Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Not the Point

The following thoughts have a point.

That point is not that ABC’s decision to include former White House press secretary Sean Spicer in the cast of the upcoming season of “Dancing With the Stars” has rubbed a great many people the wrong way.

I have my own feelings about Mr. Spicer’s time as press secretary, but they’re not the point either.

I have my own feelings about the suits in the ivory-tower offices that thought it would be a great idea to reward Mr. Spicer with pop culture celebrity status, when his single claim to fame was accepting a White House paycheck to defend the indefensible … but those feelings aren’t the point either.

The point has to do with Spicer’s own assessment of his likely success, or lack thereof, on the dancing competition show.

Spicer admitted Wednesday [August 21, the day his gig was announced on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program] that he’s not much of a dancer. He revealed that he was kicked out of the school band in sixth grade for having ‘the sense of beat of a steamroller.’”

I don’t know Spicer’s sixth-grade band director. I’ve never seen that teacher teach. I have no idea whether this quote is even accurate, although during this attempt at self-deprecation, Spicer insisted that the steamroller metaphor was indeed a direct quote from his teacher.

(The point of this blog post isn’t even to raise an eyebrow at the steamroller metaphor, since I’ve heard steamrollers that chug along quite steadily; maybe this band director said or meant some other piece of construction equipment, or some other noun entirely. I guess I get the gist, nonetheless; but man, the English language has taken a beating lately.)

But over the course of my time as a public-school music teacher and church choir director, I’ve heard more stories about music teachers of a bygone era dissuading students from continuing their musical interests on account of their alleged musical liabilities than I care to.

Just move your mouth along with the words,” said the elementary school chorus teacher in stories told by church choir members or (worse) wistful grown adults who subsequently never participated in any musical activities again because a music teacher told them they couldn’t sing.

As a high school band director, I encountered students at lots of different levels of musical ability. Some were truly spectacular natural talents; and some worked really hard just to keep pace with “average”. I can think of one or two whose contribution to our high school music program was one part musical skill to about seven eight parts hard work and (occasionally reckless-abandon-level) enthusiasm. They probably know who they are; they might be surprised to know how important they were to my experience as a teacher. I learned more from them than they might have learned from me.

For a truly inspiring concert experience, I will revel in the relatively humble achievements of a pack of music students who are not all Wynton Marsalis or Kathleen Battle and never will be … but who find some success and decide they want to experience it again and so they keep after it.

For all I know, Sean Spicer might not have been a troublemaker, a misbehaver, a disrupter, a hindrance. For all we know, he might have been an earnest “good kid” who tried his hardest and wanted to be a band musician so badly it hurt.

Who knows where Sean Spicer could have ended up, how different his life might have been, had his band director understood that “band is a place for everyone”, and figured out how to keep him around and get him a taste of success … rather than just badmouthing him and then “firing” him at the first sign of weakness.

Hmm. Ain’t that a familiar tale … I can think of another guy who treated Spicer that same way …

but again, that’s not the point.

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August 26, 2019 Posted by | band, celebrity, current events, education, entertainment, Famous Persons, music, news, Starred Thoughts, teachers, television | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Damn It, Al

He had a wickedly spot-on Johnny Carson impersonation, among others, and his acting skills might arguably be termed “towering”. One of my favorite YouTube videos has been the episode of “Inside the Actors Studio” in which he was charming and illuminating.

If you asked me, “do you admire Kevin Spacey?” I would say, “yeah, I guess I do.”

He has been accused by multiple people of sexual misconduct.

Damn it, Kevin.

He was probably the first actor whose skills I recognized as great acting, in the first non-animated movie that I ever saw end-to-end that didn’t have spaceships and zap guns in it – the movie “Tootsie”, which had a lot to say about how people are treated solely based on what they look like. A decade later, he had a large hand in making me interested in the Peter Pan story, as he tore into the role of Captain Hook. Far too late in my life, I got “All the President’s Men” out of the local library, watched it, and belatedly understood how much more important he was in that film than his acting partner, some guy named Redford or something.

