Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ian McShane Can Sing!

There are times when the world of men creates something absolutely beautiful. The striking thing to me is that such moments most often are totally unexpected, even if it comes in the middle of something much bigger that is supposed to be striking, artsy, or monumental. In Sibelius' Second Symphony, for example, the entire piece is filled with profound moments linked together movement by movement into a cohesive whole. The coda, or final breath of the score, grows naturally from all that preceeds it, in an eight note bar. But then Sibelius repeats the bar, adds a note, and changes it from up to down, before presenting it in its original form to end the symphony. The change is breathtaking and unexpected, the brilliance an emotional one. As Spock wouild say, listening to it, "We reach." It has taken Diane and me six years to catch up with the HBO series "Deadwood." Over three seasons and thirty-six episodes blaringly and openly tell the crass and bloody story of "miners and whores" and the people eeking out a brutal living and struggling to bring civilization to the mining camp in the face of at least one robber baron with murderous intent. Episode 9, Season 3 is called "Amateur Night." While townsfolk show off their talents, bar owner and main protagonist Al Swearingen, played by Ian McShane, waits alone in his empty saloon, empty because everyone is outside. But Al's concern is not just for a night without business. There is a storm brewing over him and his life choices, a storm that could destroy him. The episode ends with him singing, a cappella, a sad and brutal song. It takes a minute to recognize the tune as he sings it, slightly embellished by an amateur's interpretation, and we did not get to hear the first stanza, a dead giveaway. But suddenly we realize he is singing "Streets of Laredo," a classic story of a young cowboy instructing his finder on how to deal with his body, as he lay dying. It is a poignant moment, an underscore to the entire season, sung in McShane's precisely unprofessional bass-baritone -- and is the best moment in the entire 36 hours of "Deadwood." I look at the world and see that we have not progressed, grown, evolved a single iota from the men and women of Deadwood, South Dakota Territory, or further back in time and history. It depresses me, distresses me, gives me cause to wonder about the future with fear in my heart. I look at my grandson and wonder what battles might be placed in his path and how he will deal with them. Rationale, deceit and murder are the norm. Read any paper, watch any news broadcast. Those with power will do anything to keep it. Those with ambition for power will do anything to attain it. The rest of us happily choose sides based on promises and lies, and greedily embrace hatred as our fuel for action. This scenario plays out on every stage on which humans assemble, from corporate takeover to outright war. I know that Mankind is a work in progress. But sometimes the progress is negligible or seems to have stopped altogether and slipped into reverse. Then I hear Ian McShane sing "Streets of Laredo."

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