Pick Your Pop Culture

So, I've like written about music for 25 years, and like I've got a lot to say and not enough people to pay me for it, and like I like to write about TV, and books, and movies, and stuff like that.

Monday, May 02, 2005

My Weekend of Culture

None of these events led to any full-blown essays, but I figured each was worth a little bit of comment.

Friday evening: “The Interpreter” at the Moolah Theatre. Sit in the front row couches about twenty feet away from the gigantic enormous screen at St. Louis’s coolest theatre, and you are practically in the movie. I could have climbed right into Nicole Kidman’s nostril or Sean Penn’s ear lobe, and ridden along as they danced around each other’s plot twists.

It took my wife and most other people who have seen this about thirty seconds to point out a half dozen possibly fatal flaws, but I was absolutely spellbound by this movie. It’s a riveting thriller with some incredible acting, and directing that doesn’t detract from the story in any way. Sydney Pollack is a pro, and he knows that all he has to do is let Kidman and Penn run with their roles. They’ll give you all the nuance you need.

All right, so he can’t resist throwing in some sentimental bits here and there, and the hint of a possible romance could be taken as overkill. (I chose to read that, though, as two people attracted to each other in the wrong time and for the wrong reasons, and aware that it would not be a great idea to pursue it.) But, really, if you just throw your head back and let it all flow over you, you’ll be far too tense with the action to worry about any of that. Either that, or I was too drunk to worry about it.

Saturday morning: “Hero Hawk and Open Hand,” St. Louis Art Museum. I knew enough to be aware there was a great Native American civilization at Cahokia, just a few miles up river from St. Louis, which flourished some 800 to 600 years ago, but which was pretty much gone by the time Spanish and French explorers arrived in this neck of the woods. But, I had no idea that Cahokia was just the epicenter of a whole bunch of mound-building towns that stretched as far west as Oklahoma, as far south as Texas, as far north as Ohio, and as far east as the Carolinas.

This exhibit collects hundreds of pieces from a number of sites around the country, ranging from arrow heads to vessels in the forms of animals, from round spherical throwing objects to intricately carved images on large sea shells. Most of these items served useful functions, though quite a few were ornamental variations of useful items.

I was struck by three things. First, the astounding depth of what has been left behind by these people, the signs of individual personalities in a variety of cultures which has survived over the centuries, was simply breathtaking. I hate the overuse of the word “awesome,” but I was truly in awe in the presence of these objects. Not because they were sacred, though some of them clearly were, but because they were so overwhelmingly, obviously human.

Second, these objects were stunningly beautiful in ways I’ve never encountered before. I read an article online the other day – and I’ve forgotten where, so I can’t link to it – about the often overlooked ability to simply bask in the presence of beauty. I was basking my ass off at the Art Museum, though. The shapes, the colors, the forms, the imagery, the patterns, holy moley! Very little of this bore any relationship to the arts and crafts of Native Americans I’ve seen over the years, but all of it was gorgeous.

Third, though not for the first time, I realized how fragile cultures can be. These people lived, loved, laughed, fought, killed, hunted, farmed, traded, built, played, worshipped, and passed time believing they were carrying on in the way things had always been and would always be. And yet, over the last 2000 years, whole civilizations would come and go again and again in the parts of the world where these artifacts were found. It can and will happen again to us, of course, which only makes the lives we lead all that more important to us as we live them. We’re walking in some amazing footprints in this part of the world. It’s sobering to realize we weren’t first, and we won’t be last.

Saturday night: “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” After a morning encounter with the sublime, it was time to look at some excellent idiocy. We rented this flick after hearing nothing but rave reviews about it. While not quite as perfect as “Dude, Where’s My Car,” this definitely ranks up there with the great stoner movies of all time. It’s a buddy movie and a journey movie, but the buddies are stoned, and their goal is merely to get to White Castle. Along the way, they encounter many mishaps, and learn much about themselves. But, really, they mostly just act crazy, and refuse to let anything get them down. We watched this while drinking wine, which seemed to put us in just as much of a giggling fit as pot would have.

Sunday night: Wayne Hancock at Beale on Broadway. It was my friend Heather’s birthday, so we joined her and a whole lot of other people in this funky little (literally little) bar down by Busch Stadium. I’d never seen Hancock before, but I’d always liked what I’d heard on the radio. This guy somehow managed to get ahold of the preserved vocal chords of Hank Williams and get them implanted in his throat.

The songs were great, a mix of classic honky tonk and hillbilly stuff with Hancock’s own derivations on same, his singing was unbelievably perfect. But, and this is the reason I mention this show, I was especially blown away by the lead guitar playing of Eddie Biebel. I don’t know much about him except that he plays with Hancock as often as possible, which means if you like Telecaster players with the cleanest, richest tone you’ve ever heard and an imagination that links together every idea ever played on a guitar in Nashville between 1945 and 1965, you owe it to yourself to catch this guy in concert.


Anonymous Jeanne Biebel said...

I found your blog recently when I did an internet search on my brother, Eddie Biebel. Thank you for your complimentary comments about Eddie and his telecaster guitar playing (in your entry of May 2, 2005 - My Weekend of Culture). I thought you might like to know a little bit about him. Eddie was born and spent most of his life in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is well known and respected throughout Wisconsin for his inimitable guitar playing talent. He began entertaining at the age of 15 and has been at it ever since. Eddie was eight years old when he became somewhat obsessed about learning to play the guitar after seeing the Elvis Presley movie, "Blue Hawaii." Our parents got him a guitar and enrolled him in guitar lessons. His first guitar teacher thought he would never learn to play. Eddie changed teachers, and from then on, Eddie and the guitar were, and still are, inseparable. If only that first guitar teacher could see and hear him now. Eddie moved to Austin, Texas and has been the lead guitar player for Wayne Hancock since 2002. He plays electric guitar with Wayne Hancock, but you should see him flat pick an acoustic guitar - his fingers move so fast they become a blur. Eddie gets back to Green Bay a couple times a year, and every time he does, he's booked to play a couple of gigs. He always packs the place and leaves the crowd awe-struck.

I shared your blog entry with Eddie, and he thought it was really nice of you to write as you did about his guitar playing. He loves to play guitar, and he's as humble as they come.

Thank you, again.

Jeanne Biebel

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