Karan Gets Zen, Clinton Dines, and The Big Man Stumbles

I have several times in the past discussed my discomfort with the way people use the word “Zen” to sell stuff, whether it’s a commercial product, an article of some sort, or Buddhism itself. You know what I mean: “The Zen of This”, “The Zen of That.” Most of the time whatever is being pushed has nothing whatsoever to do with dharma. And, if you have being reading in the Buddhist Blogosphere this past week, you have no doubt noticed some controversy over “secret” conferences and elitist agendas.

Here’s a group that combines the best (or worst) of both worlds: Donna Karan’s Urbanzen Foundation. I am only vaguely aware of who Donna Karan is. She’s a clothing designer. Rich. Famous. She’s founded an organization that, in it’s own words “creates, connects, and collaborates to raise awareness and inspire change in the areas of well-being, preserving cultures, and empowering children.” Noble stuff. But what does it have to do with Zen or Buddhism? From what I can tell, nothing really.

It’s not a good idea to become attached to a word, but I always liked Zen. It has such a zesty, zenny sound to it. I hate to see it abused.

This past week Urbanzen hosted a gathering to honor President Bill Clinton. It was definitely an A-list affair. Attendees included Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Uma Thurman, Demi Moore, Calvin Klein and some old mangy looking English musician. Isn’t this just more elitism? Where is the diversity? Why weren’t any poor, un-famous people invited? Does Bill Clinton really need another honor? Foundations like this one do some good work, no question. However, it does get a bit tiresome to see the rich and famous patting themselves on the back all the time. Especially when there are plenty of other folk doing just as good work who receive no attention, little pay for their efforts, and definitely no awards. Just saying . . .

A picture worth a thousand words . . .

What drew my attention to this affair was a blurb I saw about that English musician. Calls himself Keith Richards. Plays guitar in a band with some other old guys called the Rolling Stones. Apparently Keith and President Clinton had a top secret dinner at New York City’s Craft restaurant last week. Oh no! Another secret meeting! And what conspiracy were these two bad boys hatching? Cornered by a reporter at the aforementioned awards dinner for the former Prez, Richards refused to answer. “Unfortunately, it’s under wraps,” he said. Then, doing his best impersonation of Johnny Depp impersonating him, he added “We talked about saxophones.”

Speaking of saxophones, here is some serious and sad news: sax great Clarence Clemons, a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band, suffered a massive stroke this past weekend. According to Rolling Stone magazine, he’s making progress at a Palm Beach County hospital. Clemons reportedly underwent two brain surgeries after the stroke and was in serious, but stable condition.

A “close friend” informed the Springsteen fan site Backstreets.com that Clemmons is paralyzed on his left side, but “now he’s squeezing with his left hand.” The Big Man, as he is affectionately called, has had a number of health issues in recent years. He’s 69.

Blood brothers, back in the day.

If you never liked Bruce Springsteen, chances are you didn’t see him in concert between 1975 and 1985. Live performing was his forte. I think he’s probably the greatest live showman since Al Jolson.

I attended at least 25 shows during that period. That was when Bruce and the E Street Band were at the height of their musical and magical powers. The concerts were celebratory affairs. You didn’t just go and watch and listen. You participated. The audience was as much a part of the show as the band was. It was a shared experience. I always left those concerts feeling uplifted and happy and absolutely sure that rock and roll would never die. It wasn’t like going to see anyone else. The Big Man was indispensable part of that particular spirit in the night.

In 1985 Bruce Springsteen suffered a crisis in faith. He began to doubt the saving power of rock and roll. The concerts after that have been different. I’ve gone to about 10 shows since then. They’re always good, but they don’t have the same magic. For some strange reason I can’t help but feel that my being young and caught up in the romantic idealism of the songs might also have had something to do with it, too . . .

Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Big Man.

When the change was made uptown
And the Big Man joined the band
From the coastline to the city
All the little pretties raise their hands
I’m gonna sit back right easy and laugh
When Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in half
With a Tenth Avenue freeze-out . . .


2 thoughts on “Karan Gets Zen, Clinton Dines, and The Big Man Stumbles

  1. Keef and Big Bill, together at last. Beautiful.

    The worst abuse I’ve heard of the word “zen”: A documentary look inside a “tea party” faction, during a discussion of the ramifications of voting for an “establishment” Republican candidate. If you want to vote for that candidate, one exasperated woman said, “That’s your zen.” (courtesy of “This American Life” on NPR.)

    Zen is sturdy enough to withstand these abuses, as is Buddhism in general. As is Keith Richards, for that matter. Keith will be grinding out classic riffs when I’m dead, and I’m 15 years younger than him.

    Springsteen needed someone like Keith behind him. Keith has never lost his belief in rock and roll, and he never will. I never thought Clarence was that great, but I will light a candle for him.

    1. Will, actually I think Keith might be sturdier than Zen. The example that you shared shows just how meaningless this word is becoming. But then when I say things like that it reminds of me of the folks who used to complain about the putting Christ back into Xmas.

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