, until it finds ways to lash out from its dark chambers. Sudden, out-of-nowhere crying fits. Teeth grinding during sleep. Snapping at someone who didn’t deserve it. Still, you carry on, go to work, do grocery shopping, and try to maintain normalcy. What else can you do? Its not the flu which you know will pass eventually after days of bed rest. It’s the state of your life.

Six weeks ago when I sat down in a chair at the salon, my longtime colorist Gil ran his hands through my hair like he always does before he begins my treatment and said, “Do you know you have a bald spot here?”. Whaaattt??¬†With a large handheld mirror he showed it to me: a big round patch with nothing but the bare skin of my scalp where hair was supposed to be. Because of its location and my long hair, I hadn’t noticed it before. This was not common female-pattern hair loss. This was hair coming out in a concentrated clump. The hell!?? Jump ahead a few weeks and I’ve seen two doctors, a dermatologist, and had two blood tests, fully expecting to discover that I have a thyroid condition or an autoimmune disease or a vitamin deficiency or something – anything – that would explain this. The results? Nothing. There’s nothing physically or medically wrong with me. At one point I sat down a park bench, cell phone to my ear and sobbing a little, and asked the dermatologist what then she thought is causing my hair to fall out. She said, “It has to be stress”. Called the other doctor and asked him the same question. Answer? “It’s stress”.
“Will it grow back?”.
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“What can I do to stop it?”
“Nothing.”

As if to purposely fuck with me for having seen doctors and had blood tests, my hair loss has accelerated over the past couple of weeks. Huge clumps coming out in the shower. In my hand. On my pillow in the morning. It’s only getting worse.

Two torturous years of family strife will not stop taking their toll on me apparently. The destructive, selfish actions of Chris Hajian, my vain, manipulative brother, have created this hellscape. He has stolen my mother from me with his bullying and brainwashing, made everyone suffer because of his stupid “mid-life crisis”, and walked out on his wife and child. Ever since my father died, my brother (the remaining MAN, of course) has held all the power in the family and he wields it like a weapon. Because that’s what angry, failed men do. Sure Chris Hajian used to be nice guy, way back when. But now he’s just an arrogant, preening douchebag.

After a pivotal, traumatizing event, I decided to stand up for myself once and for all. My mother and my brother were treating me in a way that could only be described as abusive, and I refused to put up with it any longer. I couldn’t for my own sanity and well-being. I expressed my feelings to them, repeatedly. But I was nothing more than voice in the wilderness. Rather than make adjustments in their behavior, and resolve to treat me with love and respect, my mother and brother have done nothing about it. That’s how little I’m valued in my family. It’s a profoundly painful, hurtful realization. I have no family anymore, and I’ve already been replaced. This is the thanks I get for being a devoted, supportive daughter; Mom chooses her self-centered, spoiled son in the end. A son who sees her only as his stooge. So yeah, this is seriously painful. Lost the mother I loved so much .. and now losing my hair ūüė•

It’s Music Monday, and Tom Petty passed away last week. His distinctly American brand of rock and roll gave us so many great songs. Here’s one of my favorites. Thanks for reading, friends …

Bow Brush Body

I have known Fred Hatt for almost 12 years. Over the course of our friendship, his inexhaustible well of artistic expression and experimentation has never ceased to amaze me. I’d like to share this mesmerizing Fred Hatt project with Museworthy readers. From Vimeo:

Strokes of a violin bow, traces of a paintbrush, and the gestures of the body: dancer Kuan-Ling Tsai, artist Fred Hatt, and musician Andrei Matorin bring three art forms together in a collaborative shadow-screen performance.

Riding the Train

So I turned 49 years old on Saturday, and though I didn’t make a big deal out of the occasion it was still a perfectly fine day sprinkled with reflection and reverie. Jessie the cat brought me a present: a dead cicada she carried around in her mouth for 10 minutes before she deposited it on the driveway, batted it around a few times, and then sauntered off. Thanks Jessie! Just what I always wanted ūüėÜ

Turner Classic Movies unintentionally gave me a birthday present as well, by airing “All About Eve” for its primetime feature. One of the most delicious screenplays ever to come out of Hollywood, it’s all theater people “throwing shade” at each other as the kids today would call it. It’s Bette Davis in all her audacious, mouthy, chain-smoking glory, dressed in gorgeous Edith Head gowns, uttering phrases like “Maaax, you sly puss”. My favorite is toward the end, when she says to the conniving climber Eve Harrington, “Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.” ¬†Savage.

