Friday, March 19, 2010

The Annual Post (a Day Early)

Funny how the timing worked out. Like some undeniable call from my writer's ego to assert my words once more. Okay, here they are. Words.

Tonight I had the good fortune to witness one of the more magical events I've attended in a year or so: Doveman (Paul Bartlett and Nico Muhly and about a dozen other excellent musicians) performed the entirety of their new album, "The Conformist," at the Kitchen. As a former music critic (yeah, a long time ago), I'm so jaded that even during the best concerts I invariably look at my watch five songs in and wonder, "How much more?" Not tonight. The complexity, spirit, and gorgeousness of the music and performances swept me away.

(Holy cow, the guy's on fire on Twitter.)

And then, after a light postfacto dinner at the Half King with my friends, I came home. And, as is increasingly the case, after an evening of merriment and lively conversation, I stood in the kitchen downing a glass of water and thought, "Damn. Did I say that? I'll have to apologize/explain/recant. How could I have been so wrong?"

If these gaffes were the product of uninhibited drinking, such nocturnal second-guessing might make some sense. But I don't drink all that much anymore. Is this what happens to editors after years of fixing copy -- that they find any word string fair game for minor repairs? No, because I hear all kinds of nonsense that leaves me unmoved to improve. Is this desire to unspeak my own words perhaps the result of a growing sense of right and wrong about what should and should not be said? If so, why has it appeared so late in life? Aren't such signs of the reformation meant to attend one's 20s? Do I blame a crisis of confidence ... or just a stodgy uptick of rectitude? (Hey -- is that the new catchphrase? "Well Dan, looks like just another stodgy Uptick of Rectitude at the Vatican today ...")

Speaking of the Vatican, there was the night a week ago when I discovered in the cab back from Brooklyn that the person with whom I’d been speaking of "crazy religious" people -- to clarify, that was me using the two words together as if they'd been joined at the lips, like "high-octane" or "waste management" -- when I discovered, with a shock, that she was herself religious. I was like, as they say, WTF? I didn’t know I knew any religious people (who aren't related to me). Not very religious, she clarified, but enough to want to see where Jesus was born, preached, and died when she visits Israel this summer. And I knew all that about her, but she still had to ask me three times what I meant by "crazy religious people" (Three! Like the holy trinity!) before I finally realized that I'd been insulting her in a spasm of sheer obliviousness. And while I was in fact talking about my own cousins, who live in true-believer settlements in the desert, it was my high-octane, waste-mismanagement conjoining of the two hot-button words that set her teeth on edge. But I didn’t send that apologetic email. I decided apology is a sign of weakness.

As in: Never complain, never explain, never apologize. Words to live by. Especially if you’re George W. Bush, who's commonly blamed for this verbal Cerberus. I think he just adapted the folk wisdom to his own ends, because he traded "never retreat" for "never complain."

And tonight! I was being funny (oh really?) talking about an invitation I'd received to an opening where I'd be sure to see a couple between whom I’d come a few years back, and just how very awkward that might be. They weren't married then and still aren't, to my knowledge, and I only started carrying on with her months after he'd left her and their kid for one of his students. He eventually ditched the student and returned to their common-law relationship, but I never met him and never wanted to. So there I was this evening, waxing loud and preposterous about what a disaster it would be to attend that opening after having made free (not my exact phrasing) with someone's "wife" -- when in fact there were no wives in the equation. But the people hearing my ridiculous tale didn't know that. So once again I feel compelled to send an email explaining myself. And I will send this one. Or I'll just direct them to read this. Much easier at this point. And then I can monetize the traffic!

On my way home, post-gaffe, I read Roger Cohen's recent New York Times opinion piece urging the Obama administration to stop trying to control every scrap of quote that hits the presses.

I don’t think he was talking about me. But we're all engaged in our own little campaigns to sway opinion. Vote me fun. Vote me funny. Vote me into your life. Vote me into your ... inner sanctum.

See? It's late but I'm toeing the line. I don’t want to have to apologize to you in the morning.

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