Monday, April 24, 2017

Black cat blues, take 2


Where is Humptulips?

"Humptulips, I hear you calling. Humptulips never sounded better. Humptulips sounds like it is Papeete, Tahiti, or the French Riviera. O Humptulips, shimmering pearl of the Mediterranean! I love thee, Humptulips, even though there is not one Dutch girl in thy whole domain."

Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

Genetic mysteries

I came from what is sometimes called a "musical family". We weren't exactly the von Trapps, but my father was choir leader of our church (putting on such ambitious productions as Handel's Messiah), and both parents were deeply involved in Gilbert and Sullivan light operas. My father played violin decently, though I don't think he ever left first position. My mother was so indoctrinated with musical expectation that she often expressed shame that she did not know how to play the piano. It somehow would have made everything so much better.

So when WE came along, of course, it was the same thing, except that the pressure was far worse. The expectation wasn't just competence or even excellence, but a world-class career. Joy had nothing to do with it. I'd say we had a moderate amount of talent. My sister had a warm mezzo voice which might have taken her to a career if she hadn't early-on wrecked her life. My brother Arthur was a talented flautist and guitarist, and also a schizophrenic, who ended up panhandling on the streets of Toronto (not to mention prostituting himself) before he died in a fire.

My brother Walt was the only one to actually apply his talent, teaching and playing oboe in an orchestra in the Okanagan. Not exactly the big time, and he had to supplement his income with being an accountant on the side (work he claimed to prefer). His two daughters ended up as professional string players, an interesting development (their mother being an orchestral musician).

Then there was me, so bad at the piano that my teacher came to my mother and said, "This child is unteachable". Since no one else in the family would touch the violin, I was "it" and was just dismal at it. It was only much later that I discovered or uncovered a voice that had been totally buried by my sister's histrionics. I was afraid to open my mouth before that.

(Strangely enough, at age 40, I had the mad desire to take another crack at the violin, and I did. I found a magnificent teacher and played for nine years, including a lot of public performing. What does this mean? I am not sure, but I wanted to take the instrument back and approach it on my own terms.) 

My kids came along early in my life, and not only did they show no signs of musical talent in any area, they were completely disdainful of it. I remember they called Pavarotti "Pavarotten". They excelled in sports - were champions, in fact, which baffled and surprised and delighted Bill and I. We were both hopeless klutzes and literally dropped the ball.

But then. . .

A lo-o-o-ng time later came my grandkids, and I sensed musicality in all of them right from the start. They have sung in choirs, played instruments in bands, and, most of all, danced - every kind of dance from ballet to jazz to tap to hip-hop, a discipline which demands being one with all types of music. All three grandgirls have excelled at it. Two of them are off in Vernon winning trophies at a competition even as we speak. (One grandgirl has no hearing on one side, demanding extreme listening skills and a focus that simply amazes me.)

And look at Ryan, adorable, his instrument a foot longer than he is! He caught his hand in the slide one day, an excruciating thing that demanded a trip to Emergency, but he went right back at it as soon as he was healed.

So what am I getting at? I was amazed at my kids and their ability to master any sport, the trophies crowding the bookshelves in their rooms. If any part of it was genetic, it must have been several generations back. But the music thing was there - at least on one side. Did it leap over the barrier, or is this just serendipity? I don't know, but it's gratifying to see .

And of course, it just hit me that dance requires athleticism as well as musical knowledge. The alchemy of genetics never ceases to amaze me.

Remember the Rolls-Royce guru?

A very long time ago, the family went on a vacation trip to Washington State. I wanted to see where Tom Robbins lived (and did) and poke around the tourist sights. It turned out to be dizzyingly beautiful country.

I knew I had kept a scrapbook, and that there were some crazy things in it - some of the weirdest postcards I've ever seen, and great stuff from the local newspapers. I remembered something particularly weird that I'd read in the LaConner paper. The memory of it was recently dredged up by a book I'm reading for at least the fourth time.

The article in the Channel Town Press, which I initially tried to take seriously, is about a fictional guru trying to set up shop with his Rolls-Royces and harem of wives/kids in LaConner. After a while I realized it was satire. I thought it was funny, especially Bag One's drawn-on beard (this was long before photoshop) and the Bag Dad Middle School.

It was years later that I reviewed a book for the Vancouver paper called The Promise of Paradise - a woman's intimate story of the perils of life with Rajneesh. This is the one that I keep reading over and over again. The one I'm reading right now.

Rajneesh, as in Bhagwan, the "Rolls-Royce Guru", built an incredibly wealthy worldwide empire which embodied all that is wrong with mass religion. Bhagwan's devotees had taken over a piece of land called Big Muddy Ranch near the small town of Antelope, Oregon. By the time this grotesque empire collapsed in a state of near-terrorism, the newly-created city of Rajneeshpuram was in an armed standoff with the citizens of Antelope. The erstwhile leader of the cult, a demented demigod named Sheela, was eventually charged with election fraud (rounding up homeless people to vote for sympathetic representation in local elections), poisoning hundreds of citizens, and a host of other crimes. By this time, Rajneeshpuram was being patrolled by armed guards dressed in camouflage. The utopia had become a police state. 

Thousands of people drank this particular flavour of Koolaid, in particular the author of The Promise of Paradise, Satya Bharti Franklin (given a new name, as per usual, when she joined the cult). Even as chaos and violence and death swirled around her, she kept writing about "waves of bliss" washing over her, and about how, in spite of everything (even abandoning her kids), her fourteen years with this self-righteous fucked-up power-tripping bastard had all been worth it.

I think LaConner must have felt the shock waves from this bizarre episode of cult aggression. It had all come too close for comfort, but they still had the good grace to joke about it. The piece was written only a couple of years after the meltdown became public knowledge. To quote Wikipedia: "The subsequent criminal investigation, the largest in Oregon history, confirmed that a secretive group had, unbeknownst to both government officials and nearly all Rajneeshpuram residents, engaged in a variety of criminal activities, including the attempted murder of Rajneesh's physician, wiretapping and bugging within the commune and within Rajneesh's home, poisonings of two public officials, and arson."

To me, this smacks of the "but we didn't know what was going on" claim of the German population after World War II. According to her detailed account based on private journals, Satya Bharti Franklin knew what was going on, and did not walk away from it. By then she felt a kind of paralysis which was widespread. Did they know what was going on? They knew enough.

I'm not sure why I keep reading about cults - oh, of course I do, they are bloody fascinating! These people did not question Sheela or Rajneesh or any of it, no matter how nasty or ludicrous the edicts became, but kept on humbly obeying. If they didn't, they weren't "surrendered" enough. Imagine an environment, a community, in which the ultimate goal is to surrender. To give up: personal freedom, sanity, decision-making, life. 

Anyway, I kept the Bag One clipping even before I knew anything at all about Bhagwan or Sheela or Satya Bharti Franklin, because I loved it. It was all part of the Washingtonian nuttiness I had come to cherish. 

But what of those throngs in red skirts, the faithful sanyassins who had given years of their lives (not to mention all their worldly goods) to this crazy creep? Did they just go on to some other prophet, tin god, addiction? How many of them joined Scientology? There must be a cult mind, and I must figure out what it is, because in spite of everything I have seen, it makes no sense to me at all.