We haven’t had a Music Monday on this blog in quite some time so I will remedy that right now. Our video is the magnificent Eva Cassidy singing a stirring rendition of “People Get Ready”, a gospel-inspired song written by the legendary Curtis Mayfield. It became a hit single by The Impressions in 1965 and has been covered by many notable artists since then, among them Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and Rod Stewart. It is widely considered one of the greatest songs of all time, and for good reason. But I promise you, you have never heard a version of this song as affecting as this. Eva Cassidy was one of the most remarkably gifted vocalists we’ve ever had. When she died in 1996 from melanoma, at the tragically young age of 33, the world lost an enormous talent.

The song also has personal significance for me, because I boarded that “train” a few years ago. Striving every day to stay aboard has strengthened me to perceive my life – my purpose here on earth – with more clarity, more courage, and more devotion. I’ve included the lyrics below. See you soon, friends!

 

People get ready
There’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels a hummin’
You don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord
Yeah yeah yeah

People get ready
For the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers from
Coast to coast
Faith is the key
Open the doors and board them
There’s room for all
Among the loved and lost

Now there ain’t no room
For the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind
Just to save his own
Have pity on those
Whose chances are thinner
Cause there’s no hiding place
From the Kingdom’s throne

Ohh people get ready
There’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels a hummin’
Don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord

Call to Sorrow

When Army bugler Sergeant Keith Clark received the call that he was chosen to perform “Taps” at the funeral of President John F Kennedy it came as a bit of a surprise. He had assumed that a Navy bugler would do the honors, since President Kennedy was a World War II U.S. Navy veteran, decorated with a Navy Marine Corps medal for his valor in the South Pacific when a collision with a Japanese destroyer tore his PT-109 in half. But Keith Clark, a patriot and an American in the throes of shock and grief along with the rest of the country, was truly the right man for the job. He had been playing and studying the trumpet since he was a child, receiving musical training during his youth in Michigan, through college and then the military. Just two weeks before Kennedy was assassinated, Clark had performed “Taps” for him at the Veteran’s Day ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Comprised of just 24 notes, “Taps” is the traditional bugle call played at military funerals. It’s been in use since the Civil War, when Brigadier General for the Union Army Daniel Butterfield arranged it into the form we know today. Somber, melancholy, stirring in its simplicity, “Taps” communicates a profound sense of grief over fallen service members as they are laid to rest.

Bugler sketch by Civil War illustrator Alfred Waud:

Keith Clark showed up at Arlington National Cemetery early in the morning on Monday, November 25th, 1963. It was cold with drizzling rain. Temperatures hovered around freezing most of the day. Over a quarter of a million people waited in line for up to ten hours to view President Kennedy’s flag-draped casket as it lie in state in the Capitol Building Rotunda. After the funeral mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the procession began to make its way to Arlington National Cemetery. It finally arrived around 3:00 in the afternoon. After the traditional Catholic burial rites, the military honors were carried out.

Horse-drawn caisson transporting President Kennedy’s casket:

As the daughter of a trumpet player I know a thing or two about the challenges brass players face. I was raised around my father’s trumpet talk, daily practices, and the private trumpet lessons he gave in our home. Brass instruments are tough. They’re not for the delicate or the lazy. Cold outdoor air is the enemy. Numb, chapped lips are not helpful when you have to place your mouth on a horn and blow. So Keith Clark had been standing around for hours in the cold that day. On top of that, he was positioned just a few feet from the Old Guard Third U.S. Infantry firing squad who shot three rifle volleys as a farewell. Those loud blasts could not have been good for Clark’s ears. Then it was Sgt. Clark’s turn to complete the military honors for America’s slain President. With millions of eyes and ears on him from around the globe, watching on TV and listening on the radio, he began to play the solo “Taps” on his bugle . . . and cracked the sixth note. (I remember my father and his trumpet player friends calling it a ‘clam’). In a melody as slow and sparse as “Taps”, every note hangs out there conspicuously. So while many listeners might have winced at that sixth note, brass players everywhere, like my father, no doubt felt for the guy, as they could relate all too well.

