Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Bias We Can't Control - One Night in Bangkok (from the musical Chess) - Murray Head

The werewolf loves musicals and the theater. When the werewolf lived in London many years ago, and wasn't drinking pina coladas in Trader Vic's (something he was known to do on occasion), he could frequently be found sniffing around for the best student prices to a variety of theater productions. It was a highlight for him.

In one of the weird ironies of life, the werewolf's favorite musical to this day is Chess, the frenetic love triangle drama shrouded in the mystery of the Cold War with music written by Abba's very own Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson. To double down on weirdness, the werewolf can find absolutely no utility for anything Abba. He sometimes considers their existence criminal. Much to the werewolf's eternal dismay, the West End run of Chess ceased in April of 1989, when he was an eight year old boy.

To make things even weirder, Murray Head's hit song from Chess, "One Night in Bangkok," featured in the title of this post, dovetailed perfectly with that synthesized sound that made the music of the 1980's one life's greatest guilty pleasures. I think it was one of the few times a musical generated a top song for the international pop charts.

Chess fell into my life when my father brought the cassette recordings back after seeing the actual production of it during a business trip to London in the late 1980's. I recall being in the car with one of my parents and it playing in the background and being utterly captivated by the diplomatic exchange between the Americans and Soviets in one of the acts. Having been keenly interested in the Cold War since about age five(I was born a Cold Warrior some think), I felt a special bond to the musical from that point onward. In fact, I "permanently" borrowed the cassettes from my parents and would regularly blast my favorite songs of Chess from my woefully inadequate Fischer-Price tape-deck.

The werewolf has been wondering what drives his love for the one musical he'll never be able to see. Beyond the natural associations of the Cold War plot, cheese-dick synthesized 80's sound, and fond childhood recall, there has to be something more.

Does the inability to see something we've imagined for so long physically manifest itself strengthen our fondness for it because we are able to project our ideal of what it should be without experiencing the corruption that the real world inevitably brings? Is it akin to the imagined relationship with the crush who got away? Or hearing stories about that fascinating bad-ass great uncle, you've never met, who fought in several wars, invented something spectacular, and bedded every worthy maiden in the hemisphere, all while "three sheets from the wind?" I only ask because having been to so many productions, and having enjoyed most of them, utterly loved a few, and deeply disliked some, I always say to myself, "still not Chess." It's perfectly irrational, yet, it's a bias I just can't shake.

For the inquiring readers, here are some links to the werewolf's favorite songs from Chess. If you have a few minutes to kick around, listen up! (Shameless promotion)

CHESS: The American and Florence - "Nobody´s Side"
The second half really picks up, plus there is excellent relationship advice embedded "Everybody is playing the game, but nobody's rules are the same." How true!

CHESS: "Opening Ceremony"
This piece is long and introduces us to the the referee (my favorite character), plus the American and Soviet delegations. Hearing it all those years ago in my father's Chrysler New Yorker was the beginning of a strange odyssey.

CHESS: "The Deal ( No Deal)"
Nothing like some backroom Cold War intrigue.

CHESS: "Merano"
Great transition from symphony to synthesized at about the 3:43 mark.

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