The Objective Eye

"Every movement that seeks to enslave a country, every dictatorship or potential dictatorship, needs some minority group as a scapegoat which it can blame for the nation's troubles and use as a justification of its own demand for dictatorial powers. In Soviet Russia, the scapegoat was the bourgeoisie; in Nazi Germany, it was the Jewish people; in America, it is the businessmen."
- Ayn Rand, "America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business" (1961)

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Location: Los Angeles, United States

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Week of July 23-27: Cultural Highs

Now Playing: One of the tunes off of Takanaka's "Rainbow Goblins Story", I forget which. It's not actually on, just bouncing around my head relentlessly. I think it's the concert's last tune, "You Can Never Come To This Place." 'Gotta dig out that video later...

This last week was the aesthetic equivalent of catnip for me, a characteristically-spectacular concert by Rush at the Hollywood Bowl on Monday, and similarly-spectacular weeklong immersion into J.K. Rowling's magnificent final book of the Harry Potter saga, "Deathly Hallows."

[RUSH at the Hollywood Bowl - Photos taken by and © by me, 07-23-07.]

As I've alluded earlier here, Rush struck a chord with me from the first time I slapped an older sibling's copy of "Fly By Night" onto the turntable as a wee lad back in 1975. Something about the way they played was immediately appealing to my ingrained individualist streak, on a gut level. I'd listened to some of the progressive rock available at that time, but there was always something uniquely logical about Rush's extended instrumental flourishes that was not present with other bands. It was a musical affinity that happened several years before I would discover, then gain comprehension of, the philosophy that would influence their work - and my life - so profoundly over the years: Objectivism.

That beat-subtraction thing they did in the middle of "By-Tor and the Snow Dog"; that tight, stop-on-a-dime precision that seems almost telepathic; Peart's elevation of rock percussion - which in a typical percussionist is mundane timekeeping at best - to a level of artistry in which percussion literally shapes the compositions...!

An interesting and telling fact is that despite their incredible musical ability, their career has been hampered - nay, vilified - by the music media from the release of "Fly By Night" onward, doubtlessly because the objectivist sentiments in its first track "Anthem" flew smack in the face of the unspoken, requisite leftwing conformity within rock, almost as a kind of heresy. The career of Rush bears a striking resemblance to that of a certain literary architect, as a matter of fact - which is not a coincidence:

"Howard Roark stood as a role model for me - as exactly the way I already was living. Even at that tender age [18] I already felt that. And it was intuitive or instinctive or inbred stubbornness or whatever; but I had already made those choices and suffered for them." - Peart, in a September 1997 interview in Liberty

Though Peart has devolved intellectually from objectivist to "objectivish," his insights are always thought-provoking even when infuriating, and their music remains some of the most innovative and radically individual (not to mention individualistic,) within the rock genre. Musically, it is no exaggeration to say that they have lost nothing to age except, obviously, in Geddy's ability to sing at that same mega-high-pitch as the '70s. They tore through two enormous sets last Monday with their trademark precision and commitment to excellence. It was on May 5, 1977 that they played the first concert I ever attended - with the irrepressible Max Webster opening - and in attending another ten tours since...well maybe it's the bias of a hardcore fan but not one of those performances - nor any of the dozen audio/video concert recordings I've heard and memorized note-for-note since - has ever been substandard. These guys just continue to amaze.

In an age in which all that's needed for a successful career in music is a sequencer, an ability to shout violent juvenile epithets, and/or a frothing leftwing/countercultural "message," it is a truly magnificent thing to hear rock musicians who not only can play musical instruments (imagine that,) but do justice to and frequently surpass studio compositions that are as complex as they are powerful.

The setlist:

Digital Man
Entre Nous
The Main Monkey Business
The Larger Bowl
Secret Touch
Between The Wheels


Far Cry
Workin' Them Angels
Armor And Sword
The Way The Wind Blows
Natural Science
Witch Hunt
Drum Solo
Distant Early Warning
The Spirit Of Radio
Tom Sawyer


One Little Victory
A Passage to Bangkok

LiveDaily has a good encapsulation of the concert, and if you're curious there are copious bootleg videos of wildly-varying audio and video quality posted at YouTube. My pick for best of the lot is this excerpt from Neil's solo. You hadda be there, really - so just do it.
Peart's writeup on the making of their latest album is also a great read, in pdf format and titled The Game of Snakes And Arrows.

Copious thanks go to the Bergomeister for the great 2nd-row tickets BTW - only the second time someone's given me Rush tix as a birthday present. The first was in 1981 - from someone ten times curvier and a damnsight prettier, but second row at the Hollywood Bowl beats the hell out of back-end nosebleeds at the late, great Met Center (now buried beneath the Mall of America.) 'Had other things on my mind besides band visibility then anyway, fortunately... (!)

But I digress. I claim my reminiscence waiver! Sorry.


And Rowling's Potter saga... What can you say about a modern masterpiece that began as a fanciful tale for kids and almost instantly unfolded as literature on a par with Tolkien? The seventh and final book is signed, sealed and delivered - and, perhaps barring fourteen or fifteen people in a remote village in the jungles of East Timor, now devoured by every literate human being on the planet.

The sixth of the series, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," was a significant disappointment - all flat, journalistic exposition and oddly little in the way of drama or suspense to carry it. I had worried that JKR had run out of steam, but "Deathly Hallows" blew that notion to smithereens. (And if you've ever actually seen a smithereen, well let me tellya....)

The primary flaw in the series has been the implicit ethics of self-sacrifice, and though it does indeed form the catalyst for the final climactic battle, it's thankfully understated enough to be palatable. I've read criticisms from objectivists focusing on that fact, but I think a dose of perspective is needed here.

Rowling is not an objectivist and her work exhibits mixed premises, to be sure, but the baby/bathwater analogy applies fully here. I was surprised and relieved that the standard-default self-sacrificial climax - which would have been stoked to a maudlin crescendo in the hands of a lesser writer - took a back seat to the multitude of virtues - and I mean virtues in the objectivist sense - that Potter and the rest of Rowling's primary characters have exhibited throughout the series.

Scholarship, productivity (a.k.a. hard work,) achievement, justice, honesty, integrity, volition, independence and courage have been the most vivid characteristics of Potter and his gang from the beginning of the series to the last chapter. To find these elements prominent in what is perhaps the most popular fictional series of the present day is something worthy of ovation, not condemnation. The sheer quantity of positive themes and lessons for readers of all ages within these books is staggering, and, I would argue, vastly outweigh the philosophical flaws of altruism, determinism and arbitrary chance.

Rowling just nailed the caricature of Hillary Clinton (either intentionally or not,) with the power-crazed bureaucrat Dolores Umbridge introduced in Book 5, "Order of the Phoenix" - and that in itself makes the entire series worthwhile, IMO. A more vivid dramatic exposition of the mechanism by which statism slowly but inexorably confiscates freedoms, is something I can't recall since Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" itself. To find such a thing in a series ostensibly written for children is just fantastic. As a shameless plug, you can now get the Scare Pair's '08 campaign sticker:

Though I wouldn't rank "Deathly Hallows" as the best of the series - I think that's a toss-up between "Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Order of the Phoenix" - it's on a worthy par with the rest of the series, and a magnificent rebound from the lackluster "Half-Blood Prince." Hats off to Ms. Rowling, and let's hope she dives right back into something new after what I would expect will be a well-deserved hiatus.

Related reading: "Thank You, Harry Potter!" by Dianne Durante of ARI.


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