Monday, October 5, 2009

Thoughts of Eminem and David Letterman

We have been treated to the arrest of Roman Polanski and the David Letterman extortion scandal. David Letterman has already been granted preemptive absolution for any betrayals of his family and anything he might have done to create a workplace that is not in keeping with reasonable standards of professionalism. Reports coming in on the Letterman work environment involve a work environment in which kissing up to the boss of late night television sometimes involved adjusting the horizontal hold.

Far be it from me to be judgmental. (That is really the only sin one can commit nowadays.) But how many reminders do we need that our entertainers are all too human behind the scenes. Those of us who read the Enquirer wonder whether they have not turned their private lives into public entertainment.

A gentleman with whom I worked used to perform in classical orchestras. He knew a few instruments. His talent was not confined to the classical genre. I once asked him about a particular piece, Albinoni's Adagio that I find deeply moving. Listening to it has brought me to tears on more than one occasion. That is how powerful it is. I asked my coworker if playing "Adagio" was an emotional experience.

"Not at all." he told me. "I play it with complete detachment. For me, creating what you experience is a question of employing skill. I experience no emotion at all when I am playing "Adagio" or any other piece you find so moving."

Comedy is somewhat similar. A comedian has to know how to deliver the story and punch line to get his laughs. He can't laugh himself. He may even affect a deadpan expression.

Those who entertain us are certainly professionals. They have the gift of bringing characters to life. But they are actors. There is a person behind the presentation. There is even a tension between the mask and its wearer, between the character and the person who portrays it.

But those who script a life for our entertainment traffic in chosen realities. In many cases, the picture they create of our world bears a tenuous relation to reality.

I feel sorry for the class that appoints itself to entertain me. Their material wealth is almost beyond my power to imagine. But I would not trade what I have for their package, which all too often includes social and familial poverty. The acts of betrayal and perfidy that blight their lives are like emotional atomic bombs. An act of marital infidelity such as that which keeps the Globe and the Enquirer selling papers creates hurt, insecurity and distrust that can span generations in its effect. I have spoken with an old friend whose parents had an acrimonious divorce back in the 1920's. The pain she felt affected her parenting and her own marriage. In a real sense, her grandchildren were effected as well. It reminds me of a nuclear bomb with a half life of 25 years that is still toxic after a generation.

I was going to work this morning just as a heart attack victim was being rushed out of his apartment building. He was in the capable hands of an ambulance crew. I took pains not to slow traffic or discomfit the man by staring. This is the same attitude I have towards Letterman's follies. In my mind's eye, I imagine the hurt of his wife and the pained puzzlement of his young son as tension blights his home.

There have been times when I was in the hospital awaiting the birth of a child. I felt out of place and could not put my finger on the reason until it occurred to me that there were almost no fathers there. In some maternity waiting rooms this is very common. The image from the '50s of nervous fathers pacing back and forth no longer conforms to the reality on the ground. It would be nice if Hollywood and our musical entertainers would use their artistic gifts to question this reality. If I were to give a prize to one song that questions the reality of easy divorce, it would have to go to Eminem for the song "Mockingbird" in which a divorced father is explaining his divorce to a very young child. I wish there were more such songs and less lives that resemble it.

We need to remind ourselves of how limited the vision is of those who make their living entertaining us. If we must be exposed to the sad and sordid lives of actors and musicians, we should at least learn something from them.

I feel sorry for David Letterman. Surrounded by syncophants, he must be a lonely man. When he tosses off glib one liners about other people's unhappy lives, I will always feel a twinge of sadness when I think of his own.


I have included a video of Albinoni's Adagio with this article as well as a link to "Mockingbird" by Eminem. I hope my readers will check them both out.

Mockingbird by Eminem

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