In Which Twenty’s Plenty for the Travel Wear-y

Post 26

Wagner liked a Wanderer and travelled extensively himself. Not only the enforced exile that tends to follow picking the losing side in a revolution but he traversed Europe trying (usually failing) to put on commercially successful operas. He also regaled in Mein Leben many tales of hiking throughout the Alps. Of his main characters, Wotan often operated under the pseudonym “Wanderer” (and lived up to that) and several others, including  Tannhäuser, Parsifal, Siegfried, the Dutchman and Lohengrin all put in the mileage. I guess a good yarn is a journey in itself so travel is an oft used device.

Don and Little Don also like to travel. Harbouring thoughts of a European Tour, we (well Don anyway) envisaged this season, following Wagner’s footsteps and was thinking in terms of Zürich Grasshoppers, Dynamo Dresden and someone nice near Venice, say Verona or Udinese. Any would have fit the bill, though we drew the line at Riga. But no, typical West Ham, we depart the Euro scene with the ink barely dry on the Referendum Act, going out to that footballing giant Astra FC. Good God. I mean just give me strength.

Fortunes always hiding but still we blow bubbles and all that (Slav accent). We decide that this year we shall discover the green and pleasant land that is England (and Wales)! Unfortunately Cotswolds FC, North Cornwall United and Delights of Snowdonia Athletic are still building up to Premier League status. So it has been slightly less bucolic idylls  including Liverpool, Manchester, Swansea and last week, Sunderland.

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But pleasant sojourns nonetheless and hard to credit this season (as opposed to last) but I don’t think we’ve seen a defeat. Of course we lost at Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal but those are mere stretching one’s legs rather than proper travel.

So after a very nice lunch and a pint in gloriously sunny Newcastle we arrive at the Stadium of Light. It has lost a little of the Roker Park soul, fondly remembered by Don in the early ’80’s but is a pretty impressive ground and the support deserves better than the rubbish they’ve been served the last few years. It afforded Don the opportunity to explain the Bob Stokoe statue to Little Don (with whom it barely registered) but folks, it is of such annoying and futile gestures that maketh a parent (or not). Don was optimistic. He’d predicted a 2-1 Hammers win earlier in the week on the fabulous Stop! Hammer Time podcast  Hammers Stumble in Relegation Push and he was sticking with that. Predict Sunderland to score? But they haven’t scored in over a million seconds of apparently active football! Only a madman would back them to score. Surely?

And it couldn’t have started better. After knocking the ball around with some fluency, Carroll nodded the ball back from beyond the far post to Ayew who with the time, space and a carefree attitude that only a sunny bank holiday weekend can provide, adjusted his footing, lurched, stumbled, scuffed something..and the ball rifled into the bottom corner some way below the legion of travelling Hammers fans. We sang, we laughed, Slav was declared to be Super, the boys were knocking the ball around with some assurance, even at speed and (blow me) in a forward direction!! And all was well for a while. The apex was a flowing move that ended with Snodders (to his friends) clipping the ball just wide with the goalie nowhere.

Then the rot seemed to set in.  Khazri, one of those annoyingly effective players began being annoyingly effective. But even he would not have expected to score as he did. With Sunderland settling comfortably into their second million of seconds without a goal, they innocently win a corner. Khazri swings in a decent ball, which Fernandes (of whom Don is otherwise a fan), ushered through, lest not to interrupt its flow and Randolph (more of whom anon) under substantial pressure from the substantial Anichebe flaps at nothing and the ball goes straight in. Who scores direct from a corner? I mean beyond the playground, who does this? Maybe we were unlucky not to get a foul. Maybe.

Slave is declared to be not quite so Super and we limp through to half time.

In what was becoming a battle of who could have the most laughable defence, we were 2-1 up shortly after the re-start. Ginger Pele nodding home. The only pressure he felt was the band of high pressure nestled somewhere way over the North Sea. Again Slaven was Super. And without too much trouble (relatively speaking), we were edging toward a correct score prediction and the moral high ground for Don. Step up Darren Randolph. Now don’t get me wrong I like Darren and Don remembers from his youth that being in-goal is a thankless task. Don also remembers Darren keeping us in a cup game at Anfield last year. However, this year’s Anfield was a different story; one that has had too many repeat readings and with a chapter added last Saturday. With the game drawing to a close, and under real pressure, he elects to catch not punch, at almost at 18 yards from goal. The ball falls to Borini and they are level.

Don recalls a similarity with Adrian. Both keepers are rightly criticized for hugging their line and not dominating the six yard box, never mind the penalty area. Bowed low with such criticism, every now and then, they decide they are coming for the ball. It may be around the half way line but they are coming for it. Just to shut people up.  It rarely ends well.

Don’s prediction in tatters, it ends 2-2. Oh well, survival will have to be guaranteed another time and its time to go. We leave the weary Wearsiders and head back to Newcastle, where Sunderland’s failure to take probably their final survival chance was greeted with widespread joy. We took a slightly later train which proved uneventful and home in Muswell Hill by eleven.

This is great improvement on Don’s last trip to Sunderland (Roker Park) after which night game, he had to hitch-hike through the night to get home, which was then Lancaster. Some travel even further. Take for example Scandinavian Hammers who have kindly let me re-produce their logo as it has more than a touch of Nordic Wagneritus around its gills. These hardy folk think nothing of several thousands of miles over the season which I could understand if we were decent.

