Thursday, September 17, 2009

To Hell with Bipartisanship

As ABC News said today: "If Sen. Max Baucus' bill -- with its smaller price tag, no employer mandate, and no public option -- doesn't draw at least a few Republicans, what will?"

For the past several months, the President and Democrats have been reaching out across the aisle, looking for some thread of bipartisanship as we struggle with how to fix a healthcare system that is so broken that nearly 2/3 of all personal bankruptcies are due to medical expenses -- and 80% of those bankruptcies are from people who actually had health insurance.

As much as I've hoped Congress would work to find common ground through common sense solutions, that's apparently not going to happen. (I guess I don't have the influence I ought to.) That's why it's time to end the bickering -- in a partisan way. The American people elected a Democratic president and put strong Democrat majorities into both houses of Congress. I can't speak for the other 127 million voters, but I cast my vote in the hope of getting something done, and putting this country back on a progressive track after eight years regressive, macho posturing and pandering to base instincts.

So I say to hell with bipartisanship. Screw the Republicans. They had their chance. Americans voted for Obama and the Democrats because we wanted change. If we'd wanted to remain beholden to special interests and old ideas we would have voted for John McCain and the Republicans. We didn't. So if the Republicans refuse to come along, leave 'em behind. Vote for a solution that works for America, not one that works for the Republican minority.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"American Idiot" at Berkeley Rep

I can’t really say I ever went through a “punk” phase. In 1978, during my junior year of college, when the Sex Pistols were on their first U.S. tour, my roommate and I ripped up a couple of t-shirts, wrote slightly rough, provocative words on them (“bite” is the only one I remember today), spiked our hair and manipulated safety pins to look like they were piercing our cheeks. Then we walked around campus for an afternoon and enjoyed the stares – this was BYU, after all!

Though the punk sensibility never really fit me (I’m just not that nihilistic), I – like most teenagers – identified with the sense of angst and rage at a larger world of which you’re not yet truly a full participant. I liked the Sex Pistols (in small doses), loved The Clash (still do), but found my own way of dealing with the anger and anxiety of youth.

It is that sense of angst and aimlessness and limited options that provides the backbone for the new musical version of Green Day’s mega-platinum, Grammy-winning punk rock opera “American Idiot” that is currently in previews at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater.

“Opera” may be a misnomer in this case. The show is more of a punk rock tone poem in that there is really very little story going on here, but rather an evocation of teen disaffection and confusion in the context of a world saturated with millions of conflicting political and media messages.

“American Idiot” centers around Jesus of Suburbia, a young man who hangs out in the 7-11 parking lot with his friends before he and his two best buds Will and Tunny go their separate ways: Jesus heads to the big city, Will ends up an Army grunt in Iraq and Tunny stays home with his knocked-up girlfriend. (Or maybe it’s Tunny who goes to Iraq, I wasn’t really sure which one was which.)

All three of these young men spend far too much time in basements and on worn-out, Levitz-level furniture, parked in front of TV sets, taking in the endless stream of media – that is represented for us on a towering set covered with propaganda from multiple generations and pockmarked with 20 or so flatscreens that display a variety of video and animations throughout the show.

Somewhere inside them, these three boys must have dreams – but we never get to learn what they are. In “Rent” and “Spring Awakening” – the two shows most closely related to “American Idiot”, the longings of disaffected youth are spoken. They want to create art, or get laid, or break free from their parents. Here the main characters’ dreams – if indeed they have any – are kept from us. We know those dreams are there because we can see the disappointment and anger they feel at not achieving them, and in the realization that they have no discernible means of achieving them.

If any dream at all is voiced, it’s in the very first line of the show: “Don’t wanna be an American idiot!” That’s the extent of their aspiration – to not be a mindless drone in a world run by giant corporations and heartless, terror-producing governments. Jesus, Will and Tunny don’t know what they want to be, they just know what they don't want to be.

If this all sounds a bit dark and depressing, it is. Sort of. It’s rather hard not to be when one of the key themes of a show is “Nobody likes you. Everyone left you. They’re all out without you, having fun.” But “American Idiot” is also a brilliant, explosive, heartfelt work of art that – if you can handle volume – you really ought to see. The music is amazing and the onstage band rocks every corner of the house. The story’s a bit thin, but the show’s not about story – it’s about emotion.

I have only two quibbles with the show. First is with the set design. The screen placements aren’t quite haphazard, but they’re not linear, either, and the hanging car seems out of place. The whole thing is a bit derivative of U2’s amazing ZooTV tour, yet it lacks the chaotic energy that made that environment so compelling.

Second quibble is the cast. Mostly excellent, but if this production ends up on Broadway – as I expect it will – they might want to consider recasting some of the ensemble and perhaps even John Gallagher, Jr. as Jesus of Suburbia. I loved him in “Spring Awakening,” but for some reason he didn’t always connect with me in this role. One part that should not be recast is Tony Vincent as St. Jimmy. From the moment he appears on stage, he commands your attention. When this gets to Broadway, look for a Tony nod for him.

Quibbles aside, if you’re anything like the audience last night at Berkeley Rep, you’ll love “American Idiot.” The standing ovation was almost immediate. And with good reason. For a production that is still in early previews, “American Idiot” is polished, shining with a grungy glamour and working hard to shake everyone out their anxiety-ridden stupors, whether the cause is teenage angst or the middle-age realization that maybe all your dreams aren't going to come true. But that’s OK. After all, happiness lies not in getting what you want, but wanting what you have. And what you have in “American Idiot” is the most interesting American musical to come along since, well, “Spring Awakening.”

Saturday, September 05, 2009

It's All Bullshit

Wine competitions, that is.

Back at Work -- for Today

Since I began this blog I've had periods where I wrote several posts a day -- as well as periods where I went as long as a week without writing.

However, it's now been more than two weeks since I last posted. I don't know if any of my nine regular readers are still out there, but I figured you deserved an explanation for my absence.

Facebook must be part of it. I now have another outlet for interesting links and (brief) half-baked ideas. Facebook is easy and fun and several dozen of my friends and family are part of my Facebook community.

Priorities factor into the situation, as well. I've had a big proposal I was working on, plus another smaller project; they received most of my attention.

But as I reflect on it, I think the biggest reason I haven't been posting is also the biggest reason I should be posting: the increasing political polarity that is happening in America.

In one of my earliest posts I said: "I can’t help believing that most Americans don’t feel represented by politicians who become more and more entrenched in their partisanship with each passing day. I simply refuse to believe that most Americans aren’t disgusted by the posturing and vitriol and name-calling being passed off by talk radio and cable news pundits as the "national debate.""

Unfortunately, in the 3-1/2 years since I wrote that, nothing has changed. We have a new president, but no truly new agenda. As was ever the case in politics, promises seem to be there to be broken. Congress continues to focus on differences, with the right wing pulling even harder to the right and the left allowing themselves to be pulled. There's movement, but the two sides never seem to get closer to each other. Or to us.

Bottom line, the political scene is depressing as hell. And I don't know what my little, lightly-read blog can do to help (and I still don't like to post unless I have something at least semi-interesting to say), so I keep quiet. For now.

NOTE: the photo is of the trail from the fourth green to the fifth tee at my favorite local golf course, and is the first photo I took with my new digital camera.