Mozart and Monster Jam

monster-truck-stunt-800pxMy stepdaughter called to ask if I would stop by the Civic Center to pick up tickets for Saturday’s event – Monster Jam.

It was close by, so I told her it wouldn’t be a problem.

Then things got awkward.

Though nothing was said about me going too, I suspected she didn’t want me along. Perhaps she feared I would disturb the tranquility of the event with my boisterous behavior.

She hemmed and hawed before delivering her pitch, “I was hoping you could watch Maddie.”

Ah, that was it, grandpa was to be babysitter.

“No problem,” I told her.

On Saturday their mini-van arrived and the kids rushed to the door.  They frantically rang the bell as they swirled on my stoop, bouncing from one foot to the other. As I opened the door, they burst through the entryway discarding boots and coats in a mad flight toward the bathrooms.

My stepdaughter handed over Maddie’s bag and inquired about her mother visiting in Arizona– then exclaimed in a tone usually reserved for a full diaper, “Ewww – Opera!”.

To her all classical music is “opera” but today she was right, I was doing what I have done for more than fifty years, listening to the Saturday afternoon broadcast of The Metropolitan Opera.

This week it was Leos Janácek’s Jenufa, a story of a pregnant unmarried girl’s conflict with her mother who had became the moral wag of the village after the death of her abusive alcoholic husband.

As much as this story could come straight out of small town Minnesota, my enjoyment of classical music and “opera” has always been a fountain of mirth for my rural in-laws. It is something I must compensate for by demonstrating an affinity for NASCAR, tractor pulls and Monster Truck expositions.

For them “opera” is a tool people use to demonstrate their superiority to others, but it is not just “opera”, it is everything urban they reject.

Conversely my urban friends consider spending an afternoon at Monster Jam as a personality flaw.  Something that one does not reveal in polite conversation.

For them diversity is people who look different but think the same.

Sadly, these two groups have something in common that comes straight out of Candide; they isolate themselves in the best of all possible worlds.

It is not so much they enjoy different things – rather they all too often define themselves by what alienates them from others.

I find all of this rather odd because I came by the habit of listening to opera in a decidedly downscale manner. I grew up in a large family in a blue-collar neighborhood and on Saturday afternoons everyone in the family was assigned a cleaning chore, mine was to scrub our immense kitchen floor with a bucket and a sponge. As I meditated upon row after row of linoleum tiles, I listened to the Metropolitan Opera on WCCO.

My father, a plumber, loved the broadcast and found no incongruity between opera and low rent because his German parents and their neighbors understood and enjoyed the over-blown theatrics of opera.

Despite all of these contrasting cultures, my fate on this Saturday was to spend much of the evening immersed in the culture of a two year old.

She grasped her cloth book and shook it in my face.  “Read, read,” she insisted and sometime during the fiftieth reading of Each Peach, Pear, Plume she nodded off then woke and nodded off again.

I hummed a lullaby that I used with my children to coax her into soft slumber.

She lay against my chest, clutching my sweater and lulled by the resonance of my voice, finally, finally,  drifted off to sleep.

The next thing I knew, the door clicked gently open and her mother tip-toed in.

“Awww grandpa,” she whispered, “You… singing a lullaby?”

As we gently transfer her sleeping child, I whispered back.  “She likes it. It is from an opera, Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’”

Author: Almost Iowa

36 thoughts on “Mozart and Monster Jam”

  1. Boy, can I get them wrong. I, in all my years, would never have pictured you as an opera fan. Duh. Stupid me. I gotta say Puccini does send shivers up and down my spine.

    1. Now let’s talk Monster Jam… Can anything be more cool than watching a school bus get crushed. It is like every kid’s dream. The last time I witnessed such a thing, the ten year olds in the next row told me to calm down so they watch the show.

  2. It always amazes me how many people think that “celebrating diversity” (I hate that phrase, what are we supposed to do, clap and eat cake?) means accepting people who share all our beliefs but just happen to have a different skin color or speak with a different accent! But I love that you are passing on your love of opera to your granddaughter…she’ll remember the man who lived in the country, enjoyed Monster Jams, but still sang her to sleep with opera. And hopefully not feel the need to “define herself by what alienates others,” to paraphrase my favorite line of this post.

    1. A while back, I coined the phrase “Disneyland Diversity”.

      All too often people view cultural differences as what one would find at EPCOT. There, it is a celebration and it is fun to taste all the different Americanized ethnic foods and gawk at the variety of architecture.

      But here is the real world, we have to deal with things like people who will not acknowledge the authority of a female police officer or refuse to be waited on by a female clerk. There is also the problems of child marriages (arranged as in “sold”), female genitalia mutilation (by the neighbor down the block), honor killings and tribal grudges.

      At a certain point, people have to leave the old world behind and assimilate to western society……in that sense EPCOT should be the goal and for the most part that is what is happening….but in some places with some poeple that is not happening and we seriously need to consider alternatives for refugees who refuse to accept the basic values of their host country.

      There is a reluctance on the part of pro-immigrant groups to discuss these problems – because in large because anti-immigrant forces tend to exaggerate the problems. Honesty all around would be best route to go.

      I have a little story about that…. (could you expect no less?).

      My wife managed an extremely diverse staff at the city. Two of her workers were the sweetest people you could ever meet – but they hated each other with a passion. When my wife complained about it one night, I detected something in the sound of their names.