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Now apparently the good folk at Virgin Media recognise the monotony of the long distance runner as they were offering a tenner back on every away ticket purchased for last weekend. Anyone hear about it? Don saw no publicity whatsoever at Sunderland and only after tickets had been disposed of did someone mention to him the  Twenty’s Plenty campaign. Forgive Don’s cynicism but he ponders if this is one of those publicity stunts aimed at everyone other than those that might take advantage. Cue Don and Little Don rooting through bins looking for grubby tickets because it seems other proof of purchase does not qualify for the refund. Why the hell not? Come on Virgin, be a sport. And if your ticket is not in the bin, claim your tenner!

Enough retrospective. lets look forward! A relaxing shluf on the tube tomorrow before a Rioja or three down Enrique Tomas at the Westfield (you can take the bloke out of Green Street…)..before a nice three points at home to Everton. If ever there was an easy team for us…Come on guys, send those Scandi Hammers back to Tromso happy; they’ve made a big effort.

This episode of this Wagner blog has been painfully short of Wagner. That’s the way it goes. Some days, the Swan glides along the river bearing the Knight, other days it falls dead from the sky. You got to roll with those punches. Last time was all Parsifal. Don’s heard whiff of a Götterdämmerung study day on Sunday at Fulham Opera which might be cool and on election night he’ll be watching Lohengrin at Longborough (one can do away days in the Cotswolds!), starring the fabulous Lee Bissett.

But a sad note on which to end. We hear today of the way too early death of Ugo Ehiogu. As nice a guy as his name was difficult to spell and with whom Don was lucky enough to play a couple of rounds of golf. RIP Ugo.

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If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In Which there’s No Fool like a Pure Fool

Post 25

Ludwig Swan copy

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2015

 

A recent survey indicated that No Religion is now one of our most observed “religions”. Which goes to show that either the survey was rubbish or that we think of religion in  a broader sense. The phrase “Keep the Faith” is bandied about for all sorts of reasons and for many, including Don, his immediate family and Fan, supporting West Ham is a kind of religion. Usually the self-flagellation type but with very rare moments of spiritual rapture.

We like Slaven, we back Slaven, we keep the faith. But Lord, how you test us! After another defeat (at Arsenal) with Spurs, Everton, Liverpool etc all to come in short order, it was looking grim. As regards two of those; Spurs and Everton, this was the season (Don not unreasonably hoped) in which we would make great in-roads into the “stature” gap between them and us; even over-hauling Everton. Instead the gap has widened to a chasm (such pettiness is of interest to Don). Yet here we are. Are we foolish or what?

So what a relief to beat Swansea on Saturday. After weeks of abstinence, Don can again look at a league table and he has returned to the joys of Gary Lineker et al on Match of the Day. It wasn’t a superb display but it was a distinct improvement over the second half at Arsenal. There was passion, guts and we had a messianic Ginger Pele at the back to remind what playing for and supporting this club means to all of us. Don’s moment of the day was a dead ball moment. With 15 minutes to go, their captain Jack Cork (decent player) was down injured. The sound of “Super Slav” resounded around the ground at Jericho threatening volume. In the context of the pressure the gaffer’s been under, this was a stirring moment and showed, not that the recent dross is acceptable but that we are all in it together. It could have brought a tear to a Madonna statue (non-weeping variety).

Don and Little Don are up to Sunderland at the weekend, fools that we are but at least now a prospect of a decent day out (naturally the only day this week with rain forecast), as opposed to the day of judgement.

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A little sense of serendipity as the Swans bring relief and we move on to Parsifal..

Parsifal, der Reiner Tor, the Pure Fool, was Wagner’s final opera. He may have intended that because whilst he had over the years mused over other operatic projects, his tendencies in his final years, hinted at a more symphonic direction. It was also his only opera written specifically for his newly created Festspeilhaus at Bayreuth aka the Wagner Cathedral, which is fitting. Those coming to Parsifal for the first time may find the slow-paced, reverential feel quite challenging, or if in contemplative mood, quite wonderful and may be forgiven in thinking it is a religious piece, set as it is around the Grail, and Good Friday – a hint of Passion Play. Academics have long argued as to its religious credentials. As Ulrike Kienzle (1) comments : it is beyond doubt that it is a work of a sacred nature, “but what form of “sacred”are we dealing with here?” One may find it cleansing and cathartic; calming and strangely sensual without really knowing why.

Unlike his other operas, there is no obvious narrative that pushes proceedings towards a denouement; indeed the crux of the matter (Kundry’s kiss), takes place in the middle of Act 2. Acts 1 and 3 reflect each other in several ways so Act 1 builds to the kiss and Act 3 is in contemplation of its revelatory consequences. Time and history are of less significance than event. One may be forgiven at the end for thinking, “that was an amazing experience but I don’t know why and haven’t a clue what it was really about”. Don’s regular reader will understand that Don’s boundless ignorance does not preclude his mouthing off, so with Good Friday and Passover fast approaching, its time for some initial impressions on Parsifal.

To whet appetite; religious fanaticism, castration, lust, sex-slaves, re-incarnation,  androgyny, necrophilia and an over burdening Oedipal complex. Not to mention the nihilistic killing of an endangered species. So as “Swansongs” go, its your normal trip through Wagner’s neurosis. Yet, someone watching it fresh, may take it at face value,  love the beautiful experience and pick up on little of the above. That in Don’s view, is equally worthy.

Lets start with the briefest of over simplified synopsis. Then we will have a bit of a think as to its meaning..

Act 1.

