Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Verdi, Katz and Vietnam.
I went to the opera again last night, the great opera "Rigoletto" by Giuseppe Verdi. There are still people who dress for the opera, there is a smattering of opulence, gowns and tuxedos. But most people are coming straight from work and they're wearing their work clothing, whether that's a business suit or a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. It's nice seeing the semiotics of dress at the opera, the "to-each-his-own-ness" which is one of the things that makes New York different and wonderful.
The best poetry of the evening came not from Verdi's score or from the libretto, it came from the back of a t-shirt that a heavy-set older man was wearing. The t-shirt was advertising Katz's Deli, the deli that was famous for decades before the famous orgasm scene from "When Harry Met Sally" made it even more famous. In fact, their famous t-shirts were emblazoned with a bit of anti-war ironic sloganeering that I remember from my youth.
The t-shirt had an old siphon seltzer bottle on the front, with a big "Katz's" in ornate script. And on the back, the famous words "Send a salami to your boy in the army." For me, growing up in the late '60s and early '70s, during the American carnage in Viet Nam, those words were as powerful and loaded as Country Joe and the Fish's "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die."
"Well come on all of you big strong men, Uncle Sam needs your help again,
he got himself in a terrible jam, way down yonder in Vietnam,
put down your books and pick up a gun, we're gunna have a whole lotta fun.
"and its 1,2,3 what are we fightin for?
don't ask me i don't give a damn, the next stop is Vietnam,
and its 5,6,7 open up the pearly gates. Well there aint no time to wonder why...
WHOPEE we're all gunna die.
"now come on wall street don't be slow, why man this's war a-go-go,
there's plenty good money to be made, supplyin' the army with the tools of the trade,
just hope and pray that when they drop the bomb, they drop it on the Vietcong.
"now come on generals lets move fast, your big chance is here at last.
nite you go out and get those reds cuz the only good commie is one thats dead,
you know that peace can only be won, when you blow em all to kingdom come.
"now come on mothers throughout the land, pack your boys off to vietnam,
come on fathers don't hesitate, send your sons off before its too late,
be the first one on your block, to have your boy come home in a box."
Not the point of the evening, and it didn't overshadow the incredible aria "La Dona Mobile," but where my head went, at least for a while.
Posted by George Tannenbaum at 7:17 AM