Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Mule

First, I must thank Alford--who if I'm not mistaken, is the gregarious music enthusiast, John Armstrong of old Third Street Jazz fame (please correct me if I'm wrong), with whom I've shared many a compelling food anecdote, favorite among which is the one I described in To Stink To Cheat To Torture, concerning him curing a ham in his apartment and drawing mice in the process; he fights the good fight. Alford's comments on my first entry, a self-conscious piece of opinion, constitute the first practical advice I've had in too long. I'll be picking up the promoted titles by Beethoven and Schubert, and listening in the prescribed fashion. Wild responses to follow. Gratitude sooner: thanks.

For now it is the lightless portion of the dawn of this singlehood. Miss Kate readies her apartment in the North, while I get my bearings and prepare to live without her. But the dim element of dawn has nothing to do with her; it is a self indulgent hue in me that adheres to the dark when it suits my whim. Furthermore I was referring to Chopin's Nocturnes, performed by Eugene Istomin, and released (yet another) by Columbia Masterworks in 1956.

The chief obstacle of this generation in connecting with composition would appear to be complexity-at-length. Succinct Jackson Pollock never hurt anyone--you take one look and decide at that moment. Is it beautiful; does it mean anything; am I a part of it?

But these musical things, they take time to absorb: first a fundamental notion of the work concerned, then God knows how many variations til death. Chopin, I'd always found just pleasant, but only because I wasn't really paying attention. In peeling back the onion of these works, one can detect a virtually endless interspersion of romantic pageantry, and abysmal psychological nuance. No pretty flourish runs so far without a kind of crumbling finish, a dulling turn, or some other musical device that, for my lack of erudition, I'll simply say disrupts the pleasantness. Perhaps Chopin's approach was clinical, seeking to uncover unpromising and unfulfilling, and indifferently unbeautiful aspects of a thing to which we too eagerly attach generalized notions of beauty and possibility, rather than knock off, one after another, a series of cliches on the subject.

Some of them border on the grotesque, or are outright unsettling. That they come in the guise of quasi-lullabies only advances the possibility that Chopin had a real misanthropic streak. Truthfully I wouldn't know, not in the historical sense anyway. The convenient--and lazy, core of what I'm doing forces me to react without research. I don't mind putting in research (which is a flat out lie), but it would defeat the purpose to look for scholarly answers. After all the feelings are anything but, so why should I get dressed and put on my glasses. Where am I going?

In fact if Chopin's practical magic can touch our lives at all--and it can!-- then it would do so as a kind of prescient experiment into, not the purpose of music so much as what we actually do with it. Music to exercise to, to dance to, to do the dishes to, to sleep to. Why the Nocturnes! They're perfect. If Three Men and a Baby is to be believed--and it is!--then its not what you tell a baby, its how you tell it. It couldn't possibly end when we're infants, though. Perhaps the magic wanes, but our susceptibility improves over time.

Thusly did Chopin invent, with his Nocturnes, the police scanner years ahead of its technological birth, that eerie device in the homes of curious people who drift away at night to the lull of their civilization in its relaxing back-and-forth of violence and response.

It makes me want to laugh; what I don't know about Chopin convinces me he laughed at it--the possibility of it, impressed as he must've been with the mule of the night.

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