Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Entertainment · #848230
I can only listen in disgust.
|Author's note: This is by no means a reflection of my opinion on the piece. This story stems from a writing exercise discussed here "When I Hear American Elegy" . When reading, do keep this information in mind. Feedback pertaining to the mechanics, character development, and other writing craft components are always appreciated. Thank you.|
Sometimes filmmaking can drain the life out of a man. I drag myself out of bed, ready for the final day of filming here in my home state. After looking for answers to the simple question of why those two young men committed such a horrible crime, I see Michigan in a whole new way. It startles me how Michigan and Colorado (two distant states) are unified by violence, but then I remember that on this journey, I have found that when it comes to dysfunction, these two places have so much in common.
Around eleven in the morning, I head to the local elementary school with Brian and Mike to talk to the principal about the shooting in a first grade class a year after the Columbine shooting. On the way, Mike asks some questions about getting a little more footage from present day Columbine.
"Well," I say. "I already have the interview with Matt, I talked to the girls in Eric and Dylan's bowling class, and if I have to deal with that little weasel from Lockheed Martin one more time..."
"But it could be worse," Brain interjects. "We still have to talk to Dick Clark about-"
"Yeah, I know. And money's getting tight. We're about to go over budget."
Before I know it, we're at Buell Elementary school. The playground is relatively quiet, which increases our chances of being able to talk to the principal. Brian and I get out while Mike waits in the van. We walk into the school, and no one is around to ask us who we are and why we're even there. Noting that, even more questions enter my head. I dismiss them, though, and approach the front desk. The secretary, a petite white woman of about fifty, looks up from her paperwork.
"How may I help you?" she asks.
After my quasi-interview with Jimmie, Brian and I make our way to the van. When we get in, Mike is standing outside.
"Glassner called," he said. "He said he'd like to chat when we get to L.A."
"Did he say why?" I ask.
"...No, not really."
With that, we amble back into the van, and we make our way to Detroit to catch our flight.
After a grueling flight and a day's rest in Los Angeles, I continue with filming. While I'm here, I hope to get to talk with Dick Clark about the employees at his Bandstand Grill in Auburn Hills, Michigan. I'm curious as to his opinions on Tamarla Owens and how her minimum wage job kept her from being able to raise her son. However, my assistants are having trouble tracking him down, so I call Glassner.
"Barry! It's Michael."
"Oh, hello, Michael. Back in L.A.?"
"What brings you here this time?"
"I'm trying to get a hold of Dick Clark."
"I want his opinion on welfare to work programs. Some of the employees at his Bandstand Grill are on welfare to work programs."
"For your movie?"
"Mm-hmm. I have been doing a profile of Tamarla Owens, and I found out that one of her jobs was at his restaurant."
"I see. You really think that there's some sort of connection there?"
"I think it's a factor. Now I heard you called."
"Yes. I wanted to have you listen to something."
"What would that be?"
"Well, when you're finished talking to Dick Clark, stop by my office."
"Okay. I'll call you."
"Alright. Best of luck."
I hang up the phone, but as soon as I rest it in the cradle, it rings like a fire alarm. I pick it up.
"Mike, it's Brian. They found Dick."
I leave my hotel room and dash to the van where Brian and Mike are waiting. We get in and drive for a little bit. At some point, we come across a black SUV which contains Dick Clark. Brian and I hop out, and I make my way to the SUV, Brian trailing me by a small distance. The doors to the SUV are open, and I can see Dick in the backseat. I go up to the open vehicle.
"Dick Clark?" I begin. "My name is Michael Moore. I was hoping to talk to you about single mothers on welfare to work programs."
I begin to tell him about the shooting in Flint and about the shooter's mother who worked in his restaurant. As I try to tell him this, he ignores me and has one of his assistants get the vehicle on the road and away from me. I struggle to make myself heard, but before I know it, the SUV is gone. I am left without answers.
Dejected, I climb back into the van and get out my cell phone.
"Hey, guys," I say, "are you up for a trip to USC?"
It takes nearly an hour due to heavy traffic, but we arrive at the University of Southern California in the late afternoon. While Mike and Brian have a late lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, I make my way to Barry Glassner's office. When I arrive, I see Barry sitting at his desk, reading a paper. I rap lightly on the door, and he looks up from his reading.
"Michael," he says, "come on in. Have a seat."
I enter and sit in the only other chair in the room. I watch as Barry removes something from one of his desk drawers and takes it to a shelf on the north wall of his office. Judging by the amount of finger movements, I'm guessing that he's fiddling with his stereo.
"What are you having me listen to?" I ask.
"Frank Ticheli composed an elegiac setting, per se, of the Columbine shooting," Barry says. "We were talking a few days ago, and when I mentioned I had spoken with you in regards to your film, he gave me a recording of his piece as played by Columbine High School's symphonic band. Apparently two members of the band were killed."
"I was wondering what you would think of the piece."
With that, he presses play, and soon I hear the soft but sudden entrance of a bassoon.
The piece itself is slow, meandering, and seeking to convey many emotions at the same time. I am no musician, so I can't make heads or tails of the performance itself. What grips me, though, is the clash of emotions and mood that the piece presents. It is an elegy with a section that trumpets "We shall overcome."; the notes and chords seem too bright in some places, making it seem more ballad-like, as hope seems to dominate the piece. The title, even, advocates hope for a dismal situation. The recording itself is a decent listening experience, but the song's origin and development isn't sitting well with me.
As the song ends, Barry gets up from his desk again to turn off the stereo. "What do you think?"
I hesitate. "I don't think it's appropriate."
"How so? It was written for the Columbine tragedy."
"It's too optimistic. An elegy is supposed to sound...darker, more haunting, provoke sadness. There were sections of the song that sought to bring light to the darkness. It's not right for an elegy to be that way."
"So you don't like it?"
"I don't like its premise. Musically, since I am not a musician, I can't really assess its value musically. Why did you want me to listen to this piece?"
"It had to do with Columbine. I figured I'd try to help."
"Well, you already helped when I asked you about fear in American culture. This piece to me is just a show of patriotism, meant to boost ourselves. It won't work for my movie."
With that, I jerkily spring from the seat and walk out, a particularly optimistic section of the song stuck in my head. I am disgusted. Some may view American Elegy as a wonderful tribute piece, but after all I've seen, I cannot. Like any politician, Tichelli is using American fear to make some money. Granted, he's not instilling fear into Americans, but he still capitalizes on their fear, which is now emerging into modern day "patriotism". He does the word 'elegy' a major injustice with his piece by offering hope in an inappropriate form. It's almost political.
As I walk out the door of the social sciences department, I feel my head swirling and my stomach clenching. The piece has agitated me at a time when I've already done (and seen) so much. The stress of it all is mind boggling. I need to get this song out of my head to eliminate this problem. I'm heading to the restaurant to join Mike and Brian.