Monday, February 21, 2005

Mammon

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.--This evening your blogstress reports from the Charles Town Slots & Races in a state known to some as Almost Heaven. This is your Webwench’s first encounter with the Mountain Mama, and she sits shielded from the clear, black sky and the silent beauty of the Blue Ridge in a barage of blinking lights amid the relentless, humming din of iniquity.


Despite her Jersey heritage, your cybertrix has never been much of a gambler. In fact, she may be the one person in the Garden State who voted “No, dammit!” on the public question that ultimately led to the legalization of gambling there. Your net-tête cannot quite account for her avoidance of this vice. As one who has been forced to quit more things than most people have done, you might think a money jones would have made it onto that list. It’s not naïvité; for her first legitimate, on-the-books job, your blogtress worked at a pizza parlor that made more book than pizza pies. It’s neither heritage nor religion; at least one muscle-bound member of her family once collected book for a living, and her Roman Catholic co-religionists are rather fond of games of chance.


She does recall, however, a certain Bible story making a strong impact on her when she first heard it as a child--the one where the Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes on the eve of his execution. Your Webwench, then a mere wenchlet, was already shooting craps, having been taught to do so by her father, who showed her how to toss the dice against the curb in front of the house. But the Roman soldiers cured her of that.


So what, then, could possibly bring the blogstress into this sea of greed? Did someone utter the word “lust”?


Indeed, in something of a comeuppance, your écrivane finds herself following a very talented, young musician to this humming house of legal tender with the promise of something far more tender in the dark of night, though of a sort that may not be legal in West Virginia.


Criminals vs. Puritans

It has been a day of oddities for your cybertrix, who found herself beginning her day in church--yes, church. One Dr. Philip J. Wogaman, pastor emeritus of Washington, DC’s Foundry United Methodist Church, made a visit to his old perch to preach a lesson on the verse in Matthew wherein the faithful are instructed that they cannot serve both God and wealth (modern English) or, as Wogaman noted, “in the more poetic language of King James, ‘God and mammon’.”


He was clever to move the congregational mind back to the King James version for its archaic usage. A word so rare as “mammon” is now able to stand in for outsized lust for just about anything, which Wogaman defined as simply one form of idolotry. After all, what else, really, is money-worship but idolotry?


From there, this engaging pastor took his flock into the realm of ideology, illustrating how fixed ideological positions of the sort that produce the extreme partisanship now plaguing the nation’s capital are themselves rooted in an idolotry of sorts, amounting to worship of dogma, placing it above worship of the Divine One.


In speaking of fixed ideologies, Wogaman sarcastically remarked, “Of course, that’s a problem that belongs to the Muslims--not to us Christians."


Wogaman then harkened back to the days of the Clinton impeachment which, with Hillary Clinton as a member of the church, embroiled Foundry’s congregation. In the long ramp-up to the Monica mess, the religious right had targeted the Clintons through any means they could find, including a character attack on Wogaman, then minister to the first lady. (A chronicle of the right’s offensive against Wogaman was made by your Webwench for Mother Jones in 1996.)


In referring to those times, Wogaman quoted an Australian friend who said of his own country, “Thank God we got the criminals and you got the Puritans.”


It was your net-tête’s friend, the Sleepless Artist, who brought her to hear Wogaman, himself having traveled a long road from an Eagle-Scout Oklahoma boyhood to a life as an out gay man who eats, lives and breathes art and big ideas, pondering them under the gorgeous Stetson he still wears as he moves through Dupont Circle. She is grateful to Sleepless for this trip down the path of wisdom, even if it did have her lacing up her bustier at a cruel hour.


What goes up must come down

And so your blogstress sits, in this cheery den of despair, goo-goo-eyed in the thrall of a vision in black wielding an electric bass guitar, equal parts lion and lioness. (Imagine that: blogstress as the girlfriend at the gig.) Watching the Lion-ness do her thing calls to mind the healing power of music, even on the most desolate of landscapes.


In between sets, the mantra of money mania fills the hall, a combination of electronic hum and the occasionally dropping coins. The electronic drone is a C note, according to the Lion-ness--not a low, soothing C, but rather a mid-range C that your cybertrix is convinced was chosen for its tension-producing quality in the human body. The canned music in this moment is David Clayton Thomas belting out “Spinning Wheel”. Once the band womans the stage (it’s an all-female outfit, and kick-ass at that), the drone seems to dissipate, and an assortment of people, many who seem rather broken, draw close to the stage to lose themselves in the beat, the vibe, the harmony, the melody and the good-natured sexiness of this group of gifted musicians. The band feels the love and gives it back, and for a moment, all is right--beautiful, even--in everyone’s world.


Yesterday your blogstress had the good fortune of visiting the East Coast Jazz Festival, an astonishing conglomeration of performances, workshops and jam sessions put together by singer Ronnie Wells and her husband, pianist Ron Elston, every year in Rockville, Maryland.


There with her friend, Lipsbuzz, she sat in on a trumpet workshop taught by Vaughan Nark (no, the Webwench does not trumpetfy), and then took a guitar workshop led by Paul Wingo. She got to cap off the night participating in a jam led by the brilliant bassist Wes Biles. (The jam featured a number of pubescent boys who kicked your blogstress’s butt in the musicality department. Alas, no girls turned up to play instruments.)


Nark showed his trumpeters a few tricks of posture and technique, then spent the rest of the workshop riffing on the care and feeding of the spirit. “Make your body into a bowl and vessel,” he told the assembled horn players, after reminding them that theirs is the instrument of the angels and the gods, the instrument that brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down. “And I believe that,” he added.


The body as vessel would channel the spirit throught the horn, he implied. “We have to travel throught the physical to get to the musical,” he explained.


Throughout the day, a luminescent older white gentleman sat in on the various workshops your net-tête attended. He was treated as an elder, always deferred to by the workshop leaders. He turned out to be the guitarist, Paul Wingo.


If Nark’s workshop was an initiation in to the estoric, Wingo’s was positively transcendental. Wingo’s technique tips? “Merge with the other musicians.”


“What else is music but the transmission of love?”


“The world needs you now,” told the ax players. “Now, who would like to play something? Who would like to merge with me?”


Some played and didn’t merge; some did go to that special place with Wingo as he plinked away, eyes closed.


Oh, yeah, he said, don’t forget this. “The audience actually makes the music.”

Huh?

Well, if you’re merging properly, it seems. You gotta merge with everybody in the room, lose your ego, be in the moment.


Welcome to the Conservatory of Be Here Now.

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