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

Monday, January 28, 2008

(the blogger with his late beloved grandma, an excellent pianist)

A week ago I decided to slow the pace of posting here in order to concentrate on my music and on writing longer things. During the week following, I wrote a new song from start to finish and performed it at an open mike (and people sang along on the choruses, very gratifying), made progress on securing a show for April, made progress on finishing up an old recording project, lost most of a night of sleep to take part in the annual one night homeless street count (an emotionally complex experience for sure), and caught two nights and part of one day of the marvelous Icebreaker festival of new music produced and performed by Seattle Chamber Players, where I met Kyle Gann and a flock of other wonderful musicians (birds of a feather).

More to say about the festival (I was really tired when I posted last night, and still am), but I need to get back to work on securing that April gig, finishing old projects, and writing new songs, so it may have to wait. Except: In addition to the people I’ve already mentioned having enjoyed meeting at the festival, I feel compelled to say that I also very much enjoyed meeting and talking with composers John Luther Adams, Anna Clyne, Elodie Lauten, and DJ Tamara, the DJ for William Duckworth’s Cathedral. It was also a pleasure to pay my compliments to others of the composers and performers with whom I crossed paths and would have loved to have spoken further.

In the meantime, here is what music I have available on the web. I have hopes of making more available in the coming months, but what has already been available has been pointlessly scattered until now. Here it is (all of it free).

* links to MP3s of the collage soundtrack I made for my friend Ross Lipman’s experimental film, 10-17-88, which we made in 1989

* links to MP3s of two topical songs I recorded during the 2000 presidential election contest

* a setting of a part of the letter Scooter Libby wrote to journalist Judith Miller, urging her answer a subpoena so that she could leave jail (you have to listen to an ad from NPR first -- sorry!)

* four songs that my current band recorded a few years ago

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Seattle Chamber Players in a publicity photo for the Icebreaker festival just past

What an extraordinary weekend of music! The Seattle Chamber Players have been hosting a week-end long festival-conference of contemporary American composers. It’s been a blast.

What a hot band! Violinist Mikhail Shmidt, cellist Devid Sabee, clarinetist Laura DeLuca, and flautist Paul Taub play with hot verve and tremendous togetherness -- thrillingly precise and colorful. And the amount of music! Five world premieres and two Seattle premieres on Friday, followed by four world premieres, two Seattle premieres, and a world premiere of a new revision of a piece on Saturday, followed by a three-and-a-half-hour concert of the music of Morton Feldman (1926 - 1987) on Sunday.

And a lovely band, such beautiful sounds they all make, separately and together.

Alex Ross (who’s almost 40) curated Friday’s show of composers under 40, and Kyle Gann (who’s over) curated Saturday’s show of composers over 40 -- actually, of his friends.

Youth v. age? Nah, it was a love fest; or, so it seemed to me; BUT! one can’t help but compare. I can report that the older composers visually signify their membership in the arts tribe by wearing mostly (not exclusively) black, while the younger composers signify with funkier clothes and hair and, in some cases, indie-rock-style slouching.

Nico Muhly, one of the under-30 crowd, and whose piece I really liked, points out on his blog how much more the older composers used electronics than the younger, attributing the mega-wired-ness to anti-academic rebellion, contentiously and subtly implying a perpetual adolescence to the elders.

Youth v. age!

Anna Clyne was the one composer of the under-30s who would have fit in to Saturday’s show. Her piece, 1987, relied heavily on pre-recorded sounds that evoked the title year to her, when she was seven years old. The juxtaposition of the music box and calliope sounds with the quiet, lovely playing of the ensemble brought up interesting, perplexing foreground / background questions for me. I had bumped into a friend, composer Gretta Harley, at intermission, and she guessed that Clyne had deliberately set the live musicians in the background to the recordings; at a bar after Saturday’s concert I met Anna and she confirmed this guess. I had been thrown off by the more glamorous sonic presence of the recording as compared to the band. Given that the piece evokes memory, the backgrounding of the live musicians has a metaphorical sense: When in the grip of reverie, the visions of the past -- whether sonic, olfactory, or visual -- can push present stimuli into the background. At points the piece felt like a surrealist film; these musicians sawing away, with other music overwhelming what they were playing; at times I wished that the disconnect had been more severe, that we couldn’t hear the players at all (which reminded me of a long performance poem I wrote and recited in college accompanied by guitar feedback which mostly drowned my voice out; I heard the tape of the performance afterward and really liked the effect) -- except that Clyne’s writing for the group was slowly moving and beautiful. A lovely piece.

John Luther Adams’s The Light Within blew foreground / background questions away in its wall of glorious, slowly moving sound. I asked Adams after the concert how he generated the pre-recorded sound. He had scored it for the ensemble; they had recorded it, and he had manipulated it on his computer with a view of blending the live with the pre-recorded sound seamlessly. A gorgeous piece; I overheard more than one audience member ID it as their favorite of the evening, and I could not disagree.

Eve Beglarian’s song for flute, electronics, and voice, Robin Redbreast, and William Duckworth’s Cathedral solved the foreground / background puzzle the traditional way: The live performers had center stage sonically as well as visually. Everyone I talked to really liked Beglarian’s piece and particularly guest vocalist Jessika Kenney’s performance, and nobody I talked to tracked the song’s text all the way through; I include myself in both groups.

Cathedral was unforgettable. A semi-improvised poly-everything internet performance process piece with live DJ that Duckworth and team have been presenting for over a decade, the Seattle version was blessed by having master trombonist-composer-improviser Stuart Dempster in front. (Maybe other presentations have been blessed by equally gifted band members; maybe Dempster tours with them; I don’t know; but he lives in Seattle and I feel lucky to have seen him in performance.) It was fascinating to watch Seattle Chamber Player Paul Taub on flute contribute some of his most cantabile playing of the two nights as he improvised more tentatively but always beautifully, in contrast to Dempster, whose improvisations took over the stage. Arthur Sabatini’s semi-improvised (I asked him afterwards at the bar; he confirmed) monologue held me too: a wandering shaman/mystic quester in search of the unattainable and yet mythically attractive merging with music, with a paradoxically hard-boiled style -- I dug it. (Sabatini is nothing like the character he plays; I enjoyed meeting him.)

