MY LOVE/HATE AFFAIR WITH LENIN (NOT STALIN)
by Kirby Lindsay
On Friday, December 4, the Fremont Chamber has gotten Pat Cashman to emcee their annual Lenin Lighting at Red Triangle, from 5 – 7 p.m. For this rabid Cashman fan, his silly antics may make standing in shadow of the odious Lenin sculpture tolerable. When adding in a stroke of luck (often more efficient than careful planning) by Lenin Lighting organizers who booked the Fremont Philharmonic, I’m almost ready to like Lenin. Almost, but not quite.
Why I Hate Lenin
Okay, so ‘HATE’ may be a bit strong for my feelings about the 8-ton bronze sculpture of Vladimir Lenin by Emil Venkov, plonked down at the apex of 36th Street, Evanston Avenue and Fremont Place North. I reserve ‘hate’ for sentient organisms – thoughtless bicyclists, mean-hearted gossips, inconsiderate vandals, pedophiles and politicians that swear they can do nothing to remove pay stations from Fremont. A bronze likeness of a long-dead tyrant earns something closer to the strong dislike I also direct at drunk college students, stupid drivers, and bureaucrats who install pay stations.
At risk of pissing off the multitudes, I also don’t ‘HATE’ Vladimir Lenin, the real-life, long-dead dude. I cannot stoke up true, soul-destroying hatred for a detestable human so long gone. I hate the acts he committed, and vow to fight anyone who behaves the same, but I fear a focus on past hatred could distract me from present threats.
Yet, I still profoundly dislike the sculpture of Lenin currently on, hopefully, temporary display in Fremont.
Let Me Count the Ways
First of all, this is Lenin, as in Vladimir, and not Stalin, as in Joseph or even Lennon, as in John. At first I found these historical errors humorous, but the joke long ago grew old.
Next, as art, I’m not impressed. If you want bronze, why not the colorful ‘Late for the Interurban’ sculpture of J.P. & Gertrude by Kevin Pettelle, or the surprising ‘Reality Relics’ by Anita Fisk? If it’s a representation of a grumpy, old guy, check on ‘The Fremont Troll’ created by Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead which is, at least, whimsical.
Great art evokes emotion, I’m told, and Lenin certainly does. Yet, so did ‘Waiting for the Interurban’ by Rich Beyers. Beyers addressed the neighborhood dispute over his installation – according to rumor - by putting the face of a man on a dog. Again, whimsy.
Instead, people get riled by Lenin. When Fremont Chamber leadership agreed to sponsor temporary installation of the statue here, in 1995, I worked as their Executive Secretary and answered their phone. People, truly angry, fearful and/or contemptuous, spewed their hate at any handy target who took their call.
Why I Love Lenin
As a result, I resent Lenin. Strongly. However, since his arrival in Fremont, he’s become the most excellent stooge. I’ve enjoyed laughing at him – not with him – as he dressed to show gay pride, sported a sign in solidarity with striking machinists, and when someone – bless them – gave him a giant, stuffed Winnie-The-Pooh to carry. Most recently, Taco del Mar employees fashioned a sign around his neck declaring him a “capitalist tool.” Perfect.
To top it all, on the first Friday of each December, the Fremont Chamber sees in a fully capitalist, crass, commercial ‘Shopping Season’ by wrapping Fremont’s grave, abhorrent and much scorned dictator in lights. This year Logan’s Hammer will see him set up in style by the winner of their contest for the best Lenin lighting design.
So far, I prefer the times unprofessional and time-strapped volunteers literally trussed him in red lights – like a hapless burglar. Even the carefully draped lights that, in darkness, visually create a Christmas tree, charmed me. In daylight Lenin stood in a wire jail, very apropos.
Lights, the Fremont Phil and Pat Cashman – plus Fremont’s own Santa Claus - may dampen my ill-will. I’m certainly willing to give Russian circus music, Santa sentiment and a smidge of silliness a chance to thaw my own cold war.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.