What do you get when a renowned conductor of a Symphony Orchestra sings old Yiddish novelty songs and then plays Schumann on the piano, a Midwestern author sings songs by the Carter Family, Incredible String Band and Grateful Dead, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, sings some gut-bucket blues accompanied by electric guitar, accordion and trombone? A stirring welcome back to the U.S. of A.!!!
After the weird sensation of waking up in Peru and going to sleep in San Francisco, we set off to Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion Radio Show at the S.F. Opera House and were treated to a reminder of what it feels like to live in diversity in all its rainbow splendor. I admire the clarity and focus of homogenous culture, the crystal clear sense of identity and belonging with an accompanying mythology, music and dance style, dress, food and cultural habits, but it’s far from the world I grew up in. And musically at least, it’s a world in which the borders of one’s chosen music are increasingly malleable. How fantastic to hear blues and Yiddish songs in an opera house, Tony Bennet and Ravi Shankar (r.i.p.) and Keith Jarrett in a symphony hall, Moroccan folk musicians and hip-hop artists in a jazz club!
From the show, it was on to Trader Joes and a choice of tofu, tacos, teriyaki, Thai noodles, tabouli, tortellini, turkey and truffles. Back home to bookshelves filled with Rilke, Rumi, Roth, Robbins, Rushdie, to my CD collection of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bird, Burton, Brubeck, Beatles, Beach Boys, Brown (James), Brazilian samba, Bulgarian bagpipe, Bolivian panpipes. It’s a weird, wild and wacky world here in the U.S. and just right for this Russian Jew Unitarian Buddhist Jazz musician who has dabbled in Bulgarian bagpipe, Balinese gamelan, Burkina Faso xylophone and beyond traveling to six continents spreading the ideas of a German composer. It’s a world where a Shakespeare sonnet and the Mona Lisa live in the same song as Mickey Mouse and cellophane (Cole Porter’s You’re the Top), where King Tut made it into Michael Tilson Thomas’s father’s novelty song and Elvin Bishop’s blues song, where the rapper Tupac took his name from one of the last Inca emperors (Tupac Amaru).
The mix of high and low culture, of black, white, red and brown, of an esteemed thinker like Jungian psychologist James Hillman (r.i.p.) featured on Oprah— it’s all as American as apple pie—served with soy strawberry balsamic ice cream and a side of tiramisu. Unbelievably, some of us (particularly in a major political party which shall remain nameless) are still stuck in the old divisions that would keep it all apart and all I can say is that they’re missing a great party. As for me, I’m happy to be back home where I can play the Bobby Schumann Yiddish Country Folk-Rock Blues. With a verse or two in Spanish.
And off I go to visit my Mom and do just that.