Tuesday, December 8, 2015

On Archangels, eye makeup, cultural narcissism, and, y’know, stuff like that.

I’m sitting in my back yard, without a coat, without a sweater, listening to the rumble of lawnmowers on the morning of December 5th, 2015.  I should write a post about global warming, I guess, and this post may come to that in the end.

But something else has been on my mind overnight. 

No, not shooters in San Bernardino, or refugees from Syria, or walls along the border with Mexico either, although it may come to those too, in the end.  The list of things it may come to in the end is long. 

I’ve been thinking about the sublime voices of Goths.  Well, of a particular, modern Goth.

Ok, that’s obscure.  I’ll explain.  I’m sure this is some kind of deeply embarrassing sin.  But as long as you promise not to tell anyone, I guess I can confess.

Sometimes, following the crazy tangle of links down the right side of the YouTube screen, something about the picture that YouTube displays for one of the “got talent” performances catches my attention.  So I glance furtively around to be sure no one is looking, and then click on it.  I did that a day or two ago, and I found….

Andrew De Leon.  Yes, from 2012.  Since I only see these things on YouTube, and only when I chance on them, I’m always late to find them, and others are way ahead of me.  But if you’re not, if you haven’t heard this young man, take a few minutes and just listen.

Start at his first audition here.   Really:  you have to look at that first audition first, or the rest of the post will be confusing.  So go watch, I’ll wait.  Don’t be afraid.  His eyes may look like they have x-ray powers, but there is no great harm in them.  (At least I hope not.  Andrew, take note: if you actually do have x-ray powers, please use them only for good.)

Are you back?  Amazing, wasn’t it?  All of that from solitary practice in his room.  It is one more bit of evidence that there are exceptional things happening in well hidden places everywhere, things we can’t know about because the people doing them, for whatever reason, are keeping them close, keeping them from our sight.

Now watch Andrew in his semifinals.  I want to say up front that this is what can happen to a nice, cloistered young Goth when he’s exposed to the defiling influence of the outside world.  I want to say that, but I suspect this was in him from the start.  But you decide.  Go ahead, please: Here’s the link.  (Crank up the volume for this one…and full screen, too; much of what I reacted to was visual.)

Did you notice that last note, the last “Amen”, and his eyes as he finished and looked down at the judges?  At 1:38 in the video. 

I do understand that the quiet smile on his face is just a sense of blessed relief that he nailed the high notes, combined with a quick check to see what the judges thought.  But that look!   At that point, after that elegant, sweet, mesmerizing performance of a religious work, on that stage lit like a gothic cathedral, with spots like rays of holy sun transformed to gold or blue through a stained glass window, he looked like a portrait of a saint, or an angel (or maybe an archangel since parts of the lyrics of his song were originally provided by Gabriel).  At that instant those astonishing eyes looked as though they were seeing through the judge’s bodies and seeing their hearts and souls, and forgiving them in spite of that.  I am not religious; the opposite, if anything.  But at that instant, just for that instant, I felt a disturbing tremble in my disbelief; a kind of minor crisis in my lack-of-faith.  Andrew at that instant seemed to release his inner archangel.  How many of us ever have the courage, or the ability, to do that?  I was transported out of the drab world by his performance.

Simply awesome. 

It was a comment by one of the judges afterward that brought me back to ground again.  Sharon Osbourne---yes, Ozzy Osbourne’s wife---recommended that Mr. De Leon dispense with his Goth look so that he could be taken more seriously.  His look was too exotic for Ozzy Osbourne’s wife??  Really??  That’s a little weird.  But of course she didn’t say that, exactly: she took him seriously and she loved him from the start and said so.  And the audiences clearly loved him.  She meant that for the sake of his career he might need to be taken seriously by the rest of society, all of it, even by the more rigid subcultures in this land of the free that might dismiss him because of his appearance.   And I know why she had that fear for him.  We all know.  There is across the world, in every different place and time, a cultural arrogance, even in the smaller cultures, in regions or religions or classes or races, a subcultural arrogance, a sad, vulgar, coarsening subcultural narcissism, that wants to see in others exactly what we think we see in ourselves.  Sameness is comforting and undemanding.  Difference, on the other hand, is threatening, and there is an instinct to spurn and repel it. 

And that made me think of our national response to the Syrian refugees, and to all the refugees across the world that are desperate for help.  And it made me think that if we allow global warming to continue there may be many more refugees in future decades, refugees from hunger, disease, and yes, war, a wild assortment of them in all kinds of colors and religions.  We may even be among them, or some of us may.  There is precedent in this country for mass displacement by environmental disaster.  When was the last time you read The Grapes of Wrath?  (Hey, I did warn you up front that it might come to this in the end.)

But enough, for now, of that.   This day in the sunshine, in my back yard on the warming earth, is too nice to start down that road.  I’ll have to do it, but tomorrow, or the next day, or some day after that.  I’ll have to write a quick post explaining to all the Governors who are refusing the Syrian refugees, including my own state’s Governor Hogan, that it’s possible to see difference not as threatening, but as energizing. 

But for now, to Governor Hogan I will just say:

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”---Hebrews 13:1

And to Mr. De Leon I will say:  thanks for that radiant Ave Maria.  Stay Goth as long as you like; it looks good on you.  You labored on your voice alone in your cloistered room, and labored also on your look, and created your own excellent art in both efforts.  You created yourself.  From all appearances available to me in these two videos you did a damned fine job of it.  I think we can trust you to continue to create yourself in the future.

And to you readers, who now know my secret weakness, my embarrassing habit of YouTubing talent-shows, I’ll just quote the famous prayer of that other sinful hedonist Saint Augustine of Hippo: “Lord, grant me chastity and continence---but not yet”.