Janice Giteck’s Ishi provided two more unforgettable musical theatrical moments. A musical meditation on the last member of the Yahi Indian tribe of California, who left his ancestral lands in 1911 and lived the rest of his life in San Francisco, Giteck incorporated a detail of his biography in a surprising and delightful way. Ishi was enthralled when he first heard Caruso records; Giteck had violinist Mikhail Shmidt remove his shoes and walk into the audience playing a Donizetti aria associated with Caruso. Shmidt invited us to “sing along,” and many did: something I had never experienced at a classical show -- and oddly sweet and lovely. The last movement of Giteck’s piece was a meditative film of photographs of Ishi placed in his ancestral lands. The band did not play at all during the film, to satisfying effect.

Kyle Gann’s Kierkegaard, Walking evoked an unseen film of a stroll through Copenhagen (I’ve never been there), unhurried, steady, and beautiful, with some deliciously sweet harmonies.

Family obligations prevented me from catching more than part of one piece of today’s Morton Feldman marathon at the Seattle Art Museum. Like much of Feldman’s music, Crippled Symmetry, for flute, bass flute, percussion (marimba and xylophone?), piano, and celesta, shimmers with quiet, calm, unpredictable dissonance. Hearing it in a museum gave it a constant background of the shuffling murmur of museum patrons. “We rustle, like the leaves”; the evanescence of a human life flickered like the sight of a human figure tiny in a vast classical Chinese landscape. Hearing the music in a room full of works by Abstract Expressionist painters like Pollock, de Kooning, Kline, and Feldman’s beloved Rothko, I felt his connection to their work. He’s an expressionist: Feldman’s music creates a mood, an enchantment, an attuned serenity; like the painters, Feldman serves beauty with traditional materials (beautiful lines, beautiful colors; both designations applicable to his music and their painting), with utterly untraditional technique. During Saturday night’s post-concert Q&A with the composers, Kyle had mentioned the influence of Feldman’s abjuring of traditional western tension-and-release dramatics on all of them, but the explosion of applause that greeted the end of Crippled Symmetry complicated Kyle’s claim. Feldman does not employ conventional tension-and-release patterning within the piece, but he does create a sort of tension that is exquisitely sustained until the piece ends, and the release is ecstatic.

A highlight of the weekend for me was meeting Kyle (scroll down for the photographic evidence). I had been a fan of his writing since the early ‘90s, and we have corresponded for a few years now, and it was great to meet him. I enjoyed meeting a bunch of the other composers as well, in addition to Seattle-based sound-sculptor Trimpin (whose work is visually and musically delightful) and local composer-critics Christopher DeLaurenti and Gavin Borchert, both of whom I had corresponded with but never met. I recognized them from photos and accosted them in the lobby during intermission and after Saturday’s concert. I’ve never heard Gavin’s music (put me on your email list, please!), but Christopher wrote an extraordinary, moving essay about field recording the WTO protests, which so impressed me that when I came across his edited recording of the event I bought it -- and it’s tremendous.

Inspiring weekend. The music created an experience of communion. Grateful to the players and composers.

Monday, January 21, 2008

[Finished listening to and writing through the Bach cello suites. Thanks again to Jonathan Mayhew, whose idea it was, and to Maryrose Larkin and Joseph Duemer for taking part as well.

I’m going to be slowing the pace of posting here for the foreseeable future. Mid-life crisis: I still don’t know what kind of blogger I want to be when I grow up. Two goals for this year: More music, and more extended writing. Blogging 4, 5, 6, 7 times a week gets in the way of both goals.

Here’s 28 minutes of Bach.]

[Update, next morning: Fixing typos: "so it has come to his" should have been "so it has come to this"; "collectivation" should have been "collectivization." Also, meant to give a holler to my friend-in-blogging Gary Oxford, whose posting of a song a week has been a pleasure to hear and a kick in the butt to get more music together. Thanks Gary!]

a love story. they met. at first they didn’t hit it off. she got on his nerves, he irritated her. circumstances threw them together, and a crisis showed their true colors to each other. and those colors were love, loyalty, ingenuity, fortitude, and vitality. they lived together ever after, mostly happily, happily enough to deserve the epithet “ever.”

a song of love. a clever run-down of comparisons between the beloved’s qualities and some favorite hobby of the singer’s -- say, cooking. spatula, oven, recipes. find a double entendre, save it for the chorus.

so it has come to this. Wallace Stevens on the tennis court, droll and irritable. stuck out here in the country, nobody wants to talk. Wallace drinks and casts aspersions. I try to engage him on the subject of insurance, he winces. “collectivization of risk, in theory; in practice, the art of withholding delivery of promised assistance; the privatization of collective delusions. there is no insurance.” uh-oh, a touchy subject, I change it. the weather? the provisions of our hosts? harumph and haroomph. on the question of poetic technique he is more forthcoming. “it’s the sound,” he says, “find your sound. the short bursts are jewels, but lately I want the extended un-resolved cadenzas, pages and pages, letting the sound lead you on, until, hopefully, a moment’s epiphany.”

in the merry month
the merry mouth of the month
time’s anatomy
the shank of an hour
the shapely gam of a moment’s notice
yesterday shook a leg, tomorrow beckons with batted eyelids

a dalliance with time
makes you feel
like a million heirs to
the hippest thrones and
time will lead you
and in
the end will
have been worth

so it has come to this it always comes to this because
this is what
it is and this
is what we’re
here for, in-
deed, this is
all there is, that
is, all
that is

this is

oh sweetheart, I know, you
hoped for something
more, that’s under-
standable, I
mean, who
doesn’t sometimes

the sweet lines delineate the aura of this moment’s gesture

and that’s music

ah exquisite
so often my dance card has been mostly empty
but who speaks of dance cards
the dance happens
you dance or not and I regret
not dancing more

it’s not too late, not yet

time asks you to dance
it’s your decision
sometimes the floor is crowded, sometimes it’s empty
but time always wants to dance

merry merry merry merry
emphatic beery merry
oh no, not beery, not me!
yes yes yes, beery me beery!
beery or no, style matters not,
sober or tipsy, or tipsy on time,
tipsy on pattern, tipsy on delineations,
on discriminating indeliberations,
oh of course I don’t want the party to end
but why worry on that until it actually does
the movement the motion the story the merry

the end

Suite No. 6 in D major, 1. Prelude, 2. Allemande, 3. Courante, 4. Sarabande, 5. Gavottes I and II, 6. Gigue.

[Note: As far as I know Wallace Stevens did not hold the beliefs attributed to him above, and I have no idea whether he played tennis.]


Sunday, January 20, 2008

[Our shock at death results from our vanity. We eat death every day. The wheel turns, the mills of God, the cycle of life and death – however you want to call it. Our little vanities feel that death isn’t for us – but it is. We eat death every day.