If you asked me, “do you admire Dustin Hoffman?” I would say, “yeah, I do.”

He has been accused by a 1985-TV-movie-set intern of sexual misconduct.

Damn it, Dustin.

He became a United States Senator after having a respectable career as a comic performer and writer.  After having been seen exclusively as someone for whom the joke was the thing, he developed a reputation in the halls of government as someone who had a ferocious command of facts and knowledge as they applied to policy decisions and committee-hearing interrogation. For the first several years of his Senate career, he focused firmly on being a statesman and not an entertainer – on being serious and not making jokes.  Only recently has he begun to infuse his Senatorial activity with his remarkable sense of humor.

If you asked me, “do you admire Al Franken?” I would say, “yes, particularly in the last decade.”

He has been accused by a USO-tour entertainment colleague of sexual misconduct.

Damn it, Al.

He played a groundbreaking role – for all of that role’s in-the-background, supporting-cast qualities – as an Asian starship helmsman in a 1960s television series heralded for its forward-thinking philosophy about who people are and how they should be seen and treated (in a time when that philosophy was not, um, on full display in this country). He subsequently became an outspoken and effective advocate for the LGBT community, and his Twitter feed was regularly full of wise and witty commentary on current events.

If you asked me, “do you admire George Takei?” I would say, “HELL yeah, I do.”

He has been accused by a former actor and male model of sexual misconduct.

Damn it, George.

It’s easy for me to look over at people like Donald Trump, like former Judge Roy Moore, like Harvey Weinstein, who don’t represent the core beliefs and/or the basic standards of decent behavior that I like to think I uphold and that I like to think I espouse and demonstrate. It’s easy to hurl invective at people who seem to instead espouse a pattern, a history, of awful behavior.

That’s easy.

Especially when they claim in public that they are good, upright, morally and ethically sturdy people, and then allegations arise that challenge those claims.

Fish in a barrel.

It’s something else when people whom I have admired, or might even have liked had I known them personally (based upon nothing but their public persona and public statements, so who knows what you’re really getting, but they seemed like fine humans) … seem not to represent the core beliefs and/or the basic standards of decent behavior that I like to think I uphold and that I like to think I espouse and demonstrate.

That’s not as easy.

I freely admit: a portion of my otherwise evolved brain is desperate to give the benefit of the doubt to Kevin, and Dustin, and Al, and George … and John Edwards, and Anthony Weiner. Why? Because I had thought they were okay, and I would rather not know that they weren’t. Whether it was a pattern or just a singular moment of misbehavior in their lives.

I mean, nobody’s perfect.

But this whole sexual misconduct thing … especially when it occurs so obviously in the context of men exercising their power over others … even if it’s one single occurrence, that’s one occurrence too many to count as perfection. No – that’s one occurrence too many, period. They were young, they were foolish, they were this, that, the other, all the excuses in the world …

No. They did a horrible thing that any well-adjusted person – any PERSON – should understand is wrong.

My disappointment is not the most important result of all these allegations and revelations and such. At least not on a global scale. My disappointment will not make the front page of the New York Times. There will be no charities established for the support and treatment of my disappointment.

It is, however, an opportunity for me to check in with my ability to be fair.

Bill O’Reilly did what? What a miserable thing to do to another human being, which was done by a guy who also harbors political beliefs that I don’t agree with. He should pay the price, face the consequences, and if he loses his career and livelihood, well, good.

See? Easy.

Al Franken did what? Can’t be. What a great Senator he’s been for Minnesota, and what an entertaining performer he was on Saturday Night Live, and…

No…:

Al Franken did what? What a miserable thing to do to another human being, which was done by a guy who also harbors political beliefs that I do agree with. He should pay the price, face the consequences, and if he loses his career and livelihood, well, good.

Not easy.