      “So where is XXX from?” I asked.

      “China,” she said.

      “And where is XXXXXX from?”


      “Uh…….honey, I know you hate watching the news, but let me fill you in on the recent history of those two places.”

      Having been filled in on the history of genocide in Tibet, my wife instructed both women to leave old world stuff in the old world – but she rearranged their desks and seated them away from each other.

      1. Your wife is a smart woman! And I love your point about immigration, as that’s also my pet peeve about the current hysteria. On the one hand, our country has always been about welcoming immigrants, and that’s been a good thing for us all. On the other hand, bringing in large groups of people whose cultures are so different from ours (especially when they include practices that I firmly believe are immoral and sexist) does create problems, at least in the short-run. Assimilation takes time, and doesn’t always happen. As you say, a lot more honesty on both sides would really help. And so would toning down the rhetoric as we look for viable solutions.

        1. I like what the Dutch used to do. They asked all applicants for immigration and refuge to read and sign a statement that speaks to what the norms are in Holland. It alerts the applicant that they will see men and women holding hands and kissing. They might find themselves with a woman boss. They will see people dressed provocatively. They will hear profanity and will experience things they might find offensive – and while they have a right to speak their mind, they do not have the right to interfere with anyone else’s rights.

          Most people do not have a problem with this – others do and they may want to explore alternative cultures.

          The problem for the Dutch is that the EU does not ask for this courtesy.

    1. Now, now, Dan. Most people do not realize what an effective law enforcement tool that opera is. On Saturday nights after bar closing in the Minneapolis warehouse district, the MPD had a difficult time clearing the area. People would mill around and get in fights, you know how it goes….until someone, who shall remain nameless, suggest that they use sound trucks to blare opera throughout the district….. It works like bug-repellent on the millennials. Problem solved.

        1. We first used it against skateboarders in an upscale shopping area. By and large, skateboard kids tend to be okay, though a bit rowdy and they scare the old ladies with their kamikaze moves. We didn’t want to roust the kids because that would just amplify the problem – so we piped in classical music. The upscale shoppers loved it and the music drove the skateboarders far, far away.

          1. Classical music would remind me of the cartoons I grew up watching. It might make me more of a daredevil. Opera, on the other hand, would send me home.

      1. Unfortunately, movies aren’t my long suit. I’ve seen at least one Igmar Bergman movie, but that was a long time ago and I can’t remember what it was.

  3. I’ve been partial to classical music since I was a wee lad, but never got into opera much. I have to admit Puccini has some gorgeous melodies though.

    “For them diversity is people who look different but think the same.” Interesting perspective…

  4. Thank you for this blog! It is much the same in England. I like all kinds of music, and this baffles some friends, whose tastes are very specialised. One of the types of music I love is folk music, which attracts an unusually varied audience (and is also theoretically disliked by many people who’ve in fact heard very little of it!) Do keep on humming! And thank you for your very kind comment on my dreadlocked sheep in the kitchensgarden post! Look forward to your posts, which I am now following! Very best wishes, Alison (Brackenbury)

    1. Welcome Alison,

      I also appreciate all kinds of music, lately though I have doing a lot of writing and I cannot listen to music that has words when I write… even words in a language I do not understand. Maybe it is not me though, I’ll try to blame it on my muse. She’s very particular. 🙂

  5. My wife and I used to go to the San Francisco Opera until we moved. We tried San Antonio but something was missing (you think?) We still love the opera and it is nice to know your granddaughter found it relaxing as well

    1. If only people can see themselves in each other… but some things are insurmountable. I doubt if we could ever reconcile the vast cultural chasm between Chevy Silverado and Ford F150 aficionados – a task nowhere near as difficult as uniting John Deere green and Case IH red.

  6. And there’s one other aspect of this opera thing: people who think they have to pretend to like it, even when they don’t, lest they get lumped in with the great unwashed. There are overtures, arias and choruses from various operas that I love (the overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Nessun Dorma” come to mind) but attend an opera? No, thank you. For years, I was fearful of revealing such a horrible truth about myself. Today? Not so much.

    As for the larger point, which always is tucked away somewhere, here it is: “For them diversity is people who look different but think the same.” So few words for such a large truth.

    1. Most people are familiar with the more popular arias because they have heard them in the musical score to movies. Still, as the boys in the scale house see it, “opera is a fat lady in a brass bra wearing a helmet with horns.” So I showed them a YouTube clip of Anna Netrebko singing Quando me’n vo’

      The response…….Holy Moly!!

      As for diversity…. it’s more than spicy food….it’s more about swallowing the things that piss you off.

  7. I love classical music, but haven’t made the leap to Opera. And the closest I’ve come to enjoying a Monster Truck rally is tasting a Monster drink (not recommended).

    So it’s all the more impressive to find myself fully immersed in a this dichotomous, yet endearing scene. Loved it.

    Maybe I need to give Opera another try…

    1. I worked with a woman who had two loves in life, opera and World Federation Wrestling. People couldn’t understand it – but then those people never understood opera or WWF. When you get to know both, there is little difference.

      1. And in one short comment you’ve turned my thoughts to my wrestling loving gran. When my parents gave Gran and Granddad a record player, they built a collection of operas on flat round discs that were scratched by seeds drooped by the budgerigar whose cage sat just above the music. Eventually the record player emitted a glorious shower of sparks to match the songs and went up in flames.

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