In a remote and desolate part of Spain (Montsalvat), a group of committed believers guard the holy Grail, the vessel which, following the last supper, was used (in another vortex) to catch the blood of the dying Christ on the cross as he bled from a wound in his side; apparently inflicted by the Roman soldier Longinus piercing him with a spear. The guardians (Knights), live an ascetic existence of self-flagellation, celibacy and occasional glimpses of the Grail and also their other holy relic – the said spear (until they lost it). They derive succour from the relics’ other worldly qualities and the very ritual of bringing them out on a regular basis sustains them, spiritually and actually (which is helpful as god knows the place looks as though nothing would ever grow there). It brings to mind Freya’s apples from Das Rheingold. The Grail when brought forth glows blood-red and flows as Eucharist wine. The Grail King,  Amfortas, should preside over this ceremony, like his father Titurel before him. However, Amfortas suffers from a wound that will not heal and inflicts perpetual pain but which will not bring the longed for relief in death. Guess what? It’s a wound in the same place from the very same spear (significantly it still drips blood from its tip). So he has to be respectfully dragged out to perform the ceremony. With the King’s reluctant leadership, the community is fast falling into decline, the landscape into desolation and its all becoming a bit of a chore.

Enter Kundry. She flits in and out of the community, they don’t really know why or from where she comes. She ostensibly helps but always seems to be absent in times of trouble. So a target for mockery and suspicion but grudgingly respected by Guernemanz , the chief lieutenant Knight. In defending her from taunts, he provides the following little back story; to wit….

A former Knight, Klingsor, angered at being omitted from the community (he’s not thought to be of the right stuff, especially on the celibacy front), has established camp over the way and plans to capture the holy grail and spear. His tactic (a sure-fire winner), is a brothel (inhabited by the Flower Maidens) which tempts the weaker Knights which, after a quick knee trembler, are in Klingsor’s thrall.

Sad to report Dear Reader, but the king Amfortas himself, to his eternal shame and on a supposed trip to defeat Klingsor no less, succumbs to fleshy temptation and (though the Knights don’t know it) with none other than Mata Hari in chief, Kundry. While she is tempting him with a bit of how’s your father, Klingsor nabs the holy spear laying by Amfortas and stabs him in the side. He returns to Montsalvat.

Debit column: lost holy spear. Credit column: gained perpetual wound. Note to the Accounts: Klingsor, in futile attempt to convince the knights that he is serious about celibacy, has at some time before, castrated himself.

So back up to date (whenever that is because it’s all a bit fluid, time wise), the Knights are preparing for the ceremony. A commotion and a thud, as a dead swan hits the deck. A boy with suspicious bow and arrow is hauled by the Knights to Guernemanz. Who are you? Why did you kill an innocent swan? Further similar questions, all of which are greeted by a shrug of the shoulders by the boy who doesn’t even know his own name. Kundry has seen all and realises she knows the boy and his parents. She explains to Guernemanz how the boy was raised by his mother who after his father died in battle, was so over protective of her son, she insulated him from knowledge and life. But alas, the boy having left her, she has subsequently died of a broken heart. Devastating news to the boy. Guernemanz remembers a rumour that Amfortas would will only be healed by a pure fool and something about knowledge through compassion. So on a hunch he invites the boy to observe the grail ceremony.

Moving on. Reverential slow-paced ceremony at which Grail is revealed, still glows red, Eucharist etc. but with no Spear with which to couple, is then returned to its place of safety. Guernemanz in hope, asks the boy, “Weißt du was du sahst?” Do you know what you saw? The boy shrugs his innocent shoulders and Guernemanz guesses he’s a fool but not the fool. The choir resounds not with Super Slav but with knowledge through compassion, the pure fool. Suggesting Guernemanz may have missed a trick.

Act 2.

Klingsor’s camp over the way. He’s been observing goings-on down Montsalvat and he too has spotted the kid’s potential. Having secured the spear, he considers the time to be right to get the Grail but (rightly) perceives Parsifal as a threat. He awakes Kundry from her coma like death sleep in which he keeps her shackled until her sexual charms are needed. Her task; to seduce this Parsifal kid who is heading this way, mowing down several of Klingsor’s Knights en route and then amid coitus, he can go the same way as Amfortas. Lets not think of Klingsor as an out-and-out baddie; he wanted to join the gang and they wouldn’t let him or, he was one of them and they booted him out. Think Captain Black to Parsifal’s Captain Scarlet.

The lovely flower maidens in the walk-thru brothel try to tempt him but to no avail but then he sees Kundry at her sultry best and it looks like he’s a gonner. Amid telling him about his mother’s love (vague memories return to him), it becomes a little confusing; is Kundry mother or lover? Which is of course the point and see below for discussion. They embrace in a passionate kiss which probably stands for the Full Monte just short of penetration. When….at the last second he pulls away and exclaims “Amfortas, the Wound!!”  That is, he’s had an epiphany re what happened to Amfortas, what Kundry is up to and how he Parsifal can provide redemption. A whole raft of complex stuff ensues between them re faith, seduction, compassion and redemption which is beyond this short synopsis (but which is the key and peripherally considered below). Klingsor curses Parsifal and throws the sacred spear to kill him. As Parsifal catches it above his head, Klingsor, the Flower Maidens and the whole kit and caboodle (other than Kundry) turn to dust (sounds biblical).

Act 3

Having regained the spear, our boy is making his way back to Montsalvat. Considering its just over the way, he gets badly lost because it takes an unknown period of time and by the time he bumps into Guernemanz (who has just bumped into Kundry) in a lovely flower meadow (note contrast to desolation and to tawdry Flower Maidens),Guernemanz  is an old man.

Guernemanz sees Parsifal has the longed for Spear and realises that Parsifal is the pure fool who can redeem Amfortas from his sin, save the community and (Parsifal) can take his rightful place as Grail King. Much anointing and in best Saviour-like tradition, Parsifal washes Kundry’s feet (and vice versa) before the three of them follow the yellow brick road to Montsalvat.

