I have been catching up on the second season of “Westworld,” the HBO drama starring a fleet of amazing actors including Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, and Ed Harris. The second episode opens with some dramatic piano music that, thanks to exposure to our recently extended musical PRELUDES, I recognized as Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# Minor.
A key line of dialogue repeated in “Westworld” many times is “these violent delights have violent ends.” This phrase is taken from ROMEO AND JULIET, the Shakespearean tragedy that is currently playing in a fine production by Quill at Agecroft Hall. I’ve talked to a couple people recently who are in rehearsal for the upcoming production of Virginia Rep’s WEST SIDE STORY, the slice of musical genius that is, of course, based on the story of Romeo and Juliet.
The point being that, as I sat down to lose myself in the pop culture escapism of a buzzy TV show, I could not help but be pulled into the web of connections that binds different artistic expressions together. One hundred years ago, Rachmaninoff took small slices of folk songs, borrowed snippets of other people’s melodies and built compositions that referenced these origins while also spinning them into completely new constructions. Arts and culture today clearly continue that tradition.
Common threads weave through the best books, songs, plays, TV shows and movies. Authors and artists use these threads to connect people by building shared frames of reference, paying homage to sources of inspiration while also giving fans little shivers of joy when they hear echoes of other beloved works of art. It’s like an artist whispering into your ear saying, “don’t you love this old story or song? So do I.”
These references can also be used just as joke fodder, of course, as movies like “Lego Batman” and the “Scary Movie” franchise recreate famous scenes just to make fun of them. Still, even though they’re exploiting them, they’re use the touchstones that connect us and sometimes reinforce them.
These thoughts arose during a week when there was a lot of consideration of the tragic isolation and desperation that some people feel, people who may have been wildly successful but still succumbed to psychological demons. I saw many people on social media posting general reminders to those who suffer to reach out, find support and get help in coping with depression and anxiety.
I don’t have anything profound to say about isolation, mental illness, or suicide. I guess I’m hopeful that maybe there are those who might be confused or in despair and decide to read a book, see a play, or watch a movie as a distraction. And maybe they’ll pick up a reference to something that makes them feel like someone out there understands them. Art connects us. And connections empower us. And when we’re empowered, perhaps we can overcome.