How would I, or any of us, perform under such pressure? Under less than ideal circumstances, on the darkest day in our country’s history? Keith Clark is not the Bill Buckner of military musicians, famous for one error. Not even close. He was the experienced bugler who stepped up to the gut-wrenching task of committing our murdered President into his grave.

Here is the historic moment. Keith Clark’s “Taps” begins at 2:22:

 

The clammed sixth note has been described as sounding “like a sob”, and therefore deemed fitting for the tragic occasion; Clark’s bugle cracked in sorrow to reflect a sorrowful nation. And that is surely a fine way to think about it. In that Cold War period, when a horrendous act of political violence left an indelible wound in our collective consciousness, and President Kennedy’s optimistic dreams for the new generation to whom the torch had been passed seemed suddenly uncertain, Keith Clark’s poignant rendition of “Taps” should be a source of solace. It was imperfect, yes. But it was beautiful.

Keith Clark died in 2002. You can read his obituary at The New York Times.
And for an excellent, detailed account of Sgt. Keith Clark and the events of that day, and all things “Taps”, go to this article on TapsBugler.¬†Keith Clark’s bugle, a Bach Stradivarius, is on display at Arlington National Cemetery. By the way, if any of you find yourselves in the Washington D.C. area and have never been to Arlington, make a point of visiting. Its serene beauty juxtaposed with its heart-rending reality has a staggering effect I can’t fully describe.

On this Memorial Day weekend, in this Memorial Day-themed Music Monday, we pay tribute to all those who sacrificed their lives – the celebrated ones and the forgotten ones. The ones who faced fear, wrestled with moral choices, and now dwell in eternal rest.

“Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address
January 20, 1961

Joe’s Violin

We are now in the midst of “awards season”, and for those of us who didn’t get to the movies at all last year, we have no preference to root for “La La Land” or “Manchester by the Sea” or any of the nominated feature films or actors’ performances. But I will have something to root for during the Academy Awards broadcast on February 26th; a nominated film in the Best Documentary Short Subject category. “Joe’s Violin”¬†is an extraordinary story of survival, hope, and music’s capacity to provide comfort during hardship. Directed by Kahane Cooperman, the film tells the story of Joe Feingold, a 91 year-old Holocaust survivor and how he came to form a bond with Brianna Perez, a 12 year-old schoolgirl from the South Bronx.

I am an avid listener of WQXR, New York’s classical music station. For the past couple of years they’ve been organizing an instrument drive, in which people donate used musical instruments to be distributed to music and arts programs at under-resourced schools in the area. Joe Feingold donated a violin to the program – a 70 year-old violin that he came across while living in a displaced persons camp in Germany. He acquired it by trading for a carton of cigarettes. Through the instrument drive, Joe’s violin ended up in the hands of Brianna Perez, who lives in one of the poorest congressional districts in America.

I don’t usually post lengthy videos on the blog, but I’ve made an exception in this case because the story, and the filmmakers’ deeply-felt telling of the story, is poignant and remarkable. If you have 24 minutes to spare, watch the movie in full here, for our Music Monday:

Dark Matter

A few weeks from now, we can send a cruise missile to retroactively blow up 2016, right? That’s doable? I hope so because, good grief, if there was a single year in the past decade or so that deserves to wiped out of collective human memory 2016 is it. Odd though, because I always thought “2016” sounds good spoken and looks good written.¬†Twenty-sixteen. Should have been a winner but, alas, it wasn’t.

So when I sat down with my laptop to compose this end-of-year blog post, I went back, out of curiosity, to see what I had published as the first Museworthy post of 2016. It was Rough Beasts¬†on January 2nd; a discussion of William Butler Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, with a dash of my own struggle with depression thrown in. Now, at the end of this year, it feels like things have come full circle. And Yeats’ portentous poetical expressions about the centre not holding, darkness dropping, and the falcon not hearing the falconer, carry even more foreboding weight than ever it seems.