Once there, a further grail ceremony is performed which also doubles as a funeral for the ancient Titurel. The Spear is re-united (by which we mean inserted into) with the Grail, Amfortas is healed, Kundry is forgiven and finds her longed for redemption in death and Parsifal is anointed the new Grail King. All is well.

The End.

So it’s not much of a story. Its carried (in Acts 1 and 3) by sublime, slow, transcendental music with the Dresden Amen much in evidence and one feels it intends to impart deep messages of a spiritual nature. Don would not pretend to be able to attempt to decipher but lets at least raise some notions and pose some questions.

It looks like a piece of Christian art. Without mentioning Jesus by name, we have a Saviour and a Eucharist; and baptisms of sorts are performed. This is an unnatural bedfellow with the agnostic Wagner of his Feuerbach and Schopenhauer decades (and he was influenced by Schopenhauer to the last).  But his essays in his latter years suggested a pivotal role for the established (non-Catholic) church in the new German society. Nietzsche was convinced the older Wagner had “fallen” into Christianity and for him, it was the last straw, though we know by this time, he was looking for any reason to criticise his erstwhile idol. One could look at it purely at this level but I think that would be superficial.

Nationalism and blood. Parsifal, perhaps more than any other Wagner piece has been interpreted differently over the years and generally there’s sufficient ammo to bolster any existing perspective if that’s the reviewer’s aim. To generalise for the sake of it; in the 1880’s and 1890’s, the Church supported its christian ethos. Pre-WW1 its purely artistic and aesthetic qualities were appreciated. In the increasingly antisemitic Weimar years, preservation of pure race/pure blood issues were emphasised and honed  with the rise of the Nazis. Interestingly while the Nazis banned a lot of overtly religious art, Parsifal was permitted. So what are the racist/nationalistic aspects?

We have a community trying to survive, it is based on principles of purity and to its mind, decency. It preserves the pure blood of its long-lost leader/god head, which has purifying qualities. It is exclusive, it has cast out those not of the right stuff (Klingsor) and is wary of the outsider (Kundry). Its headed by a leader who is not only not leading but has fallen short of the principles, due to his weakness. The community reveres two relics, the grail and spear. Both are linked to the blood of the mythical godhead. If the Grail community doesn’t remain strong in the face of outsider (other race) temptation, it’s very essence will be lost. Who will save them? Enter Parsifal, yes a fool but because he has been kept pure from the corrupting influences of the outside world he will gain wisdom to illuminate the path. Watch him gain in authority as the piece progresses. He is the outsider hero who can resist the temptation that befalls the incumbent leader, thereby save the community from unwanted outsiders and by end, all are prostrate before his absolute authority. Weißt du was du sahst? One can see what the Nazi’s saw.

Others look at it quite differently. There are few operas that have inspired Freudian literature like Parsifal. Conferences have been held on it is influence on psychoanalysis.

Tom Artin, in his book What Parsifal Saw considered this and it is worth brief consideration now (and a longer look another time).

Don knows about as little of psychoanalysis as he does musical technicalities but hey…

Artin makes 2 initial points re Freud.

  1. Human experience is like an iceberg with the conscious experience being the visible tenth and the unconscious being the great mass under water that is nevertheless the greater part of the whole and dictates everything.
  2. Freud says: The overwhelming unconscious human experience that dictates our thinking is the Primal Scene. This is, wait for it..and no West Ham blog would be complete without it..the child’s image of its parents having sexual intercourse. The played out “Mummy, where do I come from?” It is a disturbing image for the child and perceived as violent. To spell it out, Daddy is stabbing Mummy to create a wound. It goes on but you get the gist and we’ll leave it there.

Having set that scene, Artin sets out 6 principal themes in Parsifal:

  • Ignorance of the pure fool
  • Seeing. What Parsifal saw.
  • Maternal sacrifice.
  • Sex as parlous.
  • Seduction
  • Redemption through compassion.

 

Ignorance of the Pure Fool

Wagner has given us ignorant heroes before but more nuanced than Siegfried, Parsifal acquires the right knowledge. Initially he knows nothing; not his name, who is father is, that it is wrong to kill a swan. But he learns. Without knowing what he saw at the initial grail ceremony, he instinctively knew to make his way to Klingsor.

Seeing

So what does he see in the epiphany? He screams Amfortas! The wound! Artin says that having almost re-enacted the Primal Scene (Kundry/ his mother, Parsifal/ his father), that is what he sees; Kundry having sex with Amfortas, which leads directly to the wound.

Maternal Sacrifice

Kundry explains how his mother sacrificed herself for his protection and ultimately enacts her name, Herzeleide, by dying of a broken heart. In the seduction scene, Kundry almost becomes the mother (in Parsifal’s eyes). Freud’s Primal Scene moves inexorably in an Oedipul incestuous direction for the child’s protection which is a huge sacrifice on her part. Kundry certainly wants to sacrifice herself in repentance of historic sin. She is supposed to have seen Jesus being crucified and laughed at him. About as un-compassionate as can be. Her punishment; to re-incarnate over generations and be denied peace. She is awoken on two occasions in the opera and both times from a “death sleep”, so perhaps sacrificed many times over and simply used, in death, as a sexual vassal.

Sex as Parlous.

In most grail legends, the King (the Fisher King) is wounded in the thigh or groin and is somehow incapable of functioning. Sterile. Wagner moved it north to the side, in replication of Jesus and perhaps to spare 19th century blushes but the implications are clear. Have sex, get stabbed in the side, lose holy relic, lose power, destroy community. Freud would liken the wound to the vagina, bleeding as menstruation. The Spear penetrates the Wound etc. etc. Yet at the end the Spear penetrating the Grail is the climactical coupling that saves the community, so who knows? Klingsor considered it sufficiently parlous to castrate himself.