Or maybe it isn’t our vanity. Maybe the joke of life is that we all fight for our own place in it. Or maybe that’s not a joke. Maybe that’s how it works best for animals. Without the struggle . . . it’s hard to imagine no struggle.

Fashions come and go. Passions and patterns survive. The life / death pattern is fundamental.

I had been planning to write through the last of Bach’s 6 suites for unaccompanied cello tonight, but it is too late. I am hoping for tomorrow night.

Obviously, Bach can wait forever, and though I am tempted to melodramatically declare that I need Bach, the truth is, were his music to be taken away, I would miss it extremely, its joy, robustness, multifacetedness, pleasing melodiousness, dramatic acuity, psychological depth, aural visionary quality; and, writing-through-listening is satisfying way to hear music -- thanks, Jonathan! -- something I would like to continue doing with other music after the Cello Suites.]

-- image: photoeverywhere.co.uk


Saturday, January 19, 2008

[The grimness of January slammed me today and I’ve wanted nothing more than to write through a sweet Bach suite. I had listened to, and written through, the 5th Cello Suite more than a week ago, but my thoughts were preoccupied with my reading at the time and the writing was a hash. The minor key is beautiful; the prelude is, by almost 3 minutes, the longest piece in the whole series so far, in a sort of Toccata and Fugue structure. I loved it very much tonight, the whole suite. (Late Friday night, now the small hours of Saturday.)]

leave me hanging over the tree, over the moon, leave me desolate, bereft, glorious in my loneliness, my loveliness, hot tears on a hot face, and yet there is nothing to complain of, the complaint has no cause, it burns, it singes, it sings, it furls and throws

thrown! onto the hard earth, I land on my toes,
land on the earth on the land on the land on the earth
land on the earth, earth on the land,
hand on the hearth, ear in my heart, heat --
heat in my ear, heat in my hearth, earth --
earth in my heat in my heart in my hearth --
hear -- hear -- hear -- do you not hear?
no! I do not! my ears are stopped to --
to so much of what is sweet to listen --
I write you, dear beloved, of my heart,
I write you, only to say, to say, only to say,
only to say, what I must, that is to say,
I write you, only to say, this

mistress miscellany
mister mist




I wish --
a horse --
a hoarse whisper --
listen --
you talk of what concerns me,
and worries furrow the earthy brow

if you must, and you must, and you shall,
and so, do, you do, with vigor and vinegar,
strong and sour, tart on the tongue, tangy --
the must, the muscle, the force

everything is gone now
everything’s here
and it all comes rushing
slow and deliberate
it all comes, elbows firm
comes opening through the unsignifying word
the word without meaning
the word

the word without meaning, guarded like a treasure,
a pearl without price, a tumbled jewel,
a polished stone, a sliver of silver brook,
a babble of geese, of bees in their flower,
legs full of pollen, making fertile,
the brilliant buzz, the colorful buzz,
the glorious buzz, the tumbling buzz,
the loquacious buzz, the what-a-great buzz,
the wow what-a-buzz, everything’s a-buzz,
it was, in its fuzziness, in its funniness,
in its because, its just because,
its wise and great because,
its sweet and kind because

trill me thrill me over-frill me
fill me skill me someday kill me
live by the rhyme, die by the rhyme,
die by the wordplay, play by the wordplay,
happy to play in this grim and glorious world play,
happy in my sweet sorrow

Bach Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor, 1. Prelude, 2. Allemande, 3. Courante, 4. Sarabande, 5. Gavottes I and II, 6. Gigue

[Writing-through listening lays bare the works, the words, the word works. Makes vulnerable. Reveals commonplacenesses and surprise.]

-- The couple at the table in the right foreground may be Bach and his second wife, Anna Magdalena, according to this scholar.
(Click on the image to enlarge it.)
I like the satyr lounging on the floor below them.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

I was really looking forward to writing-through the fifth Cello Suite by Bach tonight, but I just got back from a men's Parcheesi club night that a friend hosts at his house, and as it was the anniversary of the club, and as Parcheesi originally was an Indian game, we had Indian food, mostly cooked by an excellent cook who had lived in India, a junior high friend through whom I met the host. I cooked something from a vegetarian Asian cookbook by an Indian writer who later acted in a Louis Malle film. Everything was delicious.

The game was epic -- one for the annals. Aaron, who had never won in the three years of the club, got way out ahead but couldn't get the roll he needed to win. He rolled futilely for several turns until finally three of the four people were one spot away from winning, and the fourth wasn't far behind. I was relieved when Aaron won. It was only my third time at the club, and I had won my first night out. I was trying to win, but would have felt bad if I had.

Too tired to write through Bach tonight. Music remains immense, bigger than we know.

* * *

Update 12:15 AM, Friday. A little bedtime reading, Octavio Paz’s 1977 essay on his slightly elder forerunner in Mexican poetry Xavier Villaurrutia; was struck by this quote (translated by Esther Allen): “In modern times poetry is not, nor can it be, more than an underground cult, a ceremony in the catacombs.” Mass media changed the arts fundamentally. With mass media, people had much meatier access to dedicated aesthetic experience. Artists working in the traditional genres could not help but change their art.

Struck by Paz’s imagery around caves and burial places, placing poetry as the mediator between life and death, throwing poetry onto the religious.

Paz’s remarks on death in the essay resonated for me (I’m thinking of setting it to music): “Confronted with what says nothing, we can say nothing. Death is the universal non-significance, the great refutation of our languages and our reasonings.”

Picked up the rockcrit anthology Stranded a week ago -- it's out of print! -- and am enjoying bits of it. The premise: Stranded on a desert isle, what is the one rock album you would want to have? I don't like the premise: Boomer solipsistic fantasies taken to their logical extreme; but some of the essays rock. Dave Marsh's essay on masturbation songs, "Onan's Greatest Hits," made me realize forever that "Greatest Hits" is very hard to distinguish aurally from "Greatest Tits."

For the record (ba-dum-ching): The Biblical Onan wasn't a wanker; his M.O. was to withdraw before ejaculation. You could look it up.

* * * * * * *

A joke I made up to entertain the kid on a long walk last week.

Knock knock.

Who's there?


Otch who?

Bless you!

Thank you, and good night.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Paranoia = quasi-knowledge. Marginal data perceived and incorrectly synthesized. Related to intuition, which is another word for inarticulable observation. The signs are there, more than we can read -- how much do you pick up? When one trusts one’s intuition, slipping into paranoia . . . the distinction might not be clear. And then, BOOM, you blow things up, like a police close-up, like a microscope -- an explosion of overemphasized detail.
Not sleeping enough exaggerates the perceptions. Music is louder, emotions careen.

