Russian Ballet and the Mysteries of the Dance Belt

Bolshoi Ballet's Don Quixote

Bolshoi Ballet’s Don Quixote

On my birthday last Thursday, I treated myself to a matinee performance of Don Quixote by the Bolshoi Ballet at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. I’m not a huge fan of classical ballet, but I figured this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Besides, I viewed it as an homage to my mother, who enrolled me in ballet classes and took me to performances at the Pabst Theater whenever a major touring company made a stop in Milwaukee.

Most often, that company was the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, featuring the great principal dancers Frederick Franklin and Alexandra Danilova. To refresh my memory, I Googled them and discovered a fascinating tale my mother never told me. They were founded in 1938 when their founders Leonide Massine and René Blum split off from the original Ballet Russes. Blum was arrested by the Nazis and died at Auschwitz. During and after World War II, they toured the United States extensively, bringing classical Russian ballet to many cities where it had never been seen before. As its dancers – including George Balanchine – spun off and founded their own troupes, they taught Russian ballet to generations of Americans.

I recall seeing many of the classics, like Swan Lake and Les Sylphides, and I enjoyed them, but as a naïve preteen girl growing up in the postwar Midwest, I was most fascinated by the mysterious bulges under the men’s tights. The principle male dancers of the Bolshoi sported similar bulges, and I decided to Google those as well.

WARNING: The following paragraph contains sexually explicit descriptions of the male anatomy, and prudish readers may wish to skip over it.

Baryshnikov

Baryshnikov

Male dancers, especially when in tights, wear a garment called a dance belt, a specialized athletic supporter that supports and protects the genitals. It most resembles a thong, and is designed so that no telltale seams appear under those form-fitting tights. It’s made in varied flesh colors, nowadays with Spandex, and the front panel is reinforced so as not to provide too much information to fellow dancers and the audience. Unlike other athletic supporters, it is designed to hold the dancer’s package upwards, so that dangling genitalia don’t get squeezed or injured during vigorous dance moves.

That’s probably more than you needed to know, right? But if this whets your appetite for more information, just Google “dance tights,” and I guarantee you’ll find more graphic details than you could ever imagine. Anyway, it explains the rationale behind those bulging crotches that so fascinated me as a child and filled in the gaps in my sexual education. It was well over a decade before I gained a more accurate knowledge of the male anatomy.

I got off on a bit of a tangent here, didn’t I? I’d planned to write about more elevated topics like the

Nureyev

Nureyev

contrasts between classic and modern dance, the questionable value of making klutzy young girls study ballet, and how dance can actually be fun, for example in my Nia class. But I’ll save all that for another post. For now, I’ll search out some delectable images of male dancers to share with you. Enjoy!

Nijinsky in Afternoon of a Faun. Costumes weren't quite so revealing back then, before they invented Spandex.

Nijinsky in Afternoon of a Faun. Costumes weren’t quite so revealing back then, before they invented Spandex.

New Year’s Resolutions – to do or not to do?

New Year's clock midnightWishing all my friends and readers a joyous New Year! I wrote this poem yesterday afternoon, in the nick of time to read it last night at the Albany Poets’ POETS SPEAK LOUD open mic at McGeary’s Irish Pub. Nothing like a deadline and the prospect of a friendly, enthusiastic audience to get the creative juices flowing. Once I publish this post, I’ll make a run to the store for egg nog and other sundries, then kick back at home with my hubby for New Year’s Eve.

Cat New-Years-Resolution-Memes- 

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE NEW YEAR’S

 

Twas the night before New Year’s and all through my mind

Skittered thoughts of tasks undone and goals left behind.

 

Those fifteen new pounds I acquired this yearNew Year's apple and tape measure

Mean a new resolution to diet, I fear.

Those favorite noshes I thought wouldn’t matter

Have gone to my hips and I’m looking much fatter.

But giving them up? No, that’s out of the question,

So don’t give me all those nutritious suggestions.

No fasting, no juicing, no broccoli or tofu,

No counting of calories – to that I say screw you!

So bring on the pizza, the cheddar and brie,

The yummy dark chocolates to build more of me!

And bring on the box wines, the reds and the whites,

To lessen the chill of these cold winter nights.

 

Still, I can lose weight if I work out a lot,

Hit the Y every morning, get rid of my pot.

But it’s so much more pleasant to languish in bed

My cat Lunesta on my snowflake flannel sheets

My cat Lunesta on my snowflake flannel sheets

With my cat on my lap and my tummy well fed.