Lets add to the mix that Schopenhauer considered the sex drive the most obvious and most powerful example of the Will (see Don’s various Meistersinger posts and others), which is irresistible and by nature, destructive.

Seduction

Kundry’s seduction and then her kiss, is the crux of the piece. It is this that brings knowledge. She tells him his name, she reminds him about (and of) his mother. One feels she has deep knowledge spanning lifetimes and has witnessed (and partaken in) a lot of evil as well as good. Something of an active but flawed Erda. Her role is to teach Parsifal, to bring him to maturity and to Redeem the Redeemer. The mutual washing of feet and mutual baptism suggests she and Parsifal almost merge into one and several commentators comment on the androgyny. See for instance the Syberberg film.

Redemption through Compassion

In the epiphany he feels Amfortas’ pain, admittedly in the heart (where his mother died) rather than the side and sees his role to forgive Amfortas and Kundry and redeem them both as well as the community. He also needs redeeming (contrast with Jesus). At the end the choir (and we know for Wagner the significance of the choir) sings Redeem the Redeemer. Why does he need redeeming? Ok he killed the swan but he pulled back from sex, if sex is bad. On that note, if that’s what Wagner thought, he certainly didn’t practise what he preached. But Parsifal sinned, he broke his mother’s heart and after all she did for him and what greater sin than that?

So that’s it folks and all Don can say is Gosh. Lots to ponder, hope it wasn’t too x-rated for some sensibilities.

It’s a lovely opera but can stir strange emotions, especially if one is open to it.

Suddenly West Ham v Sunderland has a charming simplicity and here’s hoping for redemption for Slav and all of us. We’re all in it together.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

  1. Ulrike Kienzle. “Parsifal and Religion: A Christian Music Drama?”

In which Don hero worships; from Bobby Moore to Brunhilde and is holding out for a hero against Spurs.

Post 5

It was 23 years ago last week that a light went out in Don’s life with the passing of his great hero, Bobby Moore OBE.

Heroes are delicate things, they tend to let you down, either for turning out to be human after all, with all associated fallibilties or they leave too soon or both. The current TV drama re OJ Simpson being a case in point. It caused Don to ponder the concept of heroism.

First though, the great Bobby. I was six years old when England won the World Cup. Naturally I don’t need to specify when that was as we’ve only done it once and there is no repeat performance looming any time soon. I say England won it but being a West Ham blog, we all know…

Mumps was ripping up our road in Clayhall, Ilford that hot summer of ’66 and all us afflicted contagious kids were herded into our house to watch the game. I remember that but not the game itself. My first Bobby memory was meeting the great man in 1968. Incomprehensible now, the captain of England, champion of the world, spent his time when he wasn’t playing or training…in his sports shop on Green Street where, I read this week, his daughter Roberta had a Saturday job!

So in I trot, 8 years old with parents, for my birthday treats and get served by the great man (must have been midweek as no sign of Roberta). A claret tracksuit with blue trimming and badge and a 1968 England football annual featuring a Ray Wilson master class on tackling. Signed by [Sir] Bobby himself. Truth be told, he wasn’t a bundle of laughs but then captains of England aren’t there to crack jokes to eight year olds, they’re there to be upright, imperious and heroic…and he was. I bet he gave us the right change too.

As football heroes go, he is unsurpassed; bitter-sweet helped I suppose by his untimely death. When you hear legends such as the Charlton bothers in utter awe, one realises the huge stature of the man. The plinth on the statue at Wembley says it all.

“Immaculate footballer, Imperial defender, Immortal hero of 1966, First Englishman to raise the World Cup aloft, Favourite son of London’s East End, Finest Legend of West Ham United, National treasure, Master of Wembley, Lord of the game, Captain extraordinary, Gentleman for all time.”

Statue Plaque

They say don’t meet your heroes but nearly 50 years later this little boy’s view of his hero remains undiminished. A gentleman for all time.

The Wagner bit..skip for the Spurs bit.. 

For anyone in the least interested in Wagner or probably any German kid, Siegfried is synonymous with heroism. He forges the sword, when the greatest smithy could not, he kills the dragon to gain the treasure, he walks though fire to discover the girl; he gets the girl…at least until he blew it.

But if he’s a hero, what is it to be a hero? Lets examine that a little closer and see if he stacks up.

A hero is fearless and leads from the front. He carries the flag, by which I mean he speaks for the rest of us. He goes where we may fear to tread. A hero like nature, abhors a vacuum. He is our hero. Its a symbiotic relationship; no audience, no hero. In other words, a hero strives to affect society though not necessarily being part of it; he is more likely  outside it and a dweller of somewhere purer. Purity seems right for a hero; if not a child of nature then at least a respecter of natural things and unsullied by corrupt ways of urban life.

A hero I feel, requires nobility; in his heart and in his aspirations. In other words, a force for good. Of course that in itself is subjective; what with one man’s terrorist being another man’s freedom fighter. (And by “his” I don’t mean to deny half the world, as we shall see). But is “goodness” an essential heroic ingredient? Maybe it even negates heroism?

In his Introduction to “Wagner and the Romantic Hero”, Simon Williams begins..

