While driving through Carneros today, I passed a winery’s roadside marquee, the letters of which were arranged to read “Happy Hallowine.” Not the most brilliant play-on-words since the advent of movable type, but evocative of the spirit of fright-night in the wine country nevertheless. My fine collaborators at FilmArt3 (the newly launched cinema division of Three House MultiMedia) and I likewise attempt to put a little terror in the terroir with our playlist of four original Halloween-themed Flipbooks hosted at YouTube. Oddly, the results are similar to the aforementioned sign… So click if you dare… And have a happy and safe Hallowine!
A blend of pantomime, oration, music and dance, the “masque” is a theatrical form that flourished in the 16th century but was abandoned in the following one as new entertainment technologies took center stage – namely puppet shows and costumed animal acts (the YouTube of their time). The masque, however, is undergoing a revival of sorts as a Halloween-themed entertainment in some local quarters. In its present incarnation, the masque is something of a mid-life crisis in costume. The revels seem devised to squeeze the greatest amount of embarrassment from the greatest amount of alcohol, purchased for the least amount of money.
Consider the 21-and-over spin on “bobbing for apples,” wherein participants dunk their heads in a wine barrel attempting to sink a tooth into an ever-elusive bung plug. Interestingly, no one ever seems to find the plug despite repeatedly submerging their faces into the barrel – instead, they just get drunk on wine and spit. In fact, most hosts do away with the bung plug entirely thus rendering the act totally futile, unless one considers open-mouth kissing 50 gallons of wine worth their time. I know I do.
Another local custom at the masque is playing “tryst or trite,” a game derived from an ancient mating ritual in which a would-be suitor attempted to woo the object of his or her affection with salacious poetry. The modern version eschews the verse for more direct statements of attraction, which are rewarded with either a kiss or a slap across the face, depending on the cleverness of the line. For example, approaching a woman costumed with a sheet over her head and querying “Are you a ghost or are you just ready for bed?” would likely result in a slap as would, “Those holes aren’t for your eyes. They’re for your ears.”
As with any Halloween party, costumes are a major factor, however, the masque manages a slight spin on the tradition. For reasons that can only be explained by quantum physics, if one elects to attend the party un-costumed, be assured that everyone else will be in costume. If you go costumed, you will be alone – unless you go as something that seems wholly original, which means someone else will inevitably have the exact same costume as you. Yes, it’s spooky – it’s Halloween.
Beyond games, the masque also entails dramatic presentation, though locally, this has become less popular since a particular drama club inadvertently raised the devil by performing the wrong unholy text. I, of course, chided them for it in my review (having worked in Hollywood, I was the only person in the audience to recognize him), but alas remain powerless to vanquish the Prince of Darkness from Nomaville. Like the masques of yore, the “dumbshow” remains a standard feature, but it’s no longer realized in pantomime; rather, it’s interpreted literally from our contemporary vernacular – meaning it’s really dumb. I mean, completely idiotic – so stupid, in fact, that I am loathe to quote it for fear of contaminating this column with its sheer lack of intelligence. I’m not one for politics anyway.
As always, it’s important to play it safe this Halloween whether you’re at the masque or not. Don’t take candy from strangers – just their babies. Wear reflective tape on your costume, but not over your eyes. Don’t believe a werewolf who says that lycanthropy can be spread only during a full moon; it’s contagious throughout the lunar cycle with or without obvious symptoms like excessive hair, baying at the moon and a hunger for steaks, extremely rare.
In my opinion, the best thing to do on Halloween, is what I do. Stay home and work on reanimating the dead.
Plumpjack Winery, one of several enterprises on which composer and philanthropist Gordon Getty has partnered with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, was the setting of a recent press shindig that found your humble reporter sipping what Getty exuberantly described as “smash-mouth” cabernets. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Getty, who graciously obliged me with the chat below.
GG: Are you the guy that flew too close to the sun?
DH: No, that was Icarus. Daedalus made it.
GG: Thank you, thank you, thank you.
DH: But my parents got it from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Stephen Dedalus, not the myth.
GG: I have a piece of trivia for you. Where is Joyce buried?
GG: Ooh, he knows! Yes, Zurich. Here’s another piece of trivia. When John McCormack won the prize for the best Irish tenor in 1903 in Dublin, who came in second?
DH: I have no idea.
GG: James Joyce. A very great tenor. He wrote to his wife “I’m pretty damn good, but this guy McCormack is so much better than me.” Daedalus was the architect of the Labyrinth, right?
GG: Thank you. Mythical guy – or maybe real.
DH: He also created the apparatus with which the queen of Crete got knocked up with the Minotaur. When the Minotaur was born, the king assumed it was his kid, so instead of killing it, he had Daedalus build the labyrinth to contain it.
GG: I love it. It’s crazy but sweet.
DH: Are you working on an opera currently?
GG: I am. Just today I was re-orchestrating a part of my new opera, which is going to be recorded separately next year.
DH: What’s it about?
GG: Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher. I call it Usher House because I changed the story a little bit. Actually, Poe doesn’t give you a story, he gives you a few hints and then in the final scene he spells it out in great detail. I follow him on the final scene, but with the hints I’ve taken certain liberties.
DH: It seems like opera is making a comeback.
