25.3.16

... he who eats my bread lifted up his heel against me...


caravaggio: kiss of judas, c. 1602

often people are surprised to learn that i used to be a catholic bible study champion in entire city of seoul, way back when i was twelve.

i remember meeting the cardinal for the ceremony.  wearing my sunday best, eyes casting down, i was somewhat confused what the big deal was, as i have not learned how big, powerful and old the catholic tradition was.  after all, south korean isnt one of the 'traditional' catholic countries.  my dad, upon religion shopping, chose catholicism for the family (a whole another story about that).  since my mother was heavily involved in the local church community, i grew up with loads of bible stories in my childhood.

some things did not make sense and some things raised questions rather than answers.  but as a little kid, most of my life didnt make much sense, so i just chose to let the differences go and did my bible studies.  the fact there was a league and i could do well in it was a big draw for a small second child, competing with her closely-aged brothers.

when i met the cardinal, he asked me what made me study the bible; i thought there must be a good answer, but i blurted the truth instead:

i dont really understand it, so i hope to understand it.

he kindly didnt ask much more. he congratulated me and gave me coupla things as prizes: wall plaque, few books  and a lovely cross which still hangs in my parents's place.

then i worked at local korean catholic community church for 8+ years as an organist.  playing and working for my godmother, the music minister and conductor of a sizeable choir, over the years, i came so familiar with the rituals and services, especially for christmas and easter.

as a working kiddie organist, easter season was pain on the butt. music's slow and sad, doleful and full of shadow of death.  we practiced the same tunes over and over. as easter approaches, there were more things- extra practices, to make musical arrangements, call up musicians for quartets and such and getting their music ready etc., then four straight days of long and serious service.  at end of easter sunday survice, i would dream about passing out and dying. hahaha.

now that i do not work as a church musician, however, the meaning of easter grows larger in my mind every year.  good friday being the legal holiday, even the university closes, giving me a bit of room to quiet down.

yesterday, pope francis washed the feet of refugees. then he broke the bread with them.  today, there mustve been thousands of passion reading, telling the same story of jesus.

this year, i remember a few parts of the passion in particular: peter being told about his upcoming denial of jesus.  jesus being human, being all alone in the dark night, the ultimate night as a human being.  inevitable call of the cock, calling for death.  judas' hug and kiss for jesus.  purple robe of the king and the crown of thorns.  soldiers drawing for loots- jesus' cloth.  mother left crumpled with grief.

i am deeply grateful that i grew up with the catholic tradition close to me, as if it was up to me, i would not have (what normal kid wants to focus on religion at that age?!)  the rituals are beautiful and there are many traditions and arts built upon it.

and today, i think of the great passion music that describes the story of fall of a son of the god. and the irony that the most difficult time of his trial mustve been the 'waiting,' in getsemane, in silence- while his friends all fell asleep, one by one.  the nights in dry climate can be rather cold, as land mass cools down.  if jesus was wearing his day cloth, im sure it wouldve been cold. and dark. so dark.  we forget how dark nature is, as our perception have changed to omnipresent light in our 21st ceuntry lives.

but perhaps the most 'cold' thing would be to stand all by yourself, in the wide world.  jesus being a man, not a god (so that death is possible), he wouldve felt the physical discomfort. and the psychological discomfort that comes from betrayal, fear and anger.

to stand alone, what would that be like?

with family and small but strong group of friends, i cannot imagine what that would be like.

but there he was, the crux of the easter miracle.
a man alone.
full of sorrow.

pope francis washed the feet of the refugees.  i wondered if those refugees wouldve felt alone during their journey- some would have, some may be totally alone by now.  as we discuss their welfares, many of them would be standing alone, in the wide whole world.  and jesus wouldve known what that felt like.

the stories, they come back, from my childhood. and they become real as i get older.

the tears flow, as good friday night is the night of defeat. oh how mary wouldve cried her heart, till it's burnt to dark soot.