Heroism is, at best, a dubious quality. We admire heroes because they embody all that we consider most admirable in ourselves. Heroes are possessed of an excess of human energy, which has a propitious effect on the world around them. They display greater courage than regular people do, they know what they want and are fearless in achieving it. Through their exploits we glimpse, however briefly, images of human perfection and, depending on our beliefs, of something divine. But heroes are not easy to live with. The moment we try to incorporate heroism into our everyday lives, we play down whatever is individual about it and lay stress on its social virtues. Community newspapers encourage readers to nominate as “local heroes” those whose selfless labors are a benefit to the community. We designate as heroes people who help us, set us good examples, and save us from our worst selves. But, as Emerson put it, “the heroic cannot be the common, nor the common the heroic.”‘ The heroic in our mundane world can be positively oppressive, especially when it claims authority over us. Our leaders may conceive of themselves as heroes, but the moment they do so, we find ourselves obliged to deny them. We hem them in with bureaucratic limitations and reduce them to our own size or smaller by insisting that they are models of indecision and inefficiency. We may be unjust in these judgements, but, even if we are, we show good sense in making them, for our pragmatic instincts resist the idea of anyone having authority over us on the strength of personality alone. Hence while we admire heroes, we must consign them to the sidelines of life: to sports arenas, where they can engage in heroic feats that have no tangible impact on our lives; to religious cults, where if we subject ourselves to charismatic authority, we do so entirely as a matter of choice; or to popular movies, where action-heroes feed our fantasies by evincing a singular freedom from the moral and physical restraints that normally confine us.

It is of course dangerous to form conclusions from an introduction to a book but there isn’t much mention of “goodness” in there. It implies goodness is an unnecessary aspect of heroism, possibly an hindrance rather then help. There are those (not yet I), that consider some of Wagner’s writing to foreshadow fascist thinking and if so, his hero would not be confined to the sidelines of life (as Williams suggests above) but be central stage in society. It is for us 21st century folk who have seen where such hero-worship might lead, that wish to constrain our heroes. Wagner’s time was characterised by languid self-interested leaders of separate German principalities and he, in common with many “left-leaning” Germans, longed for a hero to cut through that status quo and lead the volk to a united Germany. So again “goodness” not an essential pre-requisite.

Lets consider what Wagner intended for the Ring cycle. Unlike most operatic composers, he did not consider his music-dramas to be mere entertainment. He meant them to convey serious ideas that might influence his audience and so in turn may influence society. He considered Art, when properly done, to be that powerful. He felt his immediate milieu and possibly Europe as a whole to be run by out-moded bureaucracies, there to protect self interested commerce led aristocracy and precipitating against a more natural state in which, if left to their co-operative, loving selves, human beings may thrive in harmony.   Of course this is a great simplification as he wrote the Ring over several decades during which, he and his ideas changed. The poem was written during his Feuerbach period when he felt that the common volk, seized of great conviction could overturn society, right wrongs and achieve anything, especially if driven by a great hero. The score was written around 20 years later when, influenced by Schoppenhauer, he was far less convinced that heroes at least of the Superman type, were the answer.

So in the Ring, Wotan the supreme ruler has created a problem for himself. He initially attained supreme leadership (knowledge) in a Faustian -like pact at the expense of nature and maintains power by the systematic rule of law and contracts. The price is a continued whithering away of nature and neglect of love. That whithering is slowly constraining him and depressing him and the situation he rightly concludes is, like his power, unsustainable. He has made bad contracts which can only be honoured at the cost of love. He is trapped in a loveless marriage, so again love is suffering in order to honour a contract. In parallel the Rhine gold, placid in its natural state, has been wrenched away (by Alberich) and corrupted into the form of a powerful ring which equally threatens love and in time perceives Wotan, the rule of the gods.

Both self inflicted and extraneously, the harmonious state of nature has been damaged, possibly irreparably.  Wotan, recognising that a harmonious world is best served by allowing love and nature to flourish unrestrained, needs to arrest this development. He cannot do it himself for it will break his own laws. He needs a free agent  hero to recover the stolen gold and return it to its natural state in the river Rhine.

Initially he intends this to be his son Sigmund, born out of wedlock by an unknown women. Sigmund is trained (without knowing his father to be king of the gods) as a warrior. Sigmund has several heroic qualities; he is fearless, a loner-living somewhere in a tent, separated from parents (a la Superman and others) and most significantly he fights other people’s battles for them with no obvious reward for himself.

However, when push comes to shove, Wotan at the beck and call of his wife Frika, goddess of marriage and bureaucrat supreme, reluctantly (though without so much as a backward glance), abandons Sigmund and he is killed. Though it was partly Sigmund’s fault because ultimately he chose love for a women over “the cause” and that is not what being a hero is about. When I say love, it is born of compassion rather than sexual desire (which it fast becomes)…watch this space not only on the hero front but on all Wagner’s future music dramas.

Wotan’s next great hope was Sigmund’s son Siegfried. Another child of nature, abandoned by parents, fearless, strong, handsome blah blah blah. Siegfried is Wotan’s hope, he is Wagner’s hope and he is the hope of George Bernard Shaw (Post 1) and of those like him that later saw the Ring in Marxist/Leninist terms. He does indeed recover the gold in the form of the ring but as Alberich’s curse foretells, is corruptible and corrupted.

He starts off with the heroic basics. A precocious teenage tough guy brought up in the woods, wondering about his lost parents, feeling he may have a purpose but is blissfully ignorant of what that might be. Sufficiently heroic to pass through the magic fire to awaken Brunhilde, he is guided by her (his aunt) in the ways of love, sex and one hopes general maturity because the hopes of Wotan and the world vest in him. Gotterdammerung opens with the lovers preparing to part because Siegfried as hero, has to go and do heroic deeds. What they are, we don’t know, nor does Siegfried and maybe neither by now, does Wagner.

