Vesuvius Part 2 (aka “What is this, Rush?”)

In GREATER GOOD, both Michael and Christine reference the volcano Vesuvius as an image of young black boys finding and explosively using their authentic voices. But this isn’t the only time the play invokes the power of exuberant sound.

Gordon, as head of Gleason Street School, walks us through the way that children loudly playing music invites expression of self, and that the “racket” of such ebullience is fundamental for the growth of the child. In the scene “The Music Lesson; Yes, Mr. Vermeer,” Gordon’s drumming, and the xylophone music played by the audience, are like another Vesuvius — cacophonous and transformational.

GORDON:
My brother’s kid has a drum set.
Electronic.
You practice.
By plugging in a headset.
You hardly make a peep.
My kit.
Was so loud.
Growing up, the funeral home next door on Huron.
Would pay me fifty cents not to play on days they had a service.
Other days it was free-for-all.
Other days it was the rest of the neighbors saying
“That racket”
“What is this, Rush?” “You’re getting the hang, finally”.
No one will say any of these things to my brother’s kid.
Band of one. Alone in his room.
Here we say:
This racket is what connects and binds and the free-for-all is good.

— “The Music Lesson; Yes, Mr. Vermeer,” GREATER GOOD

🥁 🥁 🥁

RUSH, the iconic prog-rock band (1968-2018) known for epic story songs and concept albums, introduced the world to Neal Peart — a drummer considered by many to be one of the greatest artists and technical masters of the form. He is preternaturally fast and precise. And loud. With RUSH’s heyday pegged from the late 1970s into the early 1990s, they’d be a perfect reference point for the neighbors as they yelled at the adolescent Gordon, practicing his drum licks.

Interesting sidebar: the funeral home on Huron (referenced in the excerpt above) is a real place in Cambridge MA, which was just rehabbed and turned into a luxury townhome and put on the market for $2,875,000 😮.
(It’s two doors down from a townie pizza parlor. #gentrification)

Anyway. Check out this killer drum solo from RUSH’s Neil Peart!

Of course the answer is Neal Peart. Duh.

the funneling of black and brown bodies into sports

Christine:
You know what it is: you know what it is: you want to know what it is:
I believe in volcanoes.
I do believe in Vesuvius.
You know what I do not believe in?
Soccer.
Basketball.
Motherfucking football.
If one more person brings a uniform around my kid

pg 110 ATHENA/REEL THREE

Christine is very persistent that she does not want her son to participate in sports – and as the mother of a black boy she has good reason. In 2018 a study by the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center concluded that black men are being exploited in the name of college athletics – “Of the 65 universities studied, black men comprised 2.4 percent of all undergraduates but 55 percent of football team members and 56 percent of basketball team members “

To make this disparity worse graduation rates are lower for black male athletes and have been dropping every year. Author and ex-footballer Martellus Bennett cites this study in an article he wrote for The Washington Post Beyond the game: We teach black boys sports are their only hope. What if we let them dream bigger? Martellus talks about the larger cultural implications these stats contextualize – that so many black boys and communities see sports as the only path to success, a path out of poverty.

Sports, he says, creates a hierarchy of how students are viewed in the neighborhood and how the neighborhood chooses to uplift the student. -Athletes are overly celebrated in communities at the cost of academics, arts, technology. Football coaches discourage exploration of anything else. When “only 8 out of every 10,000 high school football players get drafted by an NFL team” this means that these communities that have been set up around black boys are setting them up to fail.

Christine:
If one more person brings a uniform around my kid
Instead of a pencil or a paintbrush or 3D printer I swear to God.
My son’s voice is loud here.
And nobody says stop that.
Or sit out.
Or man up.
He is: he is: he is allowed to be.

pg 110 ATHENA/REEL THREE



Not only economically but in the long term we know that football causes irreparable damage to the brain. According to NPR “A report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, published in 2017, showed that in a study of 111 brains of deceased former National Football League players, 110 had evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE has been linked with repeated blows to the head, and can result in behavioral changes and cognitive decline.” Despite the known risks, low-income students think that the chance of getting rich in the NFL, or a scholarship to high school or college is worth it. (NPR)

Christine wants her son to have nothing to do with this culture and risks.

Fun quotes:
“Given the formidable revenue generating force of college athletics—especially football and basketball—these figures strongly suggest racial exploitation, the kind whereby black men are used primarily for their athletic skills to generate income for universities that educate mostly white graduates for successful careers.”
Are universities exploiting black male athletes in order to raise revenues?

“It’s a luxury to worry about these long-term, sort of abstract damages to these kids and their parents,” Samaha said. “The risks are all around them — the risks of not going to high school, the risks of not making it into college, or the risks of of falling into kind of the street path that they’d seen other people around them fall into.”
Football is their ticket out. But Samaha argues that America needs to reckon with the broader ethical implications of the sport.
“America’s dual commitments to football and racial oppression have meant that the danger of the sport will increasingly fall on the shoulders of low income black and brown kids,” Samaha said.
Meanwhile, he says, the money from the sport is mainly going to white coaches and white owners.

Poor students more likely to play football, despite brain injury concerns

“So as black boys, we learn to dunk on people in the paint, not paint beautiful pictures. We stiff-arm defenders, not defend people in court. We crossover our opponents, not cross over into business. We learn code names for play calls, not how to code. We touch the top of the backboard, not the stars. We get introduced to the world based on our athletic attributes. Our superpowers.”
Beyond the game: We teach black boys sports are their only hope. What if we let them dream bigger

Vesuvius Exploding

Mount Vesuvius, the Italian volcano formed by the collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates, is invoked by both Michael and Christine as a powerful metaphor. Often, in myth and art, Vesuvius stands in for sudden, unexpected, and violent explosions. It’s the volcano that erupted in Ancient Rome and buried the city of Pompeii and all its inhabitants, with barely a warning. When it last erupted in the 1940s, it spewed ash to such an extent that the gas and ash cloud covered the whole of southern Europe. It’s considered one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes, and the force of its eruptions has been estimated to release a hundred thousand times the thermal energy of WWII’s Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings.

The two Vesuvius references in the play are as follows. Both instances connect to Black children, and in particular Black boys, being silenced …then finding their voices.

Michael, in the scene “Toussaint is a Whisper”:

Whatever your head filled up with was meant to be spat back out.
While you sat in your space at that desk.
A lot of the time.
In third grade.
Ms. Watson.
Third grade.
My head just got too full.
Too much would come spilling.
Oh my God it would come spilling out.
Vesuvius.
Sparks, sparks, sparks.
But Ms. Watson.
Was having none of it.
I was sent to the Principal.
The nurse.
The counselor.

“An eruption of Vesuvius seen from Portici” by Joseph Wright of Derby, c. 1774

Christine, in the scene “Athena/Reel 3”:

Okay, okay, okay.
You know what it is.
You know what it is.
You want to know what it is.
I do believe in volcanoes.
I do believe in Vesuvius.
You know what I do not believe in?
Soccer.
Basketball.
Motherfucking football.
If one more person brings a uniform around my kid I swear to God.
You know what it is.
That is not I want.

“The Eruption of Vesuvius” by Sebastian Pether, 1825