I want(ed) my two dollars

Consistent with our quest for (and love of) transcendent shows to watch, Andy brought an A.V. Club article to my attention yesterday. I’m a lazy reader, but what Wire fan could turn away from that picture of Omar’s brilliant face?

The A.V. Club poses this question for discussion among its readers and staff, “What movie/TV show/album/whatever would you like to be able to see/hear again for the first time?”  (By “whatever” – I assume they mean other form of art.)

Now, I get the question. It’s that feeling that comes when you’re close to the end of a book and you just don’t want it to end. You wish you could start over, and have the whole thing to look forward to. Fresh. And new.

But if you ponder the question for a while, it’s easy to see there are really two different ideas at work here. One is dependent on the piece of art itself, the other is who we were at the time of the encounter.

I’m one of those people who has spent the last 20 years giddily hollering, “I want my two dollars” at any opportunity. Do I want to erase all my memories of “Better off Dead” so that I – now a 39 year old woman – can literally see it for the first time? Uh, no.

As a matter of fact, Andy, who had never seen this Cusak gem, brought the movie home not so long ago. Turns out no amount of beer (for him) or nostalgia (for me) could make it seem even halfway watchable. What was with the cartoons?

Now, if the question shifts a bit: Do I want to have the experience of being 15 again and see the movie for the first time?  The answer becomes sure, but only if I can go back to being the 39 year old me before the end credits stop rolling.

Simply put: holding a piece of art up as worthy is quite a different thing from wanting to relive the experience we had when we first encountered it.

Three words: Weekend At Bernie’s.  In 1989, sitting in the University of Maryland theater beside my brand new friend & roommate, I laughed and cried from laughing until my torso ached. God that was fun. Do I want to experience that feeling again? Oh yes, please! I tried the following weekend. No such luck.

The whole topic got me thinking about the occasions in my life when I’ve shared space and time with truly great art, and was simultaneously, somehow, graced with the ears and openness and even the point in history to allow the experience to become a treasure.

1995 – Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue playing on the car radio while I drove over the 14th Street Bridge in DC. A plane just happened to be passing low directly above on its descent towards National. Glorious happenstance. A daily commute unexpectedly and pleasantly immortalized. All because of George.

1999 – Van Gogh collection at LACMA . . . I thought I knew the images from books. But when suddenly eye to eye with one of Vincent’s self-portraits (I don’t even remember which one) I felt immediately slammed with an inexplicable love-pain-awe-terror. Slammed. I remember having to look away but not wanting to leave the place where I stood. I remember thinking, “What’s going on?” I remember having to focus on suppressing choking sobs and literally feared making a scene. When I tried looking at the canvas again, I could only handle the outer corners. Finally the feeling dissipated just enough to allow a quiet stream of tears. I stood next to his painting for a moment longer. To this day, I have no idea what happened.

September 2001 – Elvis Costello in concert with the Charles Mingus Orchestra at UCLA . . . He ended a long jam at the end of the show by sing-yelling out the refrain, “Life is a beautiful thing . . . Life is a beautiful thing . . . Life is a beautiful thing” over and over again.

During that Elvis show, before it decidedly became a concert I wanted to savor in my mind for years to come, I remember seeing the musicians looking at each other from time to time. There was a visible emoting of appreciation passed back and forth. I’m no jazz connoisseur, but I know that if the bassist is blown away by the pianist, and the pianist is clapping for the drummer, then it is a special night. Transcendent. And like all things, impossible to relive.

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