Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The too-much-ness of great music.

Too much of it, to begin with. Today: the Beatles, Vivaldi, Terry Riley, Judy Garland, Beethoven, Thelonious Monk, Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Yesterday: the Hilliard Ensemble, Fats Waller, Gesualdo, Brahms, a friend's recently finished and as-yet-unreleased CD.

The secret seed of music, the grasping for the ungraspable and in missing it, reaching it anyway, a taste of it, the sweetness, with the bitterness of its illusoriness; or, perhaps, merely, the bitter truth that canned music "is only so much tea -- it cheers but doesn't inebriate."

A journalist and amateur flautist wrote that about canned music, in the 1930s, a writer named Gerald Johnson in a book called "A Little Night Music"; I quoted it a few weeks ago.

I love tea. I drink a lot more of it than I do alcohol.

But maybe canned music isn't tea. Maybe it smells of formaldahyde. The defiance of death. But a false defiance. The same can be said of writing. A letter my dad got from his mother when he was away at camp at age 10; 8 years later she died, and 40 years after that he found the letter again, the letter saying how much she missed him. She will always miss him, in that letter, and he'll always be 10, but really he's 67 now and he has lung cancer, and he's missed her for 49 years.

In my early 20s once I came upon 2 street musicians: a slender and erect 40-something man with a long salt-and-pepper ponytail and a stoic demeanor, sitting playing accordian and singing, accompanied by a bent-over ancient man playing bowed saw and harmonica simulataneously, making an unearthly plaintive sound together, songs about fate and loss and deprivation. I listened for a while, resumed walking, and never saw or heard them again. If I had a recording, the music would be fixed. Now that I've written them down my impressions are fixed.

The too-much-ness of great music, the reaching for that something-bigger-than-ourselves. The sublimity of a melody -- Bach, Hoagy Carmichael, Brian Wilson, whomever. The shivering shimmer of a rhythm. The multiplicity of counterpoint, the tugging absences of harmony. The bottomlessness of sound.

Music is immense.

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