* * *

And then the connections get running quickly in the head; a bit of Ellen Willis’s prose, a riff from Vince Guaraldi, observations from social interactions, something someone said, correspondence from across the continent -- IT ALL MAKES SENSE. And then you don’t remember what it was.

* * *

Resolved: [redacted by reticence].

* * *

“I’m so full of love I could burst apart and start to cry.”

Resolved: [redacted].

* * *

Time for bed! Sweeeet dreams.

-- illegible handwriting from a graphology center -- thanks..

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The kid wanted a superhero theme for his birthday party. My beloved spouse made capes and bought face-decorating markers. The superhero theme is open-ended: We had Super Gorilla, Super Tiger, and two Super Kitties. After the cake, the superheroes ran around the block twice, starting in the alley behind our house.

It was a very happy birthday.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

January 12, 2008

Dear Editor, Harper’s,

When, in his essay on aphorisms in the February 2008 issue of Harper’s, Arthur Krystal mentioned in a footnote that Martial “created the epigram around A.D. 86 in the form of elegiac couplets,” I thought, no, I don’t think so -- hadn’t the Greeks been writing epigrams for centuries by then? No big deal, everybody slips, I thought; until a few paragraphs later when Krystal passed a casual, cliched insult against bloggers -- “one has to wonder whether it is knowledge that is being served or merely thousands of egos” in blogs -- and that sent me to the bookshelf.

As presented for hundreds of pages in the Penguin edition of The Greek Anthology, edited by Peter Green, the Greeks had indeed been writing epigrams for centuries before Martial. But I decided to give Krystal the benefit of the doubt and dig a little deeper to see if Martial had been the one responsible for transforming the epigram into a specifically comical, satirical verse form.

He had not.

In Green’s account, the turn happened a few decades before Martial, and Greek writers did it -- Lucilius and Nikarchos. Green identifies Martial as their more-talented successor who ensured the survival of the epigram. The Penguin edition of Martial In English, edited by J.P. Sullivan and A.J. Boyle, shows Martial’s influence on such beloved English poets as Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick, and Alexander Pope; and indeed our usual understanding of the epigram as a brief, witty saying is due to Martial. But he didn’t create the form.

My five-year-old son very much liked this epigram by Martial’s Greek precursor Nikarchos, in Robin Skelton’s translation, from The Greek Anthology:

If blocked, a fart can kill a man;
if let escape, a fart can sing
health-giving songs; farts kill and save:
a fart is powerful as a king.

I understand that snobbishness is part of the Harper’s shtick, but if you’re planning to insult people for not serving knowledge, you had better have your own facts straight.

Sincerely yours,


-- image: Il Dottore from Commedia dell'Arte

Friday, January 11, 2008

Reading an article on aphorisms. The writer alluded to something something the ancients -- meaning, the Greeks and Romans.

And I thought -- ancient? 2,000 -- 2,500 years ago -- ancient? Humankind has been around in our present form for how many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of years? I should look it up.

Looked it up. Scientists believe our species has been around in our current form for 200,000 or 250,000 years. So, one percent of that time in the past, and we’re talking about “ancient.”

Some day, hopefully.

Some day, I hope, our species will look back on our epoch, and the present population of today will be much closer in time to the painters of Chauvet Cave from 30,000 years ago than to the present population of the future.

Twenty-five hundred years is a blip. I’m rooting for our species to survive for something more than that.

-- Bison, Chauvet cave, 30,000 years ago.

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of you opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, and you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress. -- Kenneth Burke, 1939

I’ll get back to blogging the Bach cello suites, but probably not until next week. I tried Suite No. 5 a few nights ago and did not like what I wrote. Since then I have been thinking of other things. Even though I didn’t like what I wrote for No. 5, writing-through is still a vivid way to listen.

Today this blog is four years old. It has been a pleasure discussing things with you all. Looking forward to more.

* * *

Update, Friday evening:
This morning I asked my four-year-old son to draw a fancy numeral 4 for this post, and that's it up top.
He turns five in a couple of days

Update, Saturday morning, the last day of my son being four:
He wants to tell the story of the 4 that he drew.
"There was a man who was looking for some nuts, and while he doing that there was fish swirling around him and bubbles popping up. And then there was some guys who were trying to trap the fish by the river but they couldn't because the river was too deep and they were going to drown. But they didn't know that so they went into the river and they almost drownded but a sailorman saved them and told them never to go into a river that is too deep again -- first look because you might not know if it's too deep or if it's shallow."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

since we are discussing the formation of sensibility and the function of music . . .

late night dishes, listening to a dollar-bin CD medley of classical nocturnes and lullabys with a harshly-lit sleeping toddler boy and teddy bear on the cover, called “sweet dreams,” and it’s late night music, I’m doing the dishes, Gershwin’s “Summertime” opens, heavy and lush, and Brahms’s famous “Lullaby,” and a lovely Bach reverie “Sheep May Safely Graze,” and then we’re into Debussy, whom my beloved grandma a far better musician than I, my grandma bought me my first Debussy record, “La Mer” and “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” which I still have, and I think of the first time I saw my dad cry, when he told my grandma his mother-in-law that Grandpa had had a major stroke, I was living in Ann Arbor, having dropped out of college, and the call came, come home, Grandpa’s having surgery, he’s had a minor stroke and they need to operate to prevent a major stroke, and I drove the 100 miles right away and sat too long, we sat too long in the waiting room, it was taking too long, my mom and my aunt were there, and dad came later I think, and Jay’s mom was there all day with us, waiting too long, until finally they told us, he had had a major stroke on the operating table, it almost never happens, and two of us could go to ICU and see him he was awake, so my aunt and I got wrapped up in masks and gowns and went in and my vigorous retired athletic grandpa was tied up with tubes and masks and my aunt said “you’re doing OK Dad” and he couldn’t speak but he shook his head violently, he knew he wasn’t OK -- his dad had died when my aunt was a baby, he was in his early 70s and fishing in a rowboat by himself and he didn’t come home and when they went looking he had died fishing and I think that’s how Grandpa wanted to go too, in the prime of it, enjoying it, and not laid low by debilitating disease and he felt screwed --

Dad and I were dispatched to tell Grandma what had happened and she sat down and Dad cried when he told her
“Als had a major stroke”

Grandpa got to the nursing home some days later, stroke-stricken speech slurred, I would come home to visit, once when I was visiting he told me, bitter, “my soul is black” -- speech slurred -- he was curled up on his bed, not able to move much, and I leaned down and hugged him and whispered in his ear, “if you give up I’m going to be so pissed”

you see we were bonded, deeply physically bonded, when a motorboat ran over me when I was 10, he, 66 and newly retired and practically still in his prime, had run fully clothed into the lake to pull me out and I had woken up in his lap at the picnic table, covered with towels soaked with blood, and him shaking like a leaf, holding me, and me not knowing what had happened, a gaping hole in my face which I didn’t realize, “what happened?” I said, “don’t talk,” he said

Grandpa didn’t give up, he worked his ass off and came back 70 or 75 percent, never back to his full vigor or even to his fully clear speech, but good enough to drive, a source of pride, though he only did it once or twice to prove he could, and he lived another 13 years, more or less happy though lonelier after Grandma died

and how I miss them, it’s my turn now, my turn to miss them as they missed theirs, and the music makes me sob

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Quick thoughts on Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, by my friend Carl Wilson.

