Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Zion for all of the Mad Men

The scene: 1960. The Village. New York City. A small bar with random arty acts, one after the other. Next up, a vivacious redhead, a struggling actress who is “artful” in a performance-artist self conscious way. Out of nowhere she takes command of the room with her strong voice:

“Last night
I dreamed of making love to Fidel Castro,
in a king sized bed at the Waldorf Astoria,
‘Viva La Revolucion!’ He roared, as he vanquished my dress.
Outside the window Nikita Kruschev watched us, plucking a chicken.”

The crowd claps, and calls for the redhead to remove her sweater. She does, but in an artful way, only briefly exposing herself.

Our hero, Don Draper, is at the bar with one of his mistresses. As he puts out a cigarette he says in a manly and detached voice "I should go, too much art for me," but she holds him back . . . and then the music begins . . . the act that they came to see. They sing "Babylon” (lyrics by David Carbonara):

By the waters,
the waters,
of Babylon.
We lay down and wept,

and wept,
for the Zion.
We remember

we remember
we remember
the Zion.
The strumming guitar and the voice combine into a powerful song as images of Don Draper’s wife and daughter interact at his suburban home, his other mistress (a client and businesswoman) goes about her business with melancholy—knowing she will never have what she wants most; a partner in the firm and a female employee wrap up their evening dalliance and exit an elegant hotel to go to their separate homes.



The haunting music and lyrics mock the contradictions of the lives of the characters.

The writers are pushing each of us to at least ponder: Where’s our Zion? Is there such a place?

The scene is from Mad Men, a show on AMC (cable) that I discovered recently and watch via DVD. It’s set around a New York City ad agency in 1960. The women are treated like dirt, the men get away with inexcusable behavior. Everyone drinks and smokes too much, and the lives of the characters are complex and riveting. Nearly fifty years have passed since 1960. So much change, yet so little.

I wish you could hear the accompanying music, but to these words . . . I bid adieu:

We remember, we remember, the Zion

Good night from my Zion
An aluminum home on wheels in a barrio of Phoenix