 

And my house is still messy, it only gets worse,

And probably will till they come with the hearse.

With cobwebs and closets with clothes overflowing,

And huge piles of books that I can’t resist stowing.

And everywhere paper is stacked up in hills,

Unread magazines, catalogs, unopened bills.

I solemnly vow that I’ll throw stuff away,

But what if I need it some bleak rainy day? 

 

I could banish the clutter if I hired a maid,

But sadly I guess she’d expect to get paid.

Still, I could afford it if I sold more books,

But marketing’s harder by far than it looks.

And I still haven’t finished my brilliant new story,

Remember Port Charles?

Remember Port Charles?

The first of a trilogy destined for glory.

 

So many distractions, they tempt me away

From the tasks I’m determined to tackle each day,

From the far better person I know I could be

If I didn’t procrastinate, weren’t so damn lazy.

So this New Year’s, once more I resolve to do better,

Rise early each morning and be a go-getter.

Lose more weight, sell more books, become famous and rich,

So by this time next year there’ll be no need to bitch.

New Year's Eve Times Square cleanup

 

         

Lou Reed’s Graceful Exit

In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, Lou Reed’s wife Laurie Anderson describes his death on October 27th:

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed 2002He didn’t give up until the last half-hour of his life, when he suddenly accepted it – all at once and completely. We were at home – I’d gotten him out of the hospital a few days before – and even though he was extremely weak, he insisted on going out into the bright morning light.

As meditators, we had prepared for this – how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.

You can read the full interview by clicking on the following link:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/laurie-andersons-farewell-to-lou-reed-a-rolling-stone-exclusive-20131106#ixzz2kYzUEW8k

Lou Reed

What a beautiful description of an ideal way of dying, and what a contrast to people’s expectations at the height of Lou Reed’s fame in the early 1970’s, when he and Keith Richards were at the top of the lists of rock stars most likely to die next. As they grew older, both reportedly cleaned up their acts, abandoning the outrageously drug-addled ways of their youth. Against all odds, Lou made it to 71, and Keith will turn 70 this December. (May he rock on for many years to come!) 

Keith Richards

Keith Richards

No doubt it was their passion for music, along with the long-term love of good women, that sustained them into old age. Since Lou Reed’s passing, I’ve read many tributes to his music and his seminal influence on rock musicians from punk to grunge and beyond. I’ve got nothing to add in that regard – truth be told, I wasn’t a huge fan – but all the eulogies call up vivid memories of the place and time we shared – lower Manhattan in the late 60’s and early 70’s. 

Though I never met Lou Reed, I did meet his early manager, Andy Warhol, one night on the corner of St. Marks Place and the Bowery. We’d paused for a red light, and somehow we struck up a conversation. Looking inscrutable behind his dark glasses, Andy asked where I was from, gave me what amounted to a mini-interview, but evidently decided I didn’t pass muster as a potential Chelsea girl, because we went our separate ways. 

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

This was the late 60’s, and no doubt I was on my way to or from the Fillmore East to hear Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead or some other band I found more musically exciting than the Velvet Underground, who were still very much under the radar of FM rock radio. Reading about Lou Reed in Rolling Stone, I realize I may have heard him in an early incarnation of the Velvets, because they used to play live accompaniment for experimental films in the small grubby theaters I frequented. If I did hear him, he didn’t make much of an impression. 

But he did impress me in the late 90’s at a concert in Bethel, New York, site of the original Woodstock Festival. On a makeshift temporary stage, he shared a bill with Joni Mitchell and Donovan – all artists I admired but had never heard live, and all marvellous. Typically, he dressed entirely in black and kept his dark glasses on throughout the performance – a cool hipster, not unlike Miles Davis with his shades in nightclubs in the 50’s. (Now I’m really dating myself, but hey, I’m only a year older than Lou Reed.) 

After the concert, I wandered around in pitch blackness searching for my car in the abandoned fields, an experience far removed from the festival I lived through and showed my paintings at three decades before. The Bethel Woods arts center now occupies the site, but I haven’t yet been back.  

In my Nia class this morning, near the end of the routine, our teacher guided us in moving our energy up through the chakras, through the belly and heart to the head. Afterwards, I told her about how Lou Reed died doing tai chi, and recommended she look up the article, but she was only vaguely aware of who he was. (She was born in 1964, the year I finished college.) 

Nonetheless, whenever I’m absorbed in a practice that involves moving my energy up through my body, I’ll remember Lou Reed and the way he died in a state of grace.

Bouchercon in Albany: How welcoming were we?

Albany aerial viewBouchercon, the nation’s leading conference for mystery fans and writers, took place right here in Albany last month, and I’m wondering how friendly the more than 1200 visitors found our city. Readers of Conde Nast Traveler recently ranked Albany seventh on the list of America’s unfriendliest cities, and thirteenth most unfriendly city in the entire world, but are we really that bad?  

From Thursday, September 19th, through Sunday, September 22nd, I attended panels practically nonstop. Checking back through my compulsively annotated program, I see I attended 14 panels, each with an average of six writers – a total of 83 authors, and that’s not even counting the featured speakers in the evenings, Tess Gerritsen, Sue Grafton and Anne Perry. 

At big conferences in faraway cities, I’m usually tempted to play hooky and go exploring instead – a museum or two, a botanical garden or an upscale mall. Not this time, though, because I live just across the river from Albany in Rensselaer County, a mere 20-minute commute, and I’m more than familiar enough with New York’s Capital Region. So I was content to stay within the gray, sterile underground confines of the Empire State Plaza, where the daytime events were held, with evening forays up the elevators to The Egg and its Hart Theater, where I’ve been ushering for years. Visitor parking directly under the Plaza made for minimal walking.

The Egg seen from Rte 787

The Egg seen from Rte 787

Not so, unfortunately, for the more than 1200 out-of-towners, who stayed at downtown hotels several blocks from the conference site and had lots of up and down hill hiking to do. “Who knew Albany was built on a mountaintop,” one commented on Facebook. Shuttle buses allegedly made regular circuits among the various locations, but the waits were often long, and once the visitors made it back to their hotels, many were too exhausted to venture out again for the evening events at The Egg. 

Then there was the food – or rather, the lack of same. The organizers distributed lists of local restaurants and their hours, but for the most part, these were even further away from the hotels. There was little in the way of food onsite, and nary a convenience store for blocks around. I knew enough to pack food from home. But given the challenging conditions, the hundreds of aching feet and rumbling stomachs, the mood of the attendees was amazingly upbeat and convivial. But then mystery writers and fans who journey to events like these are psyched up for a good time. 

 

The Egg lobby during opening reception

The Egg lobby during opening reception

Several years ago I attended a meeting at the Crowne Plaza hotel, where the organizers were putting together plans to bid on Albany as the site for Bouchercon 2013. Though the idea seemed far-fetched, I signed in with my name, phone and e-mail as a potential volunteer, but no one ever contacted me. Sometime between then and now, the Crowne Plaza changed management and became a Hilton, and perhaps the new management chose not to honor the old contract. The hotel would have made a much better headquarters for the Con, but all in all, the planners deserve credit for pulling things off as well as they did. I’m glad I wasn’t one of them, though – I couldn’t have handled all the flak that must have come in from the attendees. 

I wasn’t chosen to be on a panel, though I applied, but I can understand why. I’m a self-published author, and that aspect of the rapidly evolving publishing industry was woefully ignored. HarperCollins hosted the opening reception, and other traditional publishers were heavily represented, especially in the advertisements in the lavishly produced program. 

I heard maybe 83 authors, but I missed a couple of panels, so all told, there were probably close to 200: six on each 55-minute panel, with five or six panels running simultaneously. (Some authors were on multiple panels.) Between sessions there was a 25-minute break, during which authors had to sprint to the signing tables while their potential customers searched for the books they wanted from an array of vendors, each of whom had different principles for organizing the books. Half the time, when I was intrigued enough to hunt down a book and buy it, by the time I reached the signing table, the author had already left and it was time to head off to the next session. 

I’ve hawked my wares at many signings of my own, and as many writers said on panels, it’s one of the most

The Egg's Hart Theater

The Egg’s Hart Theater

depressing duties an author has to confront, especially when no one’s lining up at your table. So I can’t say I envy the authors who did make the cut – I’m willing to bet the vast majority didn’t sell nearly enough to cover the cost of coming to Bouchercon. 

Was it worth it? And how did they like Albany, assuming they got to see much of it? Are we as unfriendly as Conde Nast claims, or is that dubious reputation the fault of the Rockefeller-era architects and planners who redesigned the city’s downtown decades ago?  

But back to Bouchercon. The camaraderie, the networking opportunities, the inspiration! Doesn’t that make it all worthwhile? I’ll talk about that in my next post.  

Whether or not you attended this Bouchercon, I’d love to read your comments. And if you haven’t already, please subscribe so you won’t miss the next installment.

Spaces in the Togetherness of Marriage

 

Kahlil Gibran

Kahlil Gibran

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” When my husband and I married in 1975, we included the famous quote from Kahlil Gibran in the service at our SoHo loft, and we’ve abided by that principle ever since. In my last post I mentioned that we’ve rarely been apart for even a week in our nearly forty years together until the three-week motorcycle trip he embarked on in June. To my enormous relief, he returned safe and sound late on July 4th, just in time for the last of the fireworks over Snyders Lake where we live, and soon it was as if he’d never been away. 

In fact, we grant each other a great deal of space, even when we’re home together. We’re both writers, and we respect each other’s need for alone time. And though we share many interests, we give ourselves permission to go off on our own tangents individually. His motorcycle trip is a perfect example: if I had my druthers, he wouldn’t have done it, but I knew it was important to him and I respect his right to follow his bliss, as he respects my right to pursue mine. 

While he was away, I indulged in lots of my favorite pastimes. Nothing I wouldn’t do if he were here; just more of everything. Concerts, open mics, movies, gardening – whatever captured my fancy. And I resolved not to feel guilty about it. I’d had visions of hunkering down at home, writing up a storm, exercising, eating healthier, all that good stuff, but I’m afraid it didn’t happen. I cut myself a lot of slack, and why not? I don’t want to consign my pleasures to some distant bucket list. 

Concerts are a prime example. I love rock and country music. He doesn’t, for the most part, and I’ve given up asking him to go unless it’s

Tom Petty

Tom Petty

something I’m pretty sure he’ll enjoy, including classical or avant garde programs. I dragged him to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center several years back. We’d spent the afternoon at the track, and I was about to place a bet for the ninth race when a man called out, “Anyone want a pair of lawn tickets for the Police and Elvis Costello at SPAC tonight?” 

“I might,” I said. “Let me go ask my husband.” Then I decided what the hell – I’d just go ahead and buy them and present him with a fait accompli. He was gracious about it, but while I thought the concert was fabulous, he absolutely hated it – the traffic jam that made us late, the volume level, the crowd jammed together on the lawn, the darkness that made it impossible to see where we were going. He vowed never to go back to SPAC, and he never has. While he was away, I went twice, and to several other concerts as well:

  • ·         Rascal Flatts and The Band Perry at SPAC (great show – I went with my friend Linda, but I went to all the other concerts solo)
  • ·         Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, with the Wallflowers opening. (Love that Jacob Dylan)
  • ·         The Zombies at the Empire State Plaza (the British Invasion band from the Sixties – remember “Time of the Season” and “She’s Not There?” Not many in the audience did, but it was a good crowd, since it was a freebie.)
  • ·         George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelics (known as the godfather of hip hop, he puts on a great show with an infectious groove. Another freebie, Alive at Five alongside the Hudson River, it drew a mammoth audience.)
  • ·         Old Songs Festival at the Altamont Fair Grounds (I’ve got friends who love this annual folkie event. This was the first time I’ve checked it out, and I’ll definitely return.) 

These were all outdoors, and amazingly, the rain held off for all of them, despite the many downpours we’ve been having. I hope my luck will hold for Country Fest on July 13th.

As for movies, I saw four of the summer blockbuster variety, and I’ve got a couple more on my list. My husband’s movie tastes and mine overlap, and we often go together, but we’re at opposite poles when it comes to certain genres. He avoids romantic films, musical biopics, and gloomy indies about fun topics like Alzheimer’s and cancer; I avoid ultraviolent crime flicks unless they have redeeming cinematic qualities or actors I think are hot. 

Friends are often amazed when I tell them I go to concerts or films alone, but why not? I pity people who feel the need to pair up or herd together in groups to enjoy cultural or quasi-cultural events. I’m better able to immerse myself in the experience when I’m not worrying about whether the person next to me thinks it’s a waste of time, money or both. 

 

Melissa McCarthy with 2011 Emmy

Melissa McCarthy with 2011 Emmy

Being accountable to no one is one of the perks of retirement, and so is spontaneity. Case in point: the swimsuit shopping expedition I mentioned last time. It was even worse than I feared. Those fluorescent-lit three-way mirrors in Macy’s dressing rooms are brutal, and I got so disheartened that I decided to abandon my search and go to the early showing of The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. I’m not nearly as fat as Melissa, and she’s fabulous onscreen. Judging by all the laughter, I’m sure the overweight women wedged in on either side of me thought so too. 