Because something else has happened  while the teenage innocent was growing up. Wagner left the Ring in abeyance for 12 years while writing Tristan etc. and swallowing the philosophy of Schoppenhauer hook, line and sinker. No longer was a Feuerbach inspired thrusting, dynamic hero the only answer to save the day. Maybe the day would be saved when humans stopped striving to win the race and backed out of the race to let someone else win, lose or whatever made them happy.

But Siegfried is not wired that way. He goes off, makes so called friends, is duped, drugged with some medieval kryptonite to forget Brunhilde and falls in love with the next girl, Gutrune, all under the guiding hand of the nasty Hagan. But even drugged his actions are inexcusable for anyone, let alone a hero. He is duplicitous, is prepared at to best deceive and at worst rape Brunhilde for a mate and rejects the chance to return the ring to the Rhine maidens. He displays precious little inclination to improve society, is happy to live among the bourgeois townsfolk of Gibichung. Notwithstanding his remorse when, in the throes of dying, he recalls all and notwithstanding the glorious eulogy from Brunhilde, I reject his claims for heroism.

But all the while, the true hero has been among us. The Valkyrie; the chooser of the slain, witnesses Sigmund choose ignominious death over glory in Valhala to stay true to his love Siglinde, At that moment Brunhilde recognised the strength of free will. That he was choosing “hell” before parting with his love and remember his love was not instant sexual desire but was born of compassion. In such moment she saw what her father really wanted/needed for her to do (even if he did not know it himself) and how the world would be saved. In that moment she realised that heroism was compassion; self sacrifice in order to save others; that death was not to be feared; laughing death. Brunhilde the Hero.

 

So as someone put it, its West Ham/Tottenham Eve and the excitement is approaching fever pitch. I’ll admit to having Tottenham mates who are very dear to me and I really should find somewhere, some small spot in my heart where I am pleased for them in their title endeavours, especially after all I have just written about compassion….but I can’t. Honestly, I’ve looked and looked but its not there. We have to do them tomorrow night.

I think back to glorious moments…Anton, Pearcey, Yossi, Piquionne….Ravel!! I go way back to Sir Trev cutting in from the left before curling one over Pat Jennings into the far corner. Heroes all. But you know I don’t think Don has laughed so much as that wonderful Adebayor/Paulinho wall. When times are a bit grim in Don Towers we put that on a loop and suddenly the sun’s rays start to peak over the horizon.

Heil der sonne.

Donner the Hammer

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016

In which Don considers the whereabouts of Alberich, the Norwich game, Dalton Trumbo, Sylvia Kristel and has cup fever.

Post 2

According to the psychoanalysts (and to be fair also some sane people), the Ring Cycle represents a human life. It starts in a safe watery place and ultimately it all returns to dust, ready to be re-cycled. Ring Cycle re-cycle – it even sounds the same, so must be right.

And who disturbs the sanctity of the womb? Why its arch baddie Alberich; right there in Act One, Scene One. His exchange with the Rhinemaidens  starts it off and sets the tone for the whole tetralogy. But is he there (alive) at the end of Götterdämmerung? I’m pretty sure I spotted his son Hagan, going under the waves of the Rhine, gasping for last breath but Dad was conspicuously absent.

So,

  1. Does it matter?
  2. If he’s not there, where/when did he go?

1.  Yes it matters. This is the guy that struck the original bargain; renouncing love to gain the power to rule the world. It also became clear that he didn’t intend his to be a benevolent rule. We had a taste in Das Rhinegold of his treatment of fellow Nibelungs where even his brother wasn’t spared the whip. So the prognosis for humans and others was not good. He tells us explicitly what is in store for women. He has renounced love but not sex and intends to force his lust upon whomsoever takes his fancy. Because for Alberich sex equals Power;  the Rhinemaidans spurned him so women will be forced. Wotan (der wuthende Rauber) robbed him, so men will know his revenge in equally violent and coercive fashion. Would he have been so horrid if not himself taunted beyond endurance by the Rhinemaidens? That consideration is for another day.

By the very end of the story, the Ring is returned to its rightful place, Brunhilde has destroyed the Gods (fulfilling Wotan’s wish?). We are back to square one in the primordial world but the clock has not been turned back; what has happened, happened. So it matters whether the arch baddie is still around awaiting his next opportunity, or is not.

2. When/where did he go?

To paraphrase Oprah Winfrey “what do we know for sure?”

He is released, cursing as he goes, by Wotan and Loge in Das Rhinegold. We hear of him but don’t see him in Die Valkyrie. In Siegfried, Wotan offers him first dibs at persuading the dragon to part with the Ring (pretty reckless of Wotan) and after a contretemps with his brother, we see him no more…or do we?

At some point, either during or before the 20 or so years between Wotan putting Brunhilde to sleep and Siegfried awakening her, we know Alberich begets a son, Hagen, by a prostitute. We don’t know if the mother is forced (his gold has been taken but presumably he is not penniless) but the son attests that she is brave and that “she yielded to his cunning.”

In the Prologue to Götterdämmerung, the first Norn asks her sisters: what happened to Alberich? tantalizingly, just as we are to get the answer, the rope snaps,  the ability to see ahead, behind and sideways is lost and we never know. One can’t help but wonder why Wagner had the rope snap on that question…

So to Act 2 in Götterdämmerung and the whole discourse between Alberich and his son Hagan. All we know of this for sure is that it is heavy with ambiguity! The overriding impression is that father appears to son in a dream but if that is not so and if he is really there at that point in the proceedings, Wagner must have intended that he survive the immolation because nothing afterward indicates to the contrary.

