Platoon and “Adagio for Strings”

Last night, in my usual inability to sleep mode, I was flipping through the channels, and I caught the tail end of Platoon. Usually, when I see this movie in the listings, I keep right on going. I figure one viewing is pretty traumatic, and twice is enough, so I will not subject myself to another. But last night I was feeling pretty down, and I just couldn’t help myself, so I stopped on the channel. Sometimes, you do things to yourself that you know that you shouldn’t, and you know exactly what the outcome is going to be, not of the movie, but the outcome of your reaction.

Platoon is one of those movies that is so visceral that I dare anyone to watch it and not be touched in some way by it. The scene in which Willem Dafoe’s character Elias is killed is so gut-wrenching that I still find myself holding my breath when I watch it, even though I know that his arms being thrown towards the heavens are his body’s death paroxysms from sprays of bullets to his back.

But Oliver Stone’s masterpiece about the Viet Nam war is made all the more real by setting this homage to human brutality to one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed: Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” And so, as Charlie Sheen’s Chris is being airlifted out in the closing scenes, Barber’s Adagio is hauntingly ripping at what is left of your last tenuous semblance of composure.

And then, because I was already an emotional wreck, I thought I would watch Babel. I didn’t make it past the first hour.

But I am reminded of the movie’s tag line: “The first casualty of war is innocence.” And this brings to mind a startling statistic of which I was not fully aware until just recently: We have been fighting in Iraq longer than the U.S. fought in either WWI or WWII. World War I lasted 4 years and just under 5 months. The U.S. role in World War II started in December of 1941; it ended with the Japanese surrender in 1945. However, the U.S. was involved in Viet Nam over a decade.

Granted, wars are different now, and the Iraqi war is not Viet Nam. But we continue to lose troops. And we continue to bring troops home who are not the same as when they left. And John McCain’s voting record for veterans is abysmal. Go here if you want details

My dad was a veteran of three wars, and if I could only vote on one issue to decide who gets to be the next president of the United States, it would be how this person would treat the men and women who fight, and die, and sacrifice almost everything for the rest of us, not just when they are giving up everything in a foreign land thousands of miles away, but when they come home and ask for something more than due them in return.

The first casualty of war may be innocence. But the last casualty of war should not be its veterans.

Music As Muse

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m one of those people who needs music in my life. If I had to choose between television and music, I’d have to choose music. I was a classically-trained pianist for fourteen years, but I never quite had that something that separated me from the pack. Those of you who have taken lessons for years but never felt that you could actually do something with your music understand what I mean. That’s not to say that I didn’t have talent. I could practice, and phrase, and get the technique, but I mostly relied upon my ear. I was a good mimic. I felt the music of artists, true artists deep in my soul, but my own playing never moved me, and so finally, I put it to rest. Occasionally I’ll sit down at the piano and play for a few hours until my wrists and my back rebel, and then I will close the cover on my piano until the next time I am moved to try again, but the times are very few and far between. Being a perfectionist at most things makes playing music hard for me because I know that I am not that good, and so I prefer to listen. All of my children at one time or another have asked me to teach them how to play the piano, as has my husband, and I have assured all of them–quite truthfully–that I would not be a good teacher. I would be impatient, and it is hard to impart to them all of the reasons why because it is something deep in my soul. I do not like to hear music that is not played well. Isn’t that a horrible thing to admit? But it is true, so I know that I would not be a good music teacher, no matter how much I love my family.

Music, in its many forms stirs and moves me. I love classical, rock, country, folk, pop, even reggae. It truly depends on my mood. I remember the first time my husband and I went on a cruise, and we were on a large catamaran bound for a reef to swim with the rays. The crew had on the best mix of music, and I felt so at peace. I had not been on the water on a catamaran in years. I love to be on the water. This water, in the Caribbean, was deep aquamarine and clear; the pontoons hummed as they glided through the water, and this very eclectic mix of music played in the background. I remember sitting on the deck, completely at peace with everything. It was a feeling I had not even been close to in years, but all of the elements came together, and the music was the perfect backdrop.

Some of the best moments in my life have been like that: the music has been the perfect backdrop: a friend’s wedding that I attended while my daughter was fighting for her life in the hospital; it was a brief respite from endless pain, but the music at the wedding was incredibly beautiful. The first time Corey sang, “I Cross My Heart,” to me was so perfect. The first time I heard Nessum Dorma was at a rehearsal dinner of all places and the restaurant had singing waiters; the server was an incredible tenor.

Then there is the music in movies: The first time I watched Platoon and heard Samuel Barber’s Adagio for String’s and wept. The entire soundtrack from The English Patient; I did not want to leave the theater when it was over. The way in which Peter Jackson was savvy enough to realize that music had to be an integral part of The Lord of the Rings. And I cannot watch Robin Hood and hear Everything I Do, I Do it For You, which granted, is better than the movie, and not want someone to love me that way. But the killer for me is the sweeping saga music from Legends of the Fall: the scene in which the horses appear over the ridge and then there is Tristan, the prodigal son returned. Yes, my heart still skips, and it’s not for Brad, it’s for Tristan.

So music for me remains that elusive undefined quantity in life: that forever shape-shifting uplifting and heartbreaking elements that I must have. Nothing is better than when a friend introduces me to a new artist who I can add to my repertoire. My playlist, the background sound that plays when I am writing is not just one artist, not just one type of music. As of this writing my extended playlist is 10 hours long and contains over 100 different artists. That’s a good start. Just don’t ever ask me about When You Wish Upon a Star.