GG: I wouldn’t worry. Don’t worry about the future of classical music. Don’t worry. We all love classical music and don’t know it. How can I prove that?
DH: Film scores.
GG: Film scores. You got it! Daedalus Howell here!
DH: In terms of classical music, John Williams did more for my generation through his score for Star Wars than anyone preceding him.
GG: Not only Williams who kind of reconstructs classical music, but other big budget, A-movie scores might be fifty to a hundred percent classical music. And the people sitting in the chair don’t even know it.
DH: There’s this notion that a film score should be imperceptible, which I disagree with. I think a score should augment a film.
GG: Movies are operas. If you took the music out, they would be unreleasable.
DH: As an artist and a patron of the arts, you’re a weird hybrid – that doesn’t happen a lot. Winemaking – is it an art or a business?
GG: It is an art, but I don’t do it, I’m just a patron of it. Tony Biagi is an artist, Michel Rolland is an artist.
DH: Even if he just consulting?
GG: He is the artist. The others are the practitioners. He’s the one out there that tells the sheep from the goats.
DH: I’ve been looking for an analogy all night. In rock ‘n’ roll there’s the producer and the band. The producer can sometimes define the sound of the band to make a hit. Phil Spector, George Martin are producers and the Beatles are the band. Are winemakers producers or the band?
GG: But what’s a winemaker? Am I a winemaker? I don’t know. I don’t even know how the damn stuff is made. I’m just an enthusiast and backer and investor.
DH: But your taste, I’m sure, holds some sway.
GG: It does, because if I didn’t like this there would be long faces.
Though some have conjectured that Sonoma’s preponderance of non-profit agencies is heading us toward a town-wide audit by the IRS, I’m more inclined to acknowledge the good work that these organizations graciously heap upon our citizenry. That is, every organization except the Sonoma Panel of Eclectic Wisdom.
Non-profit bylaws require that SPEW has a board of directors and a seat had apparently opened according to a letter I found tucked amongst the fan-mail that littered my desk Monday morning. The irritation of having Flash Lely’s correspondence dumped on my desk (again – apparently there was no room left on his desk) waned when I opened the sole letter written to me. It read: “Mr. Howell, it has come to our attention that you may have the intellectual, spiritual and social characteristics we seek in members of our board. A seat has opened with the recent and sad passing of one of our founders, for which you may be qualified.”
I was flattered and immediately made an appointment for an interview, which I later sailed through with aplomb. However, I stumbled when saying my goodbyes because I couldn’t remember all 19 of the board members’ names. They simply chuckled and informed me that they don’t use their real names on the board anyway, but rather an alpha-numeric code, with which I too would be christened after my “past-life regression analysis.”
Yes, I was skeptical, but then, clearly, so were they about me. I was fitted with electrodes as I reclined on a ratty chaise lounge and began answering questions that eventually lulled me asleep. When I awoke, the panel’s expressions contorted into the kind of horrified look most often seen on Maori masks. This, I took to mean, that I was some kind of revolting personage in my former incarnation. A knot formed in my gut as every misgiving I’ve ever had about myself bubbled into consciousness like some fetid folio of unfortunate traits. My repressed penchant for megalomania, of course, came to mind as did the sociopathology I stifled by quitting that telemarketing gig in college. Or perhaps it was the Machiavellian means with which I choose my drinking buddies and how shear venality clouds my loftier ambitions like lemon curdling milk in tea. I realized I was a prime candidate for a despot’s recycled soul. I’ve heard the name Rasputin muttered in my presence; and plainly that man at the bar was saying “Goebbels” when he was pretending to sneeze. Could it be worse? The panel’s pallid faces suggested so – but who?
“Mr. Howell,” the Elder 36B began gravely. “We regret to inform you that we cannot accept your membership to the panel due to revelations found in your past-life regression.”
“Who was I?” I pleaded. “Or do I want to know?”
“There’s nothing to tell. You’re not an old soul at all. You’re a newbie, a first-timer,” he said in a condescending tone, before adding, “An amateur.”
“So, I’m a new soul?” I asked, incredulous. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Everything. You’re obviously dharma-challenged,” came the riposte.
“Dharma? What is that – ‘drama’ for dyslexics?” I chortled. “Cosmically, I’m green. Hey, green is in, isn’t it?”
A collective sigh wafted from the panel, cruel like a sea breeze from the pools of Hell.
“You’re bound to make all manner of mistakes in this life and we just can’t have that kind of liability on the panel,” Elder 36B admonished.
“Besides, we’re all being reincarnated together – who will take your seat in the next life?”
“An older version of the younger me?”
The panel conferred amongst themselves, muttering and making the occasional furtive glance. Had I finally stumped them with my storied rhetorical finesse – the very qualification that led them to court me in the first place? They finally came to a consensus and in unison said,
“Get out.” I exited the boardroom while Elders 36B through 49C derided me as a “cosmic infant,” but not in those words.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away – Chicago of the mid-90s – author Eric Spitznagel was involved with a musical adaptation of Star Wars. Long thought lost, a recording of the show has resurfaced. In this episode, of the Daedalus Howell Show, the force is with Spitznagel as he shares highlights from the show.[audio:http://dhowell.com/podcast/dhs018.mp3]