Peter Minshall's compatriots ought to conquer their own demons about celebrityhood
and its antisocial sidekick, lest they become blasé about their blessed culture. It might even be
refreshing to wrench themselves free to immortalize the man who, for three decades, adventured
his point of view of man in his incompleteness, his environment and spirituality; the neo-
traditional mas man whose shoulders they rode so they could see who they really are, what
Time to put Peter Minshall in his place – in the pantheon of Carnival art and Olympic glory,
where no nitpicking is allowed. After all, the Emmy Award winner staged the first nighttime
Olympic Opening Ceremonies (Barcelona). He became the only artistic director to brainstorm
three Games, including Atlanta and Salt Lake City, the mas serving as résumé. Minshall makes
small things look big in large open spaces.
When an interviewee for the film declared that the great thing about mas is that it dies,
but tells us more about life than anything, no wonder it leaves a mas player from a rival band
worried about Minshall's legacy – that his mas would be so far removed from people's minds
he'd be better remembered abroad. Underscore his perspective: "We suffer from small-island
mentality, and the best accolades we should give Minshall is to make sure his work lives on."
He set the bar with Paradise Lost, raised it with the first trilogy (River, Callaloo and The
Golden Calabash), and arguably reset his greatness with the second (Hallelujah, Song of the
Earth and Tapestry). Between those bookend sagas about "sin and the good deed," there was
plenty else to tell about for years to come.
Minshall tells stories. The key is how you receive the communication.
When I interviewed him at dusk, at the dawn of the first trilogy in '83, he lit a candle on his
kitchen table and asked if the pen could see the paper. Neither of us knew it then as the candle
flickered wanly in its gluey wax, but River would wind through the streets as folklore on acid.
He had treated me to an hour of characters floating around the room.
One of them, Man Crab, I envisioned as the evil spirit my great-grandmother had related to
a family gathering as we celebrated a harvest, swapping scary stories. She described a horrible
event on the way home from church one night. Yet, in Minsh's eerie kitchen, Man Crab and
the Bible shared a bipolar world in both River and Callaloo. In the last year of the trilogy, it's
final chapter had The Princes of Darkness (evil) squaring off against good (The Lords of Light).
Two distinct mas bands in a single presentation, The Golden Calabash. Spectators, as usual, got
involved, and evil won the day.
As Uruguayan artist/art critic Luis Camnitzer said at his home in Long Island, New
York, "It's up to the ritual to be strong enough to absorb you."
Will history absorb Peter Minshall?