Stefan Zweig’s Moral Dilemma

Last night I went to an event at The Center for Fiction for the release of a new biography of Stefan Zweig by George Prochnik. While it was a fascinating discussion in a lot of ways the thing that stuck in my mind was the moral dilemma posed by Zweig’s confrontation with the Nazis.

At a press conference in New York in 1935, Zweig avoided reporters’ attempts to get him to condemn Germany. “I would never speak against Germany,” he said. “I would never speak against any country.” He may have thought it was more cowardly to attack Hitler from a distance and bring down retribution on those still in harm’s way back home.

In 1933, Richard Strauss was chosen by Joseph Goebbels and Adolph Hitler to be the president of the Reichsmusikkammer. In 1935 he collaborated with Stefan Zweig on the opera “The Silent Woman”. The performance of a piece by any Jewish artist was strictly forbidden as it would make it impossible to support the lie of Jewish inferiority. Both Goebbels and Hitler had to sign off on the opera, even so it was controversial and was cancelled after only three performances. Strauss was forced to resign his post as president of the Reichsmusikkammer two weeks later.

Zweig may have seen art as his most powerful weapon against anti-semitism.

Pain

“Pain is largely a kind of need felt by the organism to acquaint itself with an unfamiliar state that is troubling it, to adjust its responses to that state.” Marcel Proust

There are many kinds of pain: physical, emotional, psychological, and moral among them. There is the pain of loneliness as well as the pain of unrequited love, or of love that dies, decays or grows cold. Most of us will live to feel the pain that time inflicts on our aging bodies, if we’re lucky.

“God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” John Lennon

There are as many ways to avoid pain as there are pains. Pain killers are as common as candy. In addition to pharmaceutical remedies there are therapies ranging from massage to religion to psychoanalysis, all designed to relieve the sting of pain. There’s pain relief or pain management, depending on your tolerance and the hopelessness of your situation. The avoidance of pain inspires a nimbleness that few other things do.

“You’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above.” Bruce Springsteen

In the face of pain, some of us are cowards, others stoics. But nobody escapes pain, not even those who live their lives under a drug-induced cloud of numbness. The inevitability of pain drives some to suicide and others into the warm and comforting arms of love. The elixir of love can be both cause and cure. Sometimes, both at once.

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The Man in Black

At the end, when all hope for the survival of our finite bodies slips away, we may welcome pain. Even the most wrenching sensation can prove preferable to no sensation at all.

They Can’t Take That Away From Me – Mike’s Musical Monday

I wrote this song in 2010 while I was with Late Model Humans but I never recorded it with the band. I swiped a little of Ira Gershwin‘s lyrics (in red below) from the song of the same title that he wrote with his brother George.

The world is filled with burning towers
Broken hearts and dying powers
And sometimes monotonous hours and hours and hours and hours

But even if the worst is true
They can’t take what I’ve had with you

The world is filled with second chances
Last goodbyes and awkward glances
That can lead to little things, little things

But even if the worst is true
They can’t take what I’ve had with you

They can’t take that
They can’t take that
They can’t take that away from me

The world is big, it’s easy to get lost
Or to get your signals crossed
But the only thing I was trying to say

Is even if the worst is true
They can’t take what I’ve had with you

They can’t take that
They can’t take that
They can’t take that away from me

The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No, no, they can’t take that away from me

The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you changed my life
No, no, they can’t take that away from me

They can’t take that
They can’t take that
They can’t take that away from me

Mother-In-Law

My mother-in-law died last month and I’m thinking of her on this first Mothers Day without her. The character in this song sounds pretty despicable, unlike my mother-in-law, pictured above, who was never anything but wonderful to me. Still, it’s a great song by Ernie K-Doe.

Mother In Law
Mother In Law

The worst person I know
She worries me
If she’d leave us alone
We would have a happy home
Sent from down below

Mother in Law
Mother in Law

Satan should be her name
To me they’re bout the same
Every time I open my mouth
She steps in, tries to put me out
How could she stoop so low

Mother in Law
Mother in Law

I come home with my pay
She asks me what I made
She thinks her advice is the constitution
But if she would leave that would be the solution
And don’t come back no more

Mother in law
Mother in law

Underneath

She walked underneath my umbrella
Near enough for me to smell
And I was grateful to the rain for putting her there

She stayed close to me
Never touching
Ignoring the rain

We talked about India, where she was going
And about her penchant for overthinking things
And how hard it is to relax

We waited for the cabs on Fifth Avenue to part
And let us cross
Together

If she knew I was in love with her
She never let on.