15.3.16

pursuit of happiness: born to be blue: about chet baker...

*could have been: by david braid

born to be blue- the initial interest for this movie came from a small update from a dearest friend during TIFF 2015: hey, i wrote movie tracks- argh, it was not possible to get to the sold-out showing then.  finally, today, coupla months later, i cleared schedule to go see it as it's doing a briefest stint of a week at the lightbox.  the project intersected so many lives of utoronto- i went with curiosity and beaming enthusiasm for friends and teachers.

then i walked out the theater with blue, smudging off from my trail, as melancholia filled my heart and brought down the daunting weight of the pursuit of happiness.

a young boy from the big field of oklahoma whose life consisted of repeated launchings into the stratosphere of highest euphoria and the consequent crashes, whose life could have been full of- well, i did end up being full of beauty which was sustained through consumption of his own life, overflowing into his musical legacy. and lies. so many lies. and the days that were soaked in heroin high, distorted into beauty, if brief.

but were those intentional lies or just highly distorted imaginary memory fragments, ashes of beautiful flare-ups that burned so bright, each time, and left the rest of the time with dust-light, darkest soot, sprawling whenever the wind blew?

i did not know chet baker, the person. i liked his tunes and have a very soft spot for his flugel playing.  unlike other members of the trumpet, flugel is a bit of an anomaly- the heraldry golden sparkles of trumpet has been replaced by dark mellowness, smoky, rather. and i wondered if the movie was set in the timbre of flugel horn.

the movie is loosely based on particular aspects of chet's life, around his drug addiction, the massive trouble that followed him for heroin money, including legal troubles and a bad scuffle that left him with broken mouth. but as true addicts do, he rebuilds, to chase his happiness- through playing, drugs and beauty to the day of his mysterious death.  this is not a biopic, but a fantasy on a theme of reality, much like a 'high,' where altered reality fills the experimenter with beauty that is greater than life itself.

apparently the character of carmen ejogo is a fictional amalgamation of all the ladies that wafted throughout chet's life- the flesh and blood, of bodily warmth from the 'reality.' and the 'reality' does restore chet, lets him rebuild- as he's made of flesh and blood, though only to allow him to re-launch to the vicious addiction cycle.

a quick glance on the web got me a a few negative, even angry feedbacks from jazz enthusiasts, of how this is not an actual biopic, therefore how insulting it is for chet.

but is it?

if the role of arts is to create an exit to a greater degree of emotions, i think the movie was a success. ethan hawke's character, if simple because he was so singular focused (chase that high- whether through music or through heroin), is realistic.  i do believe that most of us mortals wander through life, not because we have diverse interest, but because we are not able to find that singular inlet into beauty; parallel examples are abundant around all of us- who have not seen a true addict?  for an addict, a 'better' life is not necessary, but the pursuit and acquisition of the 'happiness' is an absolute mandatory.  in a fact, we are all addicts to pleasure and beauty, or whatever one decide to call it.

hawke's character is weak and ugly.  timid and afraid at times.  such an anti-hero. however, that is who we all are.  in the great force of life, we are timid and ugly.  sometimes we are lucky to have aids, such as love, to support us through the hard time.  we often compare 'love' to 'air,' a necessity for sustaining life. however, the narrative of this film stresses the very point we often choose to oversee- if a true happiness can be obtained through abandonment of 'life,' is it necessary to live?

filled with slow, grating narrative and frustration after frustration (come on chet, do the right thing...!), filled with beautiful music set in that hauntingly mellow tone of flugel horn (plenty of space and room for each sounds, thank the lord for sparseness. nowdays, so many things are too over-filled, including sound), the film filled my heart with a wish for true fulfilment, something that is imagined, not to become true (for most days of my life), and the hint of sadness that comes from such realization.

https://youtu.be/M1CIr6jpXv0
...it all began so well, but what an end,
this is the time a fella needs a friend...
*but not for me, george/ira gershwin, one of chet's best tune