[Update with further thoughts below, Jan. 9, 11:55 PM.]

[Update Jan. 11: slightly edited for accuracy.]

1. I’m vain. First thing I did when I bought it -- checked the acknowledgments at the end. Was I mentioned? I was! My almost-five-year-old son was impressed. He likes Carl too.

2. My mentioning that I’m in the book exemplifies a lot of what the book is about: Cultural capital. I’m cool, I’ve been mentioned (listed, really) in a book!

3. And -- it’s a really good book!

4. The main arc, it’s a conversion narrative. How Carl recognized that his hate for Celine Dion’s music was doing him no good; how he set out to learn why other people love Celine’s music; whether he could learn to love it too; and how he came not to hate it any more -- or, at least, not all of it, and not so viciously.

4.a. The root of “vicious” is “vice.” Hate is a vice. A self-destructive one, in my experience. And, it seems, in Carl’s.

4b. The conversion narrative is beautiful.

5. The sub-narrative is a gorgeous, poignant elegy for the end of his marriage. “Let’s talk about love.” Let’s.

6. And -- let’s love. Love, in all its varieties. Sex, for sure; but also friendship, and citizenship -- world citizenship, if you will; not that one will love all of one’s neighbors, but that one can try not to hate, try not to slash and burn the psychic-cultural space that others inhabit.

7. Declaring one’s hatred for other people’s music is a mode of cultural warfare, the goal of which is to distinguish oneself from others. A lucid and detailed discussion of the social function and formation of taste in the book. “Bad taste” is what uncool people have. “Uncool”: suburban, middle-aged, and/or lower class. Celine’s fan demographic skews suburban and middle-aged, though not lower class.

8. A beautiful defense of sentimentality. Lucid and persuasive history of schmaltz. Interesting historical tidbits on nostalgia in the popular arts, going back to early 19th century Irish songs. Room for further research. (It is a short book.) My take is: The nostalgia trend got started shortly after the expulsion from Eden.

9. I’m a sentimentalist lover of schmaltz; have been since I was 19. I was lost forever as a rock fundamentalist that summer after sophomore year, 1983, I went to Alaska to work in the fishing industry. Made it to Kodiak by hitch and train-hopping and bus ride and plane. Before I found work I would sit afternoons listening to records in the Kodiak Public Library on headphones. Nilsson’s collection of “standards,” A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, warmed my lonely, rain-soggy soul with its blankets of sweet violins.

9.a. Actually, my rock fundamentalism was gone before then. New Year’s Day, 1983, 19 years old, party at our friends and neighbors’ house the Aldags, Mr. Aldag put on a Jackie Gleason Orchestra record -- mood music -- with gorgeous trumpet solos by legit jazz player Bobby Hackett (I learned later) -- and moons over the lush arrangements, and his enthusiasm is contagious. I can’t help myself. Months later, hitching toward Alaska, my friend and I get picked up by a late-night trucker, and the Jackie Gleason Orchestra comes on the radio, and I recognize it and start enthusing. The driver looks at me like I’m a freak (I was a young-looking 19) and says, “That’s music for when I want to feel good, not when I want to stay awake,” and switches to country.

9.b. But I was still a snob. Later that same trip, crossing from North Dakota to Montana on an April Sunday night, cold as hell, in the back of a pick-up, picked up by three guys going across the state line because that N. Dakota county was dry on Sundays, and they open up the back window to say, “You guys are from Michigan, right? Here’s Bob Seger!” I dug the Jackie Gleason Orchestra and free jazz and classical and the Beatles and punk rock, and though I recognized the sweetness of the gesture, I hated Bob Seger.

9.d. I don’t any more. In fact, back when we sang as a duo, my friend Jake and I covered “Still the Same” at one show. Jake had written a terrific, unpublished essay on the Ironic Cover Aesthetic (which Carl quotes in his book -- he calls it a “lost classic of rock criticism,” which is true!), and he thought that we were going for an ironic take on Bob, but I just dug that song.

9.e. When I read Carl’s book in the lunchroom at work, I made sure the cover was facing down so nobody could see it. I’d be fine telling anybody I like Celine, but I didn’t want to explain to my coworkers that I know the writer. Nothing against Carl! It would feel like putting on airs. Obviously, I don’t mind telling you.

10. Didn’t know Celine’s music until I came across LTAL in the dollar bin and bought it because of Carl some months ago. As a schmaltz guy, I really like some of it, though some of the lyrics leave me cold. 15 years ago I used to hate U2 (not viciously); I remember saying to a skeptical, diplomatic musician friend that Bono was the least intelligent singer ever, always starting low and groany and building to a bellow. I’ve since grown to like Bono, in medium-to-small doses. Celine is similar, but her band is huge, so there’s more variety between numbers than on a U2 album, and I like that. She has more nuance and variety than Bono too, and more fireworks, all of which I like. Comparisons to Barry Manilow are off-base, because Barry has a sense of humor (though, contra Carl, not farcical!), which Celine and Bono, as singers, lack.

10.a. Agree with Carl that the George Martin production on the opening number of LTAL is tremendous, throwing exhilaratingly complex climaxes at a catchy, passionate Carole King number.

10.b. One of the knocks on Celine, according to Carl, is that her singing lacks personality. In a strange coincidence, the same knock was made on Ezra Pound early in his career, by the English critic and poet (and friend of Robert Frost’s) Edward Thomas, almost 100 years ago.

11. Nuanced readings of all the songs on LTAL in Carl’s book -- really good.

12. Celine’s personal history, interlinked with that of her native Quebec, is fascinating, and she’s an utterly sympathetic character/persona.