Life is complicated.

I didn’t want to have to wrestle with yet another complication.

It’s probably good for me, in the long run, if I want to continue to claim I’m a fair-minded and principled person, to go ahead and wrestle with it.

Sexual misconduct is wrong. No matter who’s doing it.

Damn it, Al.

November 18, 2017 Posted by | celebrity, current events, Famous Persons, news | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why?

All right, I’ve got something I wanna get off my chest. It’s been sitting there for, what, 23 years now, I guess?

Namely, I need to rail against an injustice.

Why yes, I shall elaborate:

A meme cropped up after this weekend’s flap over NFL players kneeling (or not) during presentations of the National Anthem.

My beef is not with the meme, or the NFL players, or the National Anthem, or the guy who flapped.

Actually it IS with the meme, or rather what it represents.

The meme is a photo of two American figure skaters, clearly a publicity shot from the run-up to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. To the left: the blonde, diminutive Tonya Harding. To the right: the tall, brunette Nancy Kerrigan.

(Oh, that’s what he’s going on about.)

The text: “Back when taking a knee meant taking a knee”.

Ouch, baby.

 

For 23 years, people have mocked Kerrigan for one single moment, a moment captured by video cameras and replayed how many hundreds of times since?

The U.S. National Figure Skating Championships were being held in Detroit a few weeks before the Lillehammer Olympics were set to begin. Following a practice session at Detroit’s Cobo Hall, a briefly-unknown assailant whacked Kerrigan in the thigh, very close to her (figure-skating-crucial) knee, with a club, as she exited the ice rink.

Who does that?

Well, we found out who it was, and who he was affiliated with; and the soap opera that had already begun just escalated from there.

Miserable. Potentially, an injustice. But, worthy as it is of being railed against, it’s not exactly the one I’m thinking of.

In the moments just after the assault, before Kerrigan knew that the injury was not immediately career-ending, while EMTs and other personnel tended to her injured leg, she sobbed inconsolably … at one point, wailing, “why??”

Yeah. Why’d this have to happen at that moment? And why would anybody do something like that, in that moment, in that context, to anybody else, at all? Particularly to an athlete who kinda needed healthy knees in order to go about her business?

Hell, it was only the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships. Only an event that an athlete would likely be working toward for her whole life. Nothing to get upset about.

Um, can we forgive Nancy Kerrigan for being just a little put out?

The injustice I’m thinking of is, frankly, the one committed by every person in the last 23 years who has mocked that particular cry, “—Why??”

She wasn’t whining.

Literally, her life’s work (to that point) was in jeopardy.

 

For 23 years, it’s been far too easy for the comics and the wags to set aside empathy for the sake of a joke … for the sake of mocking an easy target. And every time I hear somebody do that to Ms. Kerrigan, I get defensive, at least inside my own head. Cut that right out.

And then I think, well, okay; was it because I was rooting hard for her and not for Tonya and her attacker turned out to be some schnook hired by Tonya’s ex-husband for the specific purpose of eliminating the competition, like some second-rate 1940s gangster? Was it because Kerrigan was from a town not far from my hometown, so rah rah rah for the Massachusetts native?

Was it because in her shoes … skates … whatever … being attacked like that would cause me to lose a little faith in humanity?

Yes, yes, and yes.

So … while this may not be the most important issue to deal with at this moment in history (while, say, the population of Puerto Rico is in desperate straits and not getting any help … just as one example of something that really genuinely overshadows most other issues) … it does have at least one thing in common with a whole lot of issues facing us.

In this case, it wasn’t a Presidential tweet, or a controversial Congressional bill, or a proposed governmental policy which would actively make life more difficult for this or that group of people. It was a meme; a joke.

But a representative one. Lately, we’ve been inundated by instances of startling lack of empathy and compassion for people who are hurting, or injured, or vulnerable.

Why?

September 26, 2017 Posted by | Famous Persons, sports | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment