Dirtsong

My wife and I went to see “Dirtsong” last night at UC Davis. Here are some of my unconnected thoughts.

Thankfully, the music was beautiful, because it took me half the concert to ignore the fact that I was surrounded by Progressive Liberals who recently celebrated the violent suppression of free speech at UC Davis and UC Berkeley. I kept having visions of taking over the stage and berating the audience, “This is what it feels like to be lectured by an asshole protester. Maybe you should remember this the next time a campus event you dislike is shut down by an asshole you happen to agree with.” Naturally, I didn’t do that because I’m not an asshole Leftist protester.

Most of the songs were sung in some aboriginal dialect, and thus there was no context to the silent movies of staring faces that confronted us throughout the performance. The audience was left with only our emotional devices to process the information, which was probably the intent of the entire program.

The silent movies were occasionally accompanied by slogans about “old law” and the land. One slogan that spoke to me was “I will never be like you. I am not your way.” I found that refreshing, but I couldn’t help wondering how “old” and “natural” a law has to be before Liberals will embrace it.

The band was all white men playing western instruments. It felt like reverse cultural appropriation (yes, I know that’s a “racist” thought), but I suppose it was meant as a symbol of the white man’s appropriation of aboriginal land.

One of the two songs sung in English was about “you will never take my land.” So that cleared things up a bit, although some reviews say the performance is all about “black and white solidarity.”

Leaving the concert, I wondered if the despair over losing “old cultures” will ever end, and why “Progressives” who love this sort of despair are always talking about “unity” and “forward.” It should be possible to celebrate history and culture without trying to destroy your own. But maybe I’m just a white oppressor.

Again, the music was beautiful. The women’s voices were powerful and uplifting. The silent movies were fascinating. The faces were unforgettable. But it was impossible for me to ignore that the performance took place in a milieu that Leftists have created on university campuses – which is explicitly designed to exclude people who have the “wrong” opinions about music, art, culture, and the world at large.

At least I got to enjoy 25% of the concert. And that was enough, because the tickets were free.

JBrown MoonState: Rapping the 2016 California State of the State Address

[Dark stage. Intro with heavy breathy Darth Vader beat. Background singers line the stage in dark robes.]

Expo
Nential
Spend
Cut
Spend

[Full lights! Nuclear blast sound effect! Mixmaster JBrown cuts through the line of singers, bling blazing, mic in hand.]

We doin’ the zigzag no mo yo
Inequality be risin’ sharp bro
The 1 percent ain’t earned respect no
My stocks are down! why that? – whoa!

[Background singers take off their robes, revealing sexy environmental uniforms. JBrown dances spasmodically.]

Affordable Care Act yah brah
Carbon pollution nah brah
Working families blah blah
Employee pensions rah rah

[JBrown cuts in.]

Radically decarbonize the economy bro
Two tons of gas my target, ho
Send deniers to the gulag yo
On a green train bullet to the brain – go!

[Background singers.]

Medi-Cal spending yah brah
Water for the farmers nah brah
Fish need it all blah blah
Except for our swimming pools rah rah

[JBrown.]

Gots to get to massive fixin’ mo
Roads and bridges be failin’ bro
Climate is causin’ the chaos you know
Don’t tell me ’bout LA sewers – no!

[Background singers.]

Big budget surplus yah brah
Middle class jobs? nah brah
Feds and the prog tax blah blah
Minimum wage rah rah

[Music fades to dreamy utopian environmental sounds. JBrown speaks earthily into mic.]

Yes, it is clear that California is still The Great Exception. We dare to do what others only dream of. Difficulties remain, as they always will. That is the human condition. And finding the right path forward is formidable. But find it we will, as we have in the past and as we will again – with courage and confidence. All love to Jesus Christ. Peace out. Thank you.

[JBrown moonwalks backward off the stage. Background singers put their robes back on. Darth Vader beat returns. Stage fades to black.]

Expo
Nential
Spend
Cut
Spend

Expo
Nential
Spend
Cut
Spend

Expo
Nential
Spend
Cut
Spend

Spanking, seduction, pregnancy, violence – and spinning bees

Spanking seems to be making quite a comeback, thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey. Beatings? Not so much. But back in the 16th and 17th centuries things were a bit different. Martin Luther’s complaints against Catholicism in the early 1500’s had led to a religious and cultural Reformation. Printers began to churn out pamphlets and books by the millions. The combination made for some interesting reading.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into the literature. I’ll leave that to you, dear reader. The following illustrations should give you someplace to start. First, German History in Documents and Images notes “the rapidly growing literature on the conditions  of a happy marriage and on codes  of behavior reinforced gender roles.” The following two images are from a woodcut by Abraham Bach, produced in the latter half of the 17th century.

Plate 1:  a man beats  his  wife for being proud, impious , lazy, and drunk

Plate 1: a man beats his wife for being proud, impious , lazy, and drunk

Plate 2:  a woman beats  her hus band for gambling, drinking, gluttony, and chas ing pretty girls

Plate 2: a woman beats her husband for gambling, drinking, gluttony, and chasing pretty girls

Second — and from an author I’ve mentioned before, Alison G. Stewart — comes a treatise on “Distaffs and Spindles: Sexual Misbehavior in Sebald Beham’s Spinning Bee.”

Sebald Beham, Spinning Bee, woodcut, ca. 1524, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford

Sebald Beham, Spinning Bee, woodcut, ca. 1524, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford

In Nuremberg, an imperial city answerable only to the emperor, spinning bees served as meeting places for rural girls and women during the fall and winter evenings. Spinning bees were widely called Spinnstuben and Rockenstuben in German, but Lichtstuben in Nuremberg’s Franconian dialect. Despite their ostensibly female nature, spinning bees were also visited by men. Indeed, in the sixteenth century, spinning bees throughout Germany were officially viewed as centers for scandalous socializing and were forbidden under penalty, although forbidding spinning bees was not the same as abolishing them, as we will see.

Here are a few enlargements (no pun intended) of certain portions of Beham’s woodcut.

Sexual Misbehavior 3Sexual Misbehavior 2Sexual Misbehavior 1

Yep, they’re getting jiggy, alright.

Undoubtedly, the sexual behavior characterized at spinning  bees has much to do with the phallic shape of the primary spinning  implements used at the time — distaff and spindle. Just as round forms encouraged association with the womb and the female, the word “spindle” stood for the penis in Late Medieval English, French, and German. For example, in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (ca.  1599)  (1.4.108-10), Sir Andrew Aguecheek looks for a bride. Sir Toby Belch remarks directly that the former’s hair “hangs like flax on a  distaff; and I hope to see a housewife take thee between her legs and spin it off.”  Although spinning was a female activity, spinning tools assumed unquestionably  male shapes. This gender-jumping seems to have appealed to contemporaries.

It might not be Fifty Shades of Grey, but, as Stewart notes, “Beham’s Spinning Bee indicates a chaotic, violent and oversexed world where female sexuality and virtue serve as the point of departure for male desire, aggression, and humor. Beham’s woodcut needs to be  understood within  its  cultural context at a time in Europe when women, as well as men, were viewed as lustful, although women then and since antiquity were seen as the more susceptible sex.”

Mass grave from 1632 begins to reveal soldiers’ secrets

History comes to life in this article from Der Spiegel. I’ve been researching the decades of the Thirty Years War for some time now, and I’m writing a chapter that takes place about 60 miles from Lutzen, Germany, as the crow flies. My novel has little to do with the war, but the conflict engulfed most of Northern Europe from 1618-1648, and no citizen was untouched by its horror.

Mass Grave in Lutzen

The morning of November 16, 1632 was foggy, so the mass killing could only begin after some delay. It wasn’t until midday that the mist cleared, finally allowing the Protestant army of Sweden’s King Gustav II Adolf to attack the Roman Catholic Habsburg imperial army led by Albrecht von Wallenstein. The slaughter lasted for hours in the field at the Saxon town of Lützen.

“In this battle the only rule that applied was, ‘him or me,'” says Maik Reichel. “It was better to stab your opponent one extra time just to ensure there was no chance of him standing up again.” The historian and former German parliamentarian for the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) is standing at the edge of a field on the outskirts of Lützen. After the battles here, the ground was soaked with blood. “About 20,000 men fought on each side and between 6,000 and 9,000 were killed,” estimates Reichel, who heads the museum in the city castle.

The battle is important only because it resulted in the death of Sweden’s king. A hands-on leader, he fought with his men at the front. Known as the Lion of the North, it was said that “he thinks the ship cannot sink that carries him.” After his death, the war dragged on for another 16 years, the Swedish forces under various generals directed by Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna.

The Catholic forces in 1632 were led by Albrecht Wallenstein, who was assassinated in 1634, after being charged with treason by the Holy Roman Emperor.

Gustavus_Adolphus_at_the_Battle_at_BreitenfeldGustavus Adolphus
Albrecht_WallensteinAlbrecht Wallenstein

The chapter in my novel occurs in 1639, after the first Battle of Frieburg was lost by Protestant forces under General Johan Baner.

Except for the frost, Uncle Heinrich’s face looked the same dead as it had alive.

“At least death has a sense of humor,” James said. The man’s body was grotesquely animated, much like his face had been during life. It was as if the laughing north wind had frozen him solid, pistol in upraised hand, legs churning toward victory, the moment the enemy musket ball pierced his chest. He’d known since last night that his uncle was dead. The corpse was mere proof.

“Do you want to bury him? It’ll take him awhile to thaw out,” said Conrad.

“Yes,” said James, shivering in the cold dawn air, “but don’t bother waiting. I think he’d rather be buried just as he is, going down fighting. Where are you digging the graves?”

“Grave. Over where we had the fire last night. The ground is too hard anywhere else. General Baner says to dig one big pit and throw them all in.”

“He’s a son of a bitch, but for once I agree with him.” James picked up the cold handles of the wheelbarrow and struggled to push it over the rugged earth.

Conrad grabbed Heinrich’s outstretched arm to steady the wheelbarrow, and laughed. “He always was one to lend a hand!”

James negotiated the rows of dead and their bearers. “Looks like about two hundred. How many more?”

“Five hundred total, or so they tell me. And we didn’t even take the town.”

“Son of a bitch.” He tipped his uncle into the dead regiment. Sweaty men swung picks and swore at the frozen earth. James used his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his own forehead. “Has anyone told Baner how stupid that was?”

“Probably as stupid as trying to dig this pit.”

“So you’d rather just leave these men to rot where they lay?”

“And you’d prefer to complain about orders when the general’s wife is sick? If you thought the attack was futile …”

“Baner just killed five hundred of our men, including my uncle.” James spit the words into the freezing air and pulled the collar of his coat closer.

“He killed five thousand last month. Don’t compound your problems. No good will come of it. Say a prayer for Heinrich and let’s get back to the tent.”

Down the line, men were stripping the bodies of useful gear. James bent over Heinrich and tugged on the sleeve of the dead man’s overcoat. “Give me a hand.”

Conrad giggled, squatted down, and together they wrangled the coat from the contorted body. “Do you want the boots?”

“Yeah. We wear the same size.” James pulled one of the boots, but it wouldn’t budge. “Hold him steady. Damn thing is frozen on.” He pulled again and the boot came free with a cracking sound. The sock remained. He pulled the other one off and stood with it in his hand. The idea of stripping Heinrich to his bare frozen flesh was repulsive.

“That’s it. Leave the rest. ”

“Aren’t you going to say a prayer?” Conrad waited, greatcoat over his arm, the bloody hole staring at the world in condemnation.

“Okay. I suppose it’s what Heinrich would have wanted.” James considered his uncle’s wounds, so bright in life, livid blue-gray in death. He looked up, desiring to see the sky but confronted only by the carnal fog that had followed them since Chemnitz.

“Lord.” The first consonant stuck on his tongue, repulsing the wave of sounds that came after, then collapsing in submission. A rage of angels blew trumpets in his head and a prayer arrived with the attack. “Babylon, you are doomed! I pray the Lord’s blessings on anyone who punishes you for what you did to us. May the Lord bless everyone who beats your children against the rocks!”

James turned abruptly away, hating his shameful tears. The dead regiment lay at attention as a mounted officer rode into the clearing. “Leave the dead! We’re moving out!”

A cry of protest rose from the men.

“The ground is too hard!” the officer shouted. “We’ll bury them after the thaw! Now move out!”

Big noses and the bawdy aesthetic

Perusing my collection of scholarly papers, in search of some facts about city life in the Early Modern era, I rediscovered Large Noses and Changing Meanings in Sixteenth-century German Prints, by Alison Stewart. I first found the paper almost a year ago, and it’s been sitting ever since in my digital stack of research, waiting.

Or perhaps it’s been panting, wheezing or ejaculating, because the topic of the paper is just what you might think after reading the title.

Woodcuts produced by the Nuremberg school during the early sixteenth century provide insights into the history of taste, in particular the changing nature of the bawdy aesthetic so prevalent in the art of the time. Sebald Beham’s Nose Dance of c. 1534 offers a good case in point. The print represents in the foreground a group of large-nosed men and one woman, and a fool who exposes himself (at lower right).

The scene is a popular peasant holiday of the time, Kermis, “the celebration of the anniversary of a church or of the name saint to whom the church is dedicated.” Contemporary documents indicate that the nose dance was performed routinely.

The dancer with the largest nose will be crowned king of the dance and gets the garland. Second prize is the nose mask, and third the underpants. The garland is, of course, a traditional attribute or the victor; the nose mask mirrors the shape of the nose, and may well have been worn by some of the contestants; while the underpants reminds us of the popular belief that the size of a man’s nose is indicative of the size of his penis …

The description of the woodcut is by Nuremberg poet-shoemaker Hans Sachs.

Narrated in the first person, the text relates that numerous drunk peasants can be seen at the kermis held in the town of Gumpelsbrunn: there they eat, drink and yell, a maiden sings to the accompaniment of a bagpipe, two shawm players arrive to play for the row dance, and the young men run, wrestle and throw each other down on their stomachs, many smashing their penises. Gingerbread is for sale, and a rooster dance takes place, involving wonderful tricks waddling, bowing and turning around, so that one can see up the women’s skirts. Sachs describes the rows and disputes, with two men attacking three, and even a flogging.

The entire paper is worth reading, and some passages remind me of more recent events.

While not discounting altogether the moralizing aspects of the image and text, it is important to keep in mind that although they may seem outrageous to many today, sixteenth-century audiences would have found them highly entertaining. Nuremberg was then a loud and dirty place, the behaviour found there uncouth and often violent. People talked loudly in church – and even defecated in the street: an announcement was issued to warn residents not to use the streets in this manner during the Emperor’s visit, but to avail themselves of the public Sprachhauser, or latrines.

All that’s missing today is the fornicating, the violence, the maypole, and the fool exposing himself. Oh, wait, all of that did happen during the nationwide “Occupy Wall Street” protests. Perhaps today’s society is not as evolved as we pretend.