13. Great sub-thread on Carl’s love for teen-girl TV. Works beautifully, and I don’t want to give it away.

14. One stumble: Carl imputes a strictly status-seeking motivation to Celine’s getting Streisand and Pavarotti to duet with her on LTAL. Possible, but I doubt it. My guess: Celine is a fan; status-seeking was a secondary consideration. (I like both the duets more than Carl does. [As I seek to distinguish myself from him.])

15. Some laugh-out-loud jokes.

16. Persuasive history of how elitist sensibility shifted from defending cultural hierarchies (classics high, pop genres low) to seeking the unattainable ideal of cultural omnivore-ism. This nails me to my wall. I have a humanist defense of at least partial omnivore-ism, which I don’t think Carl would disagree with: People love their cultures for reasons; the more we can understand why and how others do, the more we can love as well; more love is good. Let’s love!

17. Terrific description (and sly self-description) of the most valued post-modern virtuosity: That of cross-modal symbol manipulation. Adorno and The Gilmore Girls: Carl is a low-key master.

18. Interesting, subtle, complex argument at the end trips me up a little. Carl says, rightly, that people use music in all sorts of ways. I like Schoenberg for housework but not for driving. I love schmaltzy ‘60s and earlier soundtrack music for late night dishes; earlier in the day it’s too syrupy. Rahsaan Roland Kirk is awesome for dishes or driving. And so on. Carl disses the rockcrit -- all music crit, probably -- habit of assuming that a record is to be listened to in quiet contemplation, exclusively -- music to make aesthetic judgments by. I’m with him up to there, but then he says that Sonic Youth is excellent music to make aesthetic judgments by, and Celine Dion is not. The truth, as shown in his book, is deeper, and better and more complex: Only people invested in elitist aesthetic distinction-making are concerned about aesthetic judgments in themselves, and most of Celine’s fans don’t fight that culture war. Maybe next week I’ll sit down and compare Let’s Talk About Love to Goo. I’ll tell you right now that I like Celine better, and -- [expletive deleted] -- I have goddamned good aesthetic arguments to make.

19. Because, of course, I’m still heavily invested in the distinction-making game, as is Carl. The very end of the book, he breathes a sigh of relief that Hillary Clinton’s announcement of a Celine song as her campaign theme is met with avalanches of disdain, not only from music critics but from actual editorial writers! Without the continuing existence -- in powerful places! -- of unconverted haters, Carl’s conversion narrative would not be so urgent or important. Here’s hoping his book makes converts of them all, and he winds up Monarch of the Rock Critics.

* * *

Further thoughts, next day:

20. In comments, Rebecca and Gary talk about their questions about their own relationship with snobbery and critical disdain. (Thanks for your comments!) And they remind me: Carl’s book is deeply personal.

21. And: try as I might to downplay and mitigate it, I still have a strong streak of disdainful snobbery in me.

22. And it’s all personal for me too. My own conversion story happened so long ago I don’t remember the details. Certainly in high school I reflexively hated whole genres. But senior year I met a Duchamp-besotted painter from a different high school -- very talented and cool and ironic and charming, and a talented songwriter too -- who said that he tried to like everything -- he was a dandy, last name Spear; have lost touch and don’t know whether he still paints -- hope he does. The one thing he failed to like, so he claimed, was E.T., which I’ve never seen. But he influenced me along these lines. It took time to take hold. I remember a band mate (was it Stefan?) in college saying he liked Muzak, which appalled me; for a long time now I’ve found Muzak fascinating, and firmly believe that it is the emblematic genre of the recorded age: Most people listen to most music as background. But what put it all together -- what allowed me to articulate my own thoughts about differences in sensibility -- was reading Robert Walser’s
Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music, shortly after it came out in 1993, on the recommendation of the aforementioned Jake. Walser shows how people like different music for a complex of reasons -- always including musical ones.

23. In the middle of reading the Walser book I caught a ride via the U-Washington ride board to Missoula to visit an old friend from junior high who was living there. My benefactor had a giant SUV with a CD player; I didn’t own any CDs at the time. He allowed me to choose every other CD from his collection during the day-long ride. I would choose REM, he would choose Phil Collins, I would choose U2, he would choose Phil Collins, I would choose something else, he would choose Phil Collins. My resolve not to hate someone else’s music was put to the test. I failed. And thought it was hilarious.

24. I still don’t much like Phil Collins. But -- the tunes have hooks and are well-put-together; his voice is distinctive; he conveys the signs of individuality and passion.

25. Sometimes I do miss the irony in a situation. For example, when Jake and I covered Bob Seger, and he thought we were engaging with the Ironic Cover Aesthetic, and I took umbrage at the idea, in retrospect I’m sure he was right that that’s how people would take it.

26. I haven’t been cool since college. And even then whatever cool I had was strictly by association. I’m OK with that, but just so you know.

27. In my account of Carl’s relief that people still disdained Celine when Hillary announced her campaign theme song, I failed to convey the tinge of irony with which Carl described his reactions. It’s complex. What I said above wasn’t wrong, just incomplete.

28. Contra my nomination for Carl as Rock Critic Monarch (“King of the World!”), he
’s all about democracy, baby.

As his book. Do check it out.

Monday, January 07, 2008

[I’m almost done reading Carl Wilson’s terrific book on the social formation and function of “taste,”
Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, which centers on Celine Dion’s album of that name (before the colon) and which I picked up last night. It struck me as awkwardly, tastily, ironically appropriate to be writing about classical music with poets whom I’ll probably never meet concurrently with reading the book. Carl’s description of the would-be cultural omnivore peeped into my windows a little too closely for comfort. Now I’m regretting not posting my loose, inarticulate disgust with my own connoisseur-ship -- not that I am expert at anything, but I am constantly judging and comparing experiences -- before reading his book; there’s overlap, and my own perceived need for the cultural capital possibly accruing from a plausible claim to having gotten there before having heard about someone else getting there nags me.

I am happy to be listening to Bach.]

if you take any phrase
not just any phrase
it has to be a shapely phrase
it has to be a fertile phrase
and you must be a fertile phrase-shifter
you must flip it up and turn it round
slide the phrase from side to side
until it’s time for a break

passions thrive in these phrases I hear
to be in love with life and never to measure up
not that anyone’s unworthy
but that, at last everyone’s discarded

Bach loved God

sing a song of traipsing spirits
spirit -- wind -- motion -- transfer -- energy

emergent energy

a great spirit -- genius -- a strong spirit
-- spirit-giving-order -- order-making-spirit --
ever unwinding -- windily -- twining
rolling -- unfurling -- the thin rich ribbon --
blowing in the spirit across the face -- of the deep

knee music
lift-up-your-knee music
droll and jolly

was it then?

jolly -- yes.
droll -- it feels like it.
not without dignity.
because -- joy transcends dignity --
and -- brother -- I’m going to lift these knees --
while I can

oh -- moments -- of --
(can’t find the word)
of -- foreboding -- amongst the merry knees --
not foreboding quite -- earnestness. (not right either.)

wing. wave. waft.
the beautiful futile gesture.
the gemming of motion. slow.
hot liquid earth bubbling and sinking into itself.
and from the bubble -- primordial.

the band (Casals) knows it’s a dance groove, and that’s good.
nice tunes, don’t mind when they come on the radio.
oh, well, yes, no, Bach didn’t write for the radio.
But! Casals played for it.
elaborate skills went into these dances.

imagine if the cello had been the preferred Appalachian jig instrument.
would it be called the knee fiddle?
the crotch fiddle?
that would be bawdy.
“for the glory of God and the recreation of man.”
bawdiness can be that too.
bawdiness is almost body-ness.
records efface the body.
they lie.

Suite No. 4 in E flat major, 1. Prelude, 2. Allemande, 3. Courante, 4. Sarabande, 5. Bourrees I and II, 6. Gigue

[In case you didn’t know: “for the glory of God and the recreation of man” is how Bach described music’s purpose.]


Sunday, January 06, 2008

A friend dropping by unexpectedly kept me from the Bach cello suites Friday night, and work and family obligations have kept me away the last two days; hope to get back to it tomorrow.

Meanwhile, some big news in my social circle.

An old friend from college has won an award from the National Society of Film Critics: FILM HERITAGE AWARD “to Ross Lipman of the UCLA Film and Television Archive for the restoration of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and other independent films.” I saw Killer of Sheep shortly before Ross and his family came to visit last summer, and it’s tremendous. Burnett captured the grit and grinding-ness of poverty in an America slum, without hysteria or self-pity, in a way I’ve never seen in another fictional film. With a strong strain of unsentimental dignity and resilience, and nothing like much hope. An indelible film.

* * *

We took down the Christmas tree today, the last day of Christmas; 2007 really is done. A lot of vivid, memorable stuff happened in the last year that didn’t make it onto the blog because of a shortage of time or energy. Seeing Killer of Sheep was one of them; seeing recent videos of
Ross’s in my living room a week later was another. And now he’s won a big award -- congratulations!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

[Last night I really didn’t want to listen to Bach’s 2nd suite for unaccompanied cello and write about it, but I had committed to doing it. And then I enjoyed it -- the listening very much, and the writing too, to a much lesser extent. I am running into the brick wall of my dilettantism. Improvised, time-limited writing runs me through my personal set of cliches as well as general-circulation cliches. We’ll see if I can break through them into something livelier before the suites are over. Like the Lacanian short session. I hold with the classical Freudians that the resistances -- the dull patches -- are rich and fascinating -- for the analysand. But Dr. Lacan’s Bach treatment demands that I get to the juicy stuff quicker. If I have any juicy stuff to get to.

I’m writing these longhand. Slower than typing. I hardly write longhand any more. The computer age has changed things.]

spinning blue streamers a cacophony of color of delight -- surprise! how the stresses and worries and cares of the day wash off in the fizz of showering streams of sound color

oh! if it could happen on these grayest of days then who knows the possibilities, who indeed, who in word and deed -- aha! -- the expectation delayed arrives anyhow

the mess and squalor, yes yes off you go to play, go on, I’ll get to these, attend to these -- papers piled everywhere, clothes to put away, meals to cook for tomorrow, shopping to do --

an object picked up, looked at, turned this way and that, the light bounces off angles unexpectedly, a glint blinds the eye, and I’m nervous about possible interruptions

listening to music, the object turns me and looks at me, I can’t set it down, it sets me down when I’m done, and this sonic object sets me lovely

I always think I’ll want to sit one out but the dance is lively and heck YEAH heavens YES I want to get up on that floor and shake a leg

oh it feels good humming along, not with the music, not humming the music, humming the bits of word-clumpage that comes tumbling spitting out of the tumbling hacking wordhoard -- did I intend to hoard them? No. Did I intend to be so miserly? No. -- things, life crept up on me and hardened my habits when I wasn’t noticing

ah, the so -- life -- rows, we row, we so row o’er our sorrows, sow rue when we fail in our attentions, fail in our love

what is it in life that demands us to reach beyond grasping, aspire beyond attaining? and life is limited -- we all reach our deadlines and once we cross them can’t come back

is there consolation? the music says -- yes.
the music says -- I am. I am consolation.

another dance.
I think I will sit this one out.
stare at the wall.
no, no -- thanks, I’m OK, think I’ll step outside.
Yes, the band is a charmer, I’m just, I -- need a breath of the outdoors

the music wafts through the walls. another starless cloud-covered night, the houses their uncanny smaller secret selves outside of sun’s glare, everybody in who can manage it, and those who can’t -- those who can’t -- those --

last dance.
better go back.
I take my steps, mind elsewhere, Bach’s mind dancing around and through mine, so real and close and utterly out of reach, even if I had the skills to play the score, the mind that created it remains beyond, a mystery, as any gift of art must be, and all we can say is -- Thanks.

Bach, Cello Suite No. 3 in C major, 1. Prelude, 2. Allemande, 3. Courante, 4. Sarabande, 5. Bourrees I and II, 6. Gigue

[Looking at the CD booklet, I see that this one was a little more than 20 minutes, whereas last night’s was just under. Number one was about 17, and looking ahead, each one gets longer than the previous. I wonder if that’s by Bach’s design or Casals’. Or both?

I have little to say about classical music, even though I listen to it as much as anything else and love reading about it too -- it rarely launches fresh-feeling wordflows for me. Partly it may be sheepishness about my poor ear for harmony. Good to be writing about these Bachs.

January hit me today. I’m counter-punching with Bach. Gratitude to Jonathan Mayhew, whose idea the Bach-blog-fest was and whose blog consistently stimulates interesting thought; and to Maryrose Larkin, who is inspiring me to try to write more freshly by her example.]


