Saturday, May 21, 2011

This Is American I-Dull! -by Susan Vagnoni Murphy

I admit it, used to watch American Idol. I didn't see the first season except for the part where .the girl sang, and then the curly-head boy sang, and then I thought, "the girl won," Then I changed the channel. Later on I found out that "the girl", named Kelly Clarkson, won. No big deal.

My boys and I watched the next 3 seasons and I am ashamed to say I was a bit slow on the uptake. A pattern began to emerge. The best singers did not win. The gutsiest performances were not rewarded. America sucked as voters. What's new about that, Bush got in twice, didn't he?

Like lemmings we followed the show for a few years, voting and getting disappointed. We finally threw in the towel when Adam Lambert lost to the insipid Chris Allen. I can't even go there.

Now I find I am always bored with A.I. once they are past the audition weeks where at least you can see some inspired freaks put on a good show. No I am not talking about the judges panel (Paula Abdul where are you!). In fact, Steven Tyler is the best thing on the show this year.

During the current season, like a rubbernecker at a traffic accident-I simply click on A.I. for a few moments to see who has promise and therefore will not win. I am not disappointed. I spotted James Durbin as interesting and different. I knew that would kill any chances he had. It did.

So why does this show not work? Why do the best singers get voted off? My theory is that people are voting for some ideal person who does not exist. They vote for what they can understand at the simplest level. This is the only thing that explains Scotty McCreary still being in the running. Everything he sings sounds the same. He waves the flag; he spouts home and family and proclaims his fear of any contact with Lady GaGa. Family values absconded by right wing conservatism. How's that been working out for Arnold Schwarzenegger lately?

After having been involved in the arts most of my life I want to shout "If you strive to be a cookie-cutter person made out of cream cheese you might want to look for other employment!" Artistic pursuit is not about sameness, fitting in or even perfection in many cases. The arts -music, visual, theatrical- celebrate uniqueness and embrace a different point of view. Being true to yourself should not cause the fear it does in America today.

So I bid A.I. a long-coming farewell. I think I'll see what's on The Voice this week.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Growing Pains

The warm weather today reminded me of a time about seven years ago when I decided I should carry on a family gardening tradition - planting a seedling from my Grandfather's plum tree.

The seeds from this special tree came over from Italy with my Grandfather. At least that's how I remember hearing it. My Grandfather is no longer here, but his plum tree lives on in my parent's yard where my father started it from a seed. My brother also grew his own Grandpa tree. Now it was my turn.

On a trip to Wisconsin I eagerly picked up my little tree offspring from my brother. I carefully protected this piece of history on the six hour drive back to Saint Paul.

Once home I told my youngest son Nick that we would be planting a special family tree. He watched with his big, four-year-old eyes as I selected the perfect sunny spot in the front yard where the whole neighborhood could admire the plum as it grew into it's full glory.

I spent the next arduous hours digging the optimum sized hole. Nick played on the lawn nearby as I fertilized, mulched and prayed to the Farmer's Almanac for continued fair weather.

At last it was time to place the small tree in the hole. I meticulously filled in the dirt around the roots. Added a stick with soft ties to hold it upright and a circle of chickenwire to protect it from ravenous bunnies. I was sure Grandpa was smiling down from the heavens.

The final step was to water my masterpiece. I asked Nicky to watch the tree while I fetched my Mother's Day gift - a personally painted watering can from my sons. As I rounded the house with my full watering can I saw Nick also holding a full watering can. It was the orange plastic one from his sandbox. In a slow motion sequence that rivaled the Matrix I watched Nick raise his watering can above the chickenwire to give the little tree a drink.

The water started to pour. Nick dropped the watering can. The can fell. I ran. The can fell on the tree. The tree broke in two. I screeched. Nick froze.

At this point I made one of the better decisions of my life. I looked at Nick, reached out, plucked the watering can off of the destroyed tree and flung it with all my might over the fence into the neighbor's yard. The alternative would have been Nick sailing over the fence into the neighbor's yard. I chose wisely.

This is a cautionary tale for all of us who want to plant things in hope of seeing them grow. Sometimes you have to cut your losses. Sometimes you need to see the bigger picture. Sometimes you have to remember that your children are the most important seeds you plant. No wait, always you have to remember that children are the most important seeds you plant.

Then, you throw the watering can into the neighbor's yard.