There is no doubt Hagen is asleep (for sure at the beginning): the stage direction says so. That doesn’t mean Alberich is not there, though it may suggest so. If he is not there, it means Hagan is dreaming of a having a dream (because it is not a normal conversation; Alberich is wishing him a nice sleep). Can one dream about having a dream? Could Hagan be asleep initially, wake up but pretend to still be sleeping? I really don’t see the point of that; surely they’d just have a normal conversation.

So here’s a test: If its all in Hagan’s head, he could not learn anything he doesn’t already know. Does he?

What does Alberich tell him?

  1. That he was robbed by Wotan whose power has since waned. That surely is not news to the son. Presumably they had discussed the revenge plan ad nauseam as it was what Hagan was born to execute.
  2. That there is a wise women (Brunhilde) that may urge Siegfried to return the Ring to the Rhine (and so spoil the Alberich/Hagen plot). Of course Hagen knows all about Brunhilde but surely not in such detail that he would know of her attitude toward the Ring? The only people who discuss that with Brunhilde (on stage) are Siegfried, her sister Valkyrie, Waltraute and maybe much, much earlier, Wotan. However, I don’t think Alberich is telling Hagan that Brunhilde would urge Siegfried to return the Ring to its rightful owner, he is conjecturing that she might. There is no indication that either Hagan or Alberich previously met Brunhilde but it is realistic that news of her bravery and wisdom has spread, so no definite new knowledge here. [By the way, I am prepared to accept that the world no longer knows she is the former demigod, daughter of Wotan, otherwise surely that point would have come up here].
  3. That Siegfried doesn’t know the true power of the Ring and treats it as a trinket. We know this at least has the potential to be untrue because in Siegfried Act Two, Scene Two, the Woodbird tells Siegfried that with the Ring he can rule the world. Did Seigfried take this seriously? The stage direction is “quietly and with emotion” which I think suggests sincerity and he replies, “My thanks for your counsel my dear little bird, I gladly shall follow your call.” Siegfried will shortly stress test the Woodbird’s other claim that Mime is a fraud and that turned out to be correct and moreover, he seeks Brunhilde because the Woodbird says so. So it is very likely that Siegfried accepts the Woodbird’s credentials and so knew in the previous opera that the Ring was no mere trinket; but rather, something extremely powerful.

So why did Alberich say something untrue to Hagan, or if it was all in Hagan’s head, why did he make this mistake? I’m not sure but what is germane to this post is did this information inform Hagan of something he didn’t previously know? if so, Alberich must have really spoken to him. I cannot find anything definitive.

By the end of Act 1 Götterdämmerung, both Siegfried and Brunhilde are aware of the Ring’s significance so Alberich is in the dream passing on old (and by this time inaccurate) news concerning Siegfried. I can’t find evidence that this signifies anything other than not all characters are kept up to speed in real time, which simply reflects real life.

Bottom line is I can find no smoking gun either way. One wonders therefore at the point of the scene at all. Bearing in mind the dastardly plan is already underway, how are we helped by understanding that Hagan is doing it for himself and not for Dad? Unless the very point is the implication that Dad is still around…?

On the basis that I don’t see him die and I am troubled by the concept of dreaming of having a dream, I am going to conclude he is really there. But its hardly convincing.

Either way, I suspect Wagner did not want to close the door on the possibility of the baddies (in whatever guise) returning. If he wanted a happy ending, Brunhilde and Siegfried would have returned the Ring to the Rhine in triumph, glory and love. But that’s too easy. Whilst at the end of Götterdämmerung, we are all redeemed through Brunhilde’s supreme and selfless sacrifice and we are optimistic of a better world, we also have a nagging concern that this brave new world is just as susceptible to the corrupting influence of Alberich, or someone quite like him. And so we Re-cycle..

Phew!

Naarwich away. Didn’t get to this. In fact I only heard it up to half time. Mrs Donner, sniffing retribution for my recent absence at Anfield and the impending one at Ewood Park, gave me a look that meant one thing and one thing only: DTH was in for some pre-Valentine’s Day shopping in Islington followed by a bit of Dalton Trumbo at the Arthouse, Crouch End. As it transpired, both company and film were pretty good. The film was actually very good (as was the company – oh shit..). If you suspected that John Wayne was a wanker but weren’t sure why, go and see this. Stars the excellent Bryan Cranston and the magnificent Louis CK . So phone switched off promptly at 16:00 and I was reconnected with the world at 18:15. You know how you want to re-live it in normal time but real life gets in the way (Likely Lads style)? So the first thing I saw was a tweet how Moses turned the game and I got all excited (a bit much in the Arthouse) about a win, before the slightly anticlimactictical  realisation of 2-2 draw. Still the West Ham spirit, don’t know when we’re beaten  etc. etc.

First outing for Emenike. Welcome to WHU Emmanuel. [aah Sylvia Kristel…behave Don] May you score a hatful of goals in claret and blue and mainly against Spurs.

In my goodbye to Carl Jenkinson last time, I forgot the equally valued Mauro Zarate. Little Don and I went to Goodison last season, when he came on from the bench and ran the game – naturally we lost but an heroic defeat. Not sure why he’s gone, especially for such little money. Suspect its to do with FFP and the Carrick deal (from 10 years ago!).

Getting a bit excited re FA Cup. We’re part of the seven thousand trekking north at weekend. In hope and expectation. Gosh! Good luck Slaven and the boys. Will we see anything of Sakho and Lanzini?

Wrapping it up there. I doubt anyone will read this but if you have, well done.

Donner the Hammer

COYI!

 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016