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by Steve Koenig

We know now that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day's work at Auschwitz in the morning. -George Steiner, professor and writer (b. 1929)

This quotation arrived with in my morning email along with my orange and cactus juice, slithering down a few bitter pills. It made me think of David Bowie. I had just read in a queer list-serv how Bowie is a hero because he broke gender-identity stereotypes before nearly any one else in rock.

I was reminiscing about when I was thirteen and Ziggy Stardust was the hot vinyl, and all the music rags manufactured Bowie-Bolan tiffs and riffs to drum up sales, and I had just violently cracked the vinyl disc over my knee.

The day before I had spoken to M. Bowie via telephone on a radio talk show and asked him about (this was 1972) his drag/androgynous persona and the oppression of gays. "Are homosexuals oppressed?" he asked, in a serious tone. I was livid. The previous day before some jocks in my school slammed my notebook to the floor because of the Bowie lyrics (I guess they didn't see Lennon's "Working Class Hero" there too) handwritten on my section dividers. People were beaten up for listening to Bowie records then.

Eight years earlier, Beatles records were burned in American bonfires cuz John had the temerity to say his crew was "more popular" than Jesus, which in terms of numbers I'm sure they were. Wagner was banned in America during and after "The" War, even by those who never read his anti-Semitic writings about the Jewish influence diluting the ur-German.

I'm not politically correct, yet I cringe every time I am dancing and "Brown Sugar" comes through the speakers. "How come you taste so good... Just like a black girl should." We won't even get into Lou Reed's racial thing, or his "wild side."

My best friend won't listen to the renaissance composer Gesualdo di Genova because, having murdered his wife and her lover and left the bloodied bodies in front of his palace for all to see, "He is an evil man."

I've heard it argued that Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at An Exhibition is antiSemitic. In "Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle," one rich and one poor Jew are bickering in the street. One is Schmuyle, and the other is Samuel, but Schmuyle is the Yiddish diminutive for Samuel (Schmuel): They are the same person. These Jews are two-faced, duplicitous: one the assimilated Jew, the other the lower class, instrumentally whiny stereotype.

We all make our choices. I'm gonna drink my cactus joyfully, but wary of the thorns.

* The Word A Day list-serv sends one vocabulary word per day, along with often-fascinating quotations.



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