A couple of days later at Boscov’s, I found a swimsuit I actually found flattering, and yesterday, when I wore it for the first time, bless his heart, he told me I look good in it. Then I ambled down the street to the boat launch and jumped in the lake – something else he’ll never do, because he thinks the lake’s too dirty and too dangerous because of the boats. But thanks to his motorcycling, he’s forfeited the right to tell me what’s too dangerous. Last night I ushered for Lyle Lovett at The Egg – something else he wouldn’t have liked. 

He wants to see The Lone Ranger tonight, because that was his favorite boyhood superhero. The movie got horrible reviews and is reportedly ultraviolent, but I guess I can indulge him and go. With Johnny Depp as a scantily clad Tonto with a dead crow on his head, how bad can it be?

 

Johnny "Tonto" Depp with Silver

Johnny “Tonto” Depp with Silver

 

 

Not So Easy Rider

My husband just before leaving home on June 14

My husband just before leaving home on June 14

As of today, my husband’s been away from home for almost three weeks, piling up the miles on his Kawasaki Vulcan motorcycle. He’s ridden from upstate New York to Louisville, Kentucky, then down to North Carolina, and back via the Blue Ridge Mountains to his sister’s home in Virginia. He’ll stop off for a night at our daughter’s house in Woodstock, and he plans to be back home the day after by the Fourth of July. Throughout his trip, I’ve been virtually holding my breath, and that explosive gust of wind you hear will be my sigh of relief.

What a long, strange trip it’s been. Since we met at Max’s Kansas City in 1973, we’ve never been apart this long – I can count on one hand the times we’ve been apart for even a week. Before embarking on this odyssey, he was worried about whether I’d be alright on my own, but the fact is, I’ve been fine. For company, I’ve got my animal familiars – Sirius, my chow/Australian shepherd mix, and Lunesta, my gorgeous and cuddly tabby cat. If I get cabin fever, I can always drive down to visit my daughter and granddaughters in Woodstock, just over an hour away. But I haven’t felt the need; I’ve been reveling in the peace and quiet of my solitude, interspersed with episodes of noisy community, chiefly involving music. 

You may have noticed I never mention my husband’s name in this blog. That’s at his request. Many of my readers know him, but he has a public persona to protect, and he’s worried I may write something that could tarnish his reputation. Nonetheless he gave me permission to quote the following text, which he sent from early in his trip:

I’m at a McDonald’s somewhere in Southern Ohio waiting for a thunderstorm to pass by. At Indian Mounds National Park, I had this image suddenly of a great mob of Indian men ritually pissing on the circular wall surrounding the grave mounds, so I joined in. It felt right.

The Indian mounds are one of many sights he’s visited. He successfully completed the Tail of the Dragon, an infamously twisty road with hundreds of curves, and he toured the distillery where they make Knob Creek, his favorite bourbon. This southern excursion actually had a specific destination, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Louisville, where he was a presenter. He’s exploring a part of the country I’d love to visit, and I’m mildly jealous, but I’d rather see it from the air-conditioned comfort of a nice, sturdy car. Maybe a Prius.

The first night of his journey, I was scared shitless. I diverted myself by filling a Poland Springs water bottle with Chardonney and going to see Iron Man 3, but the panic set in when I got home, and it lingered till I got the text telling me he’d made it safely to his first campsite. Since then, day by day, I’ve worried progressively less. In fact, I agree with my daughter: his journey is awesome, especially since he bought this motorcycle only last summer, hasn’t ridden in decades, and turned 74 this April.  

Sirius, my chow/Aussie mix

Sirius, my chow/Aussie mix

When we met in 1973, he kept a motorcycle garaged in his storefront in Little Italy near my SoHo loft, but it was in need of repair and I never saw him ride it. (My first husband had a BMW, and I rode with him around downstate New York. We didn’t wear helmets back then, and he crashed the bike soon after we broke up, but that’s another story.) 

So is he crazy to take this journey? Our friends seem equally divided. Some think it’s crazy; others think it’s cool. Many share tales about motorcycle mishaps that befell friends or family. On the lawn at SPAC last Sunday, chatting during the break between the Wallflowers and Tom Petty, I told a man about my husband’s trip, and he told me about the Kawasaki Ninja he rode until he totaled it. Yes, he was badly hurt, and no, he hasn’t ridden since. 

But all in all, as my husband says, “If not now, when?” I’ll turn 72 next month, and I still downhill ski. He used to warn me that was too dangerous at my age, but obviously that argument is no longer valid. 

I was going to tell you about my own adventures while my hubby’s away, but I’ll save that for my next post. I know I’ve been away from this blog for ages, but my new novel will be out by the time Bouchercon rolls into Albany in September, so I’m back with a vengeance. Please leave comments and subscribe, so I’ll know you’re out there. 

And now, I’m off to hunt for a new swim suit at the sales at Boscov’s and Macy’s. That’s what I call REALLY scary!

Lunesta loves mice!

Lunesta loves mice!

The Aurora tragedy and the fragile boundary between reality and fiction

James Holmes (inset) and Heath Ledger as The Joker

I was slogging away at my new novel, writing about the tenuous boundary between reality and fiction, when I first heard the news about the horrific shooting at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises at the multiplex in Aurora, Colorado. Witnesses reported that just before opening fire, killing a dozen people and injuring scores more, the shooter said “I am the Joker.” For him, evidently, the dividing line between truth and fantasy had grown irreparably breached. 

In yesterday’s Daily Beast, Dr. Michael Stone, who has studied over 200 mass murderers, is quoted as saying the majority, most typically young males, are not psychotic. Often they are loners who suffer from paranoia or other personality disorders, and some external event or person triggers their outbursts of deadly rage. Some are sociopaths. We still don’t know what set off James Holmes, and whether his dropping out of graduate school was cause or effect. But his recent purchases of arms and ammo, and the way he wired his apartment with explosives, chose his “full ballistic” costume, and staged the massacre at the Batman premiere, suggest painstaking planning and premeditation. 

My novel-in-progress is a work of fan fiction and fantasy involving dueling soap opera stars on the imaginary XYZ network. Yesterday, I was struggling with a scene in which the hero, a romantic lead on an afternoon soap, arrives at the studio and is confronted by a cop who informs him that the set has become a crime scene. Someone has been murdered overnight, but my hero, Lieutenant Jonah McQuarry, at first believes the entire scenario is part of a new script he hasn’t yet read. 

Just as they rolled out a gurney bearing a black body bag and the truth started to dawn on my protagonist, Friday’s episode of General Hospital – which has some remarkably similar characters – came to an end, and ABC switched to the news. The Colorado massacre was front and center, and I clicked over to CNN for more details, thus effectively ending my writing session for the day. Hunkered down in my recliner with a glass of wine, greedy for more details, I learned that until the murderer opened fire, some in the audience believed he was part of the show, some sort of promotional gimmick. 

When John Holmes declared, “I am the Joker,” did he actually believe he was the character? If so, was he the Joker as embodied by Jack Nicholson, or by Heath Ledger? I’m guessing the latter, both because there’s a better generational fit and because Ledger’s tragic death six months before the release of The Dark Knight in 2008 compounds the complexity of the killer’s identification with the Joker. Did he believe he was destined to die like Ledger, thus making him some kind of legendary martyr? He’s alive, in police custody, so perhaps some answers will emerge as the story unfolds. 

Ages ago, when I was a creative arts therapist at a psychiatric hospital for the severely and persistently mentally ill, I knew many patients whose delusions revolved around stars and celebrities. There was an elderly woman, a wonderful artist and pianist, who believed George Gershwin had been her lover and still visited her on the ward. And there was a young man, a paranoid schizophrenic, who was convinced he had turned into a woman and had sex with John Lennon. As a nondirective, nonjudgmental therapist and a passionate Beatles fan, my response was “Really? What was it like?” 

John Lennon autographing an album for Mark Chapman hours before the murder

That was months before Lennon was shot down outside his apartment in the Dakota on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. His killer, Mark David Chapman, had once been hospitalized for depression but had otherwise functioned relatively normally without obvious evidence of mental illness. He was obsessed with J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and saw himself as the novel’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield – yet another instance of the comingling of reality and fiction.

 

These days, the individual obsessions of the late twentieth century seem positively quaint. Social media and mass communications have become so overwhelmingly powerful, the images of violence and mayhem so inescapable, and powerful deadly weapons so readily available, it’s no surprise that for certain deranged individuals, the lure of deadly international fame will prove irresistible. Sadly, the massacre in Aurora probably won’t be the last.  

 

 

 

 

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