July 1st, 2004


Personal/Musical: Styx at Summerfest

Just in from catching the Styx concert at Summerfest with Kari-Shane, Dan and John. Good music, lots of Guitar-god posing (even if you weren't a guitarist) and the occasional shared flashback as we listened. Some classic tunes in the early end of the set like "Lady," and "Too Much Time On My Hands," with a later medley of no less than eighteen of their songs. "Mr. Roboto" made his only (brief) appearance here, to my mild surprise, given its use in recent advertisements.

I was most pleased with an energetic "Come Sail Away" being the closer. Everything was played pretty "straight" to the recordings, the chief variations here being mostly their blatant enthusiasm. Their first encore put a bit of a spotlight on the band, I thought, by departing from their own repertoire. The keyboardist, a more recent addition to the group named Lawrence Gowan, who handled a large number of the vocals (probably Dennis DeYoung's stuff, I don't know), came off particularly well as they played a classic Ray Charles tune ("straight," in more-or-less his style--I can't remember the name of the tune now). The crowd received that tribute with high spirits and roared its approval when they then launched into "Renegade." The set closed with a particularly odd "goodbye" song that reminded me, somehow, of nothing but the nightly farewell song from the old Muppet Show, not that I can remember a word or a note of that. Whatever. I missed only the song "Double Life" from Kilroy Was Here, which I had found thrillingly dramatic when I was a freshman in high school.

Personal: The Emperors Club and Films about Teaching

Another late night. After finishing the last entry, I made myself some mac and cheese and settled down to watch my latest Netflix DVD. (Thanks again to Erik, Japes, and Mark!) This time it was The Emperor's Club, as I was in a "movie about teaching" mood. It was good, better than I expected as people had been giving it a "ripoff of Dead Poets Society" assessment.

I have to stop listening to people.

Well, at least about stuff like this. They are similar in that they involve a popular teacher at a private boys school in the East. That's it. Dead Poets Society is a better movie, sure, but it's not a better movie about teaching. In fact, while dramatic and provocative for an audience, my initial reaction as I type here is that it is fairly banal compared to The Emperor's Club. DPS is content to settle for a pretty basic "Be Yourself--Be a Free Thinker--Be Free" refrain, and while Robin Williams' character is the hub around which the film revolves, the story is much more focused on the boys and their perspectives. Not so The Emperor's Club, which stays much closer to the teacher, and is willing to launch itself into the very real moral ambiguities of a teacher's choices with regards to their pupils. Dead Poets Society stayed in much safer territory, really, where the "rightness" of Williams' character was clear to the audience, and that he was only tragically misunderstood by the rigid, authoritarian, conservative, [your favourite slur here] "establishment" that "just didn't get it." The Emperor's Club avoided such clear reductions into black and white. Kevin Kline's character--a man of outstanding character--makes some choices that I as a teacher can see to be very questionable. And that I might have made, too. This is a movie, then, that leaves you a bit more unsettled, but if you've a taste for reality, might in the long run be more satisfying.

There are now four movies that I go to when I think about what it means for me to teach, and to which I can return to provoke myself into further meditation on the art. I highly recommend all of them, particularly if you are a teacher, want to be one, or want to understand one who is in your life. They are (in order of importance to me):

1. The Man Without A Face--Mel Gibson's impressive directoral debut and the best of the lot: why we teach.
2. Finding Forrester--More about the "mentoring" side of things, rather than formal teaching. Highlights the two-way street the relationship can develop.
3. The Emperor's Club--The ambiguity a teacher lives in, and the question of what is really the criterion of success.
4. Dead Poets Society--The teacher's ability to transmit passion and insight--to be a vehicle for inspiration.

Hmm. I'm trying to remember if I've forgotten something. There's a lesson in futility for you....

Theological Notebook: Announcing the "Epiphanies of Beauty" conference at Notre Dame



I realized that several of you might be interested in the subject of this year's Center for Ethics and Culture conference at Notre Dame. "Epiphanies of Beauty: The Arts in a Post-Christian Culture" will be held on the weekend of November 18-20. For me and for many of my friends, this has been the focus of a lot of our conversation and our artistic work (especially songwriting) for many years (consciously and in retrospect), and I really think that it's important for us to be there to listen and to finally have our say. In fact, to finally really work on what it is we have been trying to say to each other the last several years. There are calls for papers and performances. If you are of a similar mind, I encourage you to first go to the link above, check out the call, and to think about what you're doing and could do, and to consider going.

I myself am toying with ideas about "The Arts as Prolegomenon to Theology in a Post-Christian Culture: Potentials and Problems", "Salvador Dali's The Sacrament of the Last Supper: a Theological Re-Assessment", and of course some performance ideas. Proposals are due at the end of July.

Go. Read. Talk. But do not lightly miss this opportunity: I think this conference could be quite important. And, of course, it would be great to share the weekend with folks.