He was a genius, as if I've ever been able to define that word, which I haven't. Nonetheless, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an authentic phenomenom─a tiny child who played a large and complex piano with little instruction, an older child who understood, pictured in his mind, and wrote a symphony. An even older child (the creature, "teenager," was not yet invented) who became a performing pop-star throughout unwashed and odor-laden 18th century Europe, during the time of de Sade and Ben Franklin. As a young man and an older man-child, he poured out, copied from his head some of the most magnificent Western music ever created. He elevated Opera, a cabaret of its time, into both a folk-art form and an elite form of art─da Vinci would have loved him, and probably did. Are these two remarkable beings truly part of Darwinian history? I think not.
215 years after they tossed Amadeus into a dusty pit and covered him with lime, his music, in public domain, prevails, adored throughout the world. One of his less popular operatic works, Idomeneo, revamped and restaged, caught fire in our incendiary times and threatened to singe a forest of sensibility. In Germany of all places! Of course, I don't know what to make of Germany anyhow. I'm still trying to piece together the Weimar republic, the goose-stepping war years, the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, the retrenching of East and West Germany after the fall of the wall and its present-day looney tunes right wing. I don't know about Germany─it must be the food.
The brouhaha or umpapa exploded from the devilish mind of the production's director, Hans Neuenfels. He added a moment in which the severed heads of revered religious figures are displayed on stage: Jesus, Buddha, Poseidon (yes, he is revered) and Mohammed. If you didn't notice this happening a decade or so ago, you can easily find the blog-choked stream of information about this "ohmygod" event, along with the Pope's gaffe, and the giggling cartoonists in Copenhagen, and... well, read about it, or podcast it or something. This is not where I'm going.
It's the public domain aspect that draws my attention. I strongly believe in copyright protection, and I agree with those who criticize its current bloat and inflation. Once an artist is gone, royalties and fees should continue to flow to his immediate family. After that, they should be abrogated, unless perpetual royalties are dedicated exclusively, without exception, to the preservation of the artist's works. I agree with all of that. What I don't believe in is public domain. Eminent domain is rather intoxicating, but the domain of the public is a herd-driven obsession that colors the chicken-little sky of "community." What are the community's rights? To snatch and grab an artist's works as soon as he no longer has a voice, or a mind for that matter? Public domain is a de facto execution of an artist's persona. He's dead, so let us now kill him.
No, I don't believe that the community, or an individual, or a Japanese billionaire has the right to screw with a work of art that he, she or it did not create. Adapt it, base a new work on it? That's good. Update it, change it, transfigure it into something different, no. That's not only wrong, in my not so humble opinion, it's ugly and self-defeating.
I'm thinking of the American poet, Robinson Jeffers, who created a play, Medea, and significantly and honestly subtitled it as "loosely based on the play by Euripides." That was good. I'm thinking of the two marvelous film adaptations of Shakespeare's Hamlet: Olivier's drastically altered, based on a version which he simply titled: Hamlet─that was good. And Branagh's version, touted as the complete original work (though not quite true), which he titled William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Not quite right. It was an adaptation and it was "based on." And I'm thinking of that monstrosity created by buzz Baz Luhrmann, which he called: William Shakespeare's Romeo+Juliet. Not only did he ignore the writer's work, he glaringly re-emphasized the fact that great dialogue in the mangled mouths of second-rate actors is a theft of
intellectual property and strong support to add a new commandment to Mosaic law (which I do believe is in public domain).
When it finally enters the domain of the public, will he or she or they have the right to take O'Neill's Moon For The Misbegotten, reset it to the suburbs of Sydney and add dialogue about Australian country-life and "barbie" culture? Does the fact that Charlie Chaplin's films are publicly domained mean that you or they have the right to re-edit or colorize or change his work? If he could, the anonymous collector, who paid $31 million for a Modigliani painting, must just change a few things for his personal pleasure. The marketing paranoia of the world's art bazaar restrains him. But then again, in the future, some googled yahoo might just do that. After all, he "owns" it!
No. Don't change a word, a note, a brush stroke. The artist lives in his work and his life should be preserved. Experience his work as he conceived it, and if the community wants to exercise its rights, let them support the artists who are still breathing and are inspired by the work, as it exists, of those who preceded them.
Which brings me back to sweet Wolfgang and his opus. If Herr Neuenfels had been bound by respect and restraint when staging Idomeneo, the entire scandal in a tea cup would have never happened. The absurdity of it is that the furor erupted before the production ever opened─in frenzied anticipation of nightmarish responses by...shhh...fanatic Islamists. Well, hey, they have a hyper-extended view of public domain. They say that all the world's a stage and they...shhh...the fanatic Islamists are the only producers, directors, and critics. Now go copyright that.
Farewell to the Horse
When I was a small human, I lived in a small city that still had horses on the streets with stripes of horse-droppings like the yellow traffic stripe down streets today. They pulled carts for selling goods, for ice delivery in the day when ice-boxes outnumbered electric refrigerators, for picking up junk, for myriad transportation tasks. One sunny day, a junkman stopped in front of our house to haggle for the unwanted stuff my mother had cleared out of the cellar. He was a sour, grumbling old man. After he dropped a heavy weight chained to the horse's bridle and went into the house, I carefully moseyed up to the horse for a closer look. She was old and tired and not well cared for (as I realized later when I learned more about horses). She had blinders on so she didn't see me at first. But she heard me tip-toeing, I could tell from the way she moved her ears and lowered her head. As I came around, she slowly turned her
head to look at me and then slowly turned away. I guessed she didn't consider me a threat. Reassured, I stepped closer to look at her face. And then I looked into her eye. What I saw was a revelation that took my breath into my head, one of many that awakened me that year. I was seven. What I saw, deep in that large brown eye was... pain and stupor.
That first experience expanded by hundreds more down through years led me to an understanding and committed belief.
It is this—
Horses do not like to pull carts.
They do not like to race.
They do not like to perform.
And most of all:
They do not like to have a body on their backs
or a strap/clamp in their mouths.
By instinct they are curious but wary of humans
and they do not imprint on humans at birth.
One of the more magnificent species on this planet, the horse has been around as long as humanoids, and all the bullshit about them, horseshit if you will, is the same as the self-aggrandizing, self-righteous, self-justifying bull&horseshit spewed by slave owners in the American South (and elsewhere) when describing the human animals that they were and are oppressing, exploiting and torturing in the name of their gods, their cambric brains and their penises.
Tell me different. Tell me that horses are 'stupid', not dumb, not ignorant, 'stupid'. Tell me that horses love what they do, love their masters and wouldn't have survived without humankind. That's what cowboys say and equestrians and meat purveyors. Let's test it. Let's put a 100 or so pounds on your back, a metal bit in your mouth, and some whip lashings to keep you on the straight and narrow.
Love in your heart or... blood in your mouth?