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Monday, January 29, 2018

Patti LuPone at 2018 Grammys: The Dark Message of this Incandescent Performance

[Note added 31 January 2018: YouTube has removed all the full-length (5mins+) videos of Patti LuPone's performance at the request of the Grammy people (The Recording Academy), ever on the edge of kicking public discourse in face.   You can find some shorter clips still on YouTube, and if I can find the complete performance on video anywhere online, I'll post it here.  In the meantime, here's a video of Patti singing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" a few years ago.]

That's Patti LuPone singing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" a few hours ago at 2018 Grammy Awards.  Tina and I missed her when we went to see Evita on Broadway in 1979 - she was off that night, though we did see Mandy Patinkin as Che - but we've always loved her performance as the very peak of peak in this musical, and, for that matter, in any other.

And here she was tonight, somehow, magically, better than ever.   Not only in the finest voice, pleading, tender, powerful - but acting to the hilt.   Look at what she does at the very end of the performance - at 4:27 into the song.   Evita beseeches the audience, sees she has them, raises her arms and flings back her head in vulnerable thanks and triumph, then puts her head down, possibly spent, modest, but raises it one more time in cool, powerful conquest, defiant and satisfied.  Soaking in the cheers and applause from the audience, both in Madison Square Garden tonight, and in Buenos Aeros, when the crowd was Evita's shirtless ones, all those years ago.   LuPone manages to convey all of this after singing her heart out and bringing herself - and anyone listening with a soul - to tears.

But there's a darker side to this - not in LuPone's incandescent performance and in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's incomparable song.  But in the message it conveys about propaganda, or deceitful appeals to the emotions that masquerade as logic.

I teach my classes at Fordham about this, and use this song as a searing example, every time I talk about propaganda.  The Institute for Propaganda Analysis, striving many years ago to understand how Hitler and the Nazis gained power in Germany, still then a democracy, called it "just plain folks".  Though the dictators have all the money and power, they tell their powerless subjects that they, the dictators, are just like the people - one of them.  Hitler was "the Leader" - der Führer - not the King.   Don't be jealous of me, Evita sings in "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" - I'm just like you.  I came from you, I am you, standing up here in my gleaming gown and jewels.  I'm you who has succeeded, so love me, as you should love yourselves.

This "just plain folks" is one of the prime ingredients of fascism.   It shouldn't matter, in a democracy, where the elected official came from in life.  FDR and JFK were both great Presidents, and swimming in wealth.  And maybe one of the reasons they were so good for our country is they didn't pretend to be something they weren't, someone just like us.

That's an important lesson to keep in mind, especially these days, with the President who tweets to be closer his supporters, as we're moved to tears along with Patti LuPone in her extraordinary performance.

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