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

[Maryrose Larkin is blogging through the unaccompanied Bach cello suites too, one movement at a time. She’s going for the poetry, and I wonder at the relationship between what she has written and the music. I wouldn’t guess that there was any relationship at all if she didn’t tell me -- but there’s no reason to think that untutored description such as mine is in any way preferable. I like her approach. We have relatives named Larkin on my mom’s side; my maternal grandma’s cousin married a rancher in Florida named Larkin. She was wealthy and when my grandparents retired they would go and stay in one of her houses for free for a couple of months in the winter. I met cousin Emily once. She was old and did not make a vivid impression. Her grandson was my age -- 14 -- and he could drive because their ranch was big enough for him to drive on, and licensing doesn’t apply on private property. They had horses running on the ranch, and wild alligators, and beautiful Santa Gertrudis cattle. My dad had to go to Florida on business and we all went as a vacation. Before we got to the ranch we stayed in a hotel in Tampa that the Yankees were staying in for spring training. We rode the elevator with Reggie Jackson, and my brother gave him some of our Pringles.]

Cello, oh cello, oh wood and singing tone, reverberant carved curlicue of tree, I want your sound in my teeth, bitter beer and steak

things come to an impasse, a momentary pause, a breath of frustration

there’s always a way, as long as life goes on there’s hope

yeah OK say your peace emphatically

Casals’ tone’s got the juice, the sweet and bitter taste of life’s juice, a dark rainbow

continually opening doors

the rhythmic anti-metronomianism, the measure is not the law

fling it
words can’t keep up
all so tossed-off-sounding, brilliant extemporaneity
the minor key lending a more sombre tone to it all

monks in their chambers arguing of God, with God

a voice
the line of melody a thread to mark the labyrinth

yes! there be monsters! and terrible things, oh! the terrible things,
yes, I have seen it

“stomping the blues,” the memory of tears, we spin it out of the unknown, taking whatever bits of flotsam have wrecked on the soul’s shore, and spin our lines, make a net, to catch what one can, something to eat, yes, sweetheart, the band is some ear-bender

time flies, 20 minutes closing in, I’ve barely started, can’t keep up, Bach got the something-going-on, I’d dance this stern and lively beat, Lord knows I could use more sternness, I must change my life, but how, ahhh -- well, well I hope, change it well, and evasive punning is NO CHANGE AT ALL

sorry it’s over. for tonight. damn. went too fast.

Bach, Suite No. 2 in D minor, 1. Prelude, 2. Allemande, 3. Courante, 4. Sarabande, 5. Menuets I and II, 6. Gigue

[In case you did not know: “Stomping the Blues” is the name of a book by Albert Murray wherein he argues that the real blues, aren’t sad, they joyfully stomp out those sorrows. “The band is some ear-bender” is a line by Johnny Mercer from a song he wrote with Paul Weston in the mid-1940s called “Conversation While Dancing.” “You must change your life” is what the headless torso of Apollo communicated to Rilke.

I found the minor key more stimulating and the dances less formulaic-sounding.]

-- Photo of Santa Gertrudis cattle from Cattle Today Online!


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

[Jonathan Mayhew and others are blogging through Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites. I’m giving it a whirl.]

after a series of arpeggiated chords the melody begins its cascade, all those 8th notes, and then chords again oh description how bland you are, Bach is thinking through the cellist’s hands, the tender attention and quicksilver consciousness, and you feel it building to that glorious return of the opening major chord an octave higher and at that joyancing at reaching the peak of the octave suddenly the piece is done and it’s on to number 2

ruminations, the dude ruminates beautifully, a light-footed ruminant, dancing like a deer through the verge

now the dance is partying, we bow and curtsey, how do you do and how do ye do and how do ye do again? ye olde dance rhythms carry their costumes from 300 years since

late night reflections, the passions quieten and no less passionately, melody melody

the quick step through town is all music visual? no but rhythms imply a body and are made by a body reading a score written by a body,

the lines can get echoey, turning over the same phrase from slightly altered harmonic perspectives

IF this one had a programmatic verbal framing I’d be digging its discursiveness more

more dancing! a quick turn to minor doesn’t last long, we got ourselves a quick minuet and that means tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1699 -- get the happy feet and we end with a satisfied happy heavy sigh

Cello Suite No. 1 in G major, 1. Prelude, 2. Allemande, 3. Courante, 4. Sarabande, 5. Menuets I and II, 6. Gigue.

[This is a transcript of the (not at all satisfactory) writing off the top of my head I did while listening to the roughly 17 minutes of Pablo Casals’ recording of the six movements of the first suite while the kid was bugging me, asking me to turn on the bathroom light for him, asking me what I was writing, and so on. I got the last movement wrong -- it’s not a Minuet, it’s a Gigue. But it’s in triple meter; hence my confusion. Bach was 14 years old in 1699.

The Sunday NY Times article comparing the attention required to listen to pop music versus that required for classical was on the table, headed by a cartoon of a straightlaced dude and a rocker dude, both listening to head phones with eyes shut, the rocker dude with arms crossed and pinkie and index fingers outstretched in a rocker hand pose that probably has a more specific signification of which I am ignorant. The kid asked what those guys were doing. I said one was listening to classical, such as we had just listened to, and the other was listening to rock, and would you like to listen to some rock? Yes, he would; so I put on Big Brother and the Holding Company’s first album, a favorite since I was in high school about 10 years after its 1968 release. I had not listened in at least a year, and the album -- especially first three songs -- blew me away again. The sharpness of the ensemble rhythms, dance rhythms from my lifetime; the unassimilable excess of Janis Joplin’s singing and James Gurley’s electric guitar solos; the boldness of the arrangements alternating Gurley’s wild guitar with Sam Andrew’s tighter, funkier guitar leads; the gorgeous reconceptualization of the great Gershwin lullaby “Summertime,” putting it into triple meter and even boasting a classical-esque flurry of gentle arpeggios after a noisy guitar episode. Not only are the songs musically happening -- they’re longer than the Bach movements too. Nothing dates a piece of music more quickly than a dance rhythm.

Later we went to a New Year’s Day party at the home of our friend Robert, who plays bass and mandolin and sings in my band as well as other bands. Like all of his parties this was chock full of music, in full swing when we got there. An impromptu string band played traditional folk and bluegrass and swing tunes in the living room, mostly led by an 80-ish-year-old man who sang and played fiddle. When Robert abandoned his bass for hosting duties I jumped at the chance to play it and didn’t butcher it too badly, I don’t think; enjoyed myself immensely; until a better bass player came back into the room and I relinquished my spot and listened happily. Hearing it live, played spontaneously and joyfully, no dance rhythm goes out of date. I felt the same way when I heard live performances of some of the Bach cello suites last March: Nothing dated about them at all when you’re in the room with the player. This is not always true on recordings.]

-- Illustration by Koren Shadmi, New York Times (I haven’t finished the article).


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?