Solitude by Jean-Jacques Henner:

henner-solitude

How can we describe 2016? I see it as having been a queasy concoction of harrowing human tragedy with a “bread and circuses” spectacle. From Orlando to Aleppo, Brexit and Brussels, floods and earthquakes, airstrikes and debate stages, cries of war and rebellions, sacred lands and murdered gorillas and divided nations, propaganda and venal bureaucrats, and a disturbing amount of people brazenly, shamelessly lusting for power. Power; the most effective corrupter of souls known to man. Sometimes I think we’re just going through one of the innumerable rough patches that the arc of history inflicts upon us, that feels more dire than it actually is. And that could very well be the case. But then other times I think we’re witnessing the the Book of Revelation coming to life. Or the movie “Idiocracy”. Not sure which one is more terrifying at this point.

But thank god for the Chicago Cubs, yes? Their World Series triumph was a genuine, albeit fleeting, moment of jubilation, not just for their long-suffering fans but for anyone who has a soft spot for underdogs and was receptive to a much-needed bright spot in this difficult year. Well done, Cubbies! You are “lovable losers” no more.

If only heartwarming baseball stories had a lasting effect on our mood and outlook. But they don’t unfortunately. And the undercurrents of anxiety, tension, and uncertainty that are in the air cannot be brushed away.

Weary Moon, Edward Robert Hughes:

hughes-wearymoon

Is 2016 literally the “WORST YEAR EVER!!” as hysterical social media exclamations would have us believe? Well of course not literally¬†in the entire course of human history. That’s just silly. But we are engaged in the present. We are consumed with the present. We are emotionally invested in the present. We assess present circumstances as predictors of our future and our children’s futures.

A Soul Brought to Heaven, 1878, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau:

soul-carried-to-heaven-jpglarge

For sure, 2016 did take from us many beloved and prominent figures – Prince, Muhammad Ali, Leonard Cohen, Elie Wiesel, Nancy Reagan just to name a few. And for us classical music fans, the passing of Sir Neville Marriner was a great loss. Among this latest spate of deaths in December, which has included George Michael, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds, was a remarkable and accomplished woman whose passing on Christmas Day at the age of 88 seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. Vera Rubin¬†was the American astrophysicist whose tireless research confirmed the existence of “dark matter” in the universe. Hey that’s big! Quite an amazing and brilliant woman who took on the dual challenges of making discoveries in the galaxies and confronting obstacles for women in science.¬†She was never awarded the Nobel Prize, which should be baffling but sadly isn’t when we consider that out of 203 Nobels awarded for physics only two in history have gone to women. Still, her enormous contributions remain, as do her wise words: “Don’t shoot for the stars, we already know what’s there. Shoot for the space in between because that’s where the real mystery lies.”

Vera Rubin as an undergraduate at Vassar:

verarubin

I’m going to hand over this final Museworthy post of 2016 to the man whose untimely death back in January seems to have set the tone for this crummy year. (An alternate interpretation is that he was really prescient and decided to bail early on 2016 before this shitshow kicked into high gear). Now he’s dancing among the stars and celestial bodies, and escorting Vera Rubin through the dark matter. Neither he nor the song needs any further introduction from me, except to say that it will give you chills.

I’ll see you in 2017, friends. God bless you all ……
Claudia xoxo

Songs of the Season

Well it’s that time of year for Christmas music in every department store, market, and boutique. And by Christmas music, I mean the good, the bad, and everything in between. I think I’ve already heard the Mariah Carey “All I Want For Christmas is You” ¬†about 20 times. And dare I mention Paul McCartney’s vapid “Wonderful Christmastime”? I wonder if he’s aware of how despised that song is. One hears it and asks, how could this be same man who wrote “Yesterday”?¬†But for every McCartney dud there is a Nat King Cole perfection. Anyway, it’s all just a matter of personal taste. I might be in the minority when I say I actually enjoy Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. It’s fun, it’s jocular, and totally ‘Jersey’. In a word, it’s Bruce.

On this Music Monday, I’d love to hear from my readers their likes/dislikes of holiday season songs. So feel free to share in the comments! It will be our Museworthy ‘Christmas party’ ūüôā

And I’ll share a Christmas song recording here. A few years ago I posted Bob Dylan’s “Little Drummer Boy”¬†and let’s just say not everyone was pleased! ūüėÜ But hey he’s a Nobel Prize winner now, so maybe we should reconsider? (Just kidding). Instead, here’s the great, great, great Otis Redding singing “Merry Christmas Baby”: