Sunday, July 12, 2009

Everything I associate with you I once associated with storms.

I awoke this morning thinking of rich people eating breakfast. Well, brunch actually. There is an event held nearby each weekend at one of those converted steeler mansions. They throw open their doors to all, but seem only to invite those who could at least plausibly inhabit the grand old place as tenants. The rest of us just look and feel kind of unwanted. The house says no. This event is called 'Bach Beethoven & Brunch' and sounds preposterous. I like the idea of a secular alternative to the conventional forms of worship and I love Bach and brunch. But the confluence of money, cultural showboats and foreboding real estate just sounds gross.

Instead I had a cup of coffee sitting in a bathtub. I was looking at ferns, housesitting in the most literal sense. The first record of the day, which as best as I can date it, goes back to the mid-30's but could be as late as 1943, was called, "Hula Blues" by Sol Hoopii. As I wandered off, occasionally batting away a curious kitten (the only time a cat ever wants a bath is when you're in the bath), I thought of all the disconnect and hard resistance fought by artists who emerged in the good light by virtue of talent alone. And then I thought of the rest of us, how limited we are by those means, and how we're compelled, not always by the direct motivation of happiness, but by the displacement of an audience we do not enjoy. By the lack of a recognized greatness. I was listening to Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 20, in D minor and then a formative favorite, the tumultuous 2nd Piano Concerto by Rachmaninov.

The former, by my limited means of articulation and insight on the subject, shows a quality in Mozart that I suspect may even have been watershed to his composition, the unity of confidence and color invested in the solo instrument in the context of the orchestra. There is no room for preening, though the piano delivers limitless surges. The authorial instinct gave intelligence to the strings in a way familiar to anyone who enjoys, say, Gauguin or (my favorites) those old WWII-era Warner Brothers cartoons, all of which rely so heavily on the currents and rigor of the backgrounds, without which the central characterizations would pale. I know precious little about Mozart, and sometimes to a silly degree wish I could have met him just to watch old cartoons and trade Playboys from the 60's--the ones in which the very idea of nudity is only possible as an outrageous opposition to the equally contrived setpieces in which it is displayed. What a blast.

Of course there's high school, but that Rachmaninov, anymore, reminds me of a wonderful movie from 1945, Brief Encounter, starring the magnetic Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, the latter whom you may remember as the embattled English cop in The Third Man. When I think back to its evocations--the concerto, it now feels slightly strange to associate it with a romantic scene, an association made concrete in a terrific staircase farewell sequence in the movie. In much the same way young people are occasionally caught off guard by Turner and Constable, I was impressed by something in the 2nd Piano Concerto that felt purely abstract and atmospheric. Like Turner's roiling waves hugging the sun and all but blotting out the doomed evidence of sea-going humankind, this concerto speaks in heavy, ominous gestures. It's amusing to think of it just now. I heard it at an age when nothing romantic had ever done that.

This recording was made for the Remington label (1950-57; the specific date of this recording escapes me), one that creeps up in my crate digs with increased frequency these days. Listeners in the Pittsburgh area are advised to check out the small but impressive Remington section at Jerry's. A budget label devoted to classical recordings, Remington captured in a way few small imprints could the austere stylism and substance of the golden age of the record industry--a time when the currency of art in music recording was king.

Sadly, brunch will not be served today. The photos I took of last night's grilled sockeye salmon and sweet and sour potato ratatouille came out dark and blurry. Customarily I like that in food pictures, lends them a kind of Bruegelesque binge delirium. But I was really relying on my cheapo digital Polaroid to pick up up a little of that ruby red grapefruit color of the fish, offset by the onyx cubes of eggplant. No dice.

On a final editorial note, I extend gratitude to my latest reader, Cap'm. Thanks for your kind words. I'll be following along with you!


Tony said...

When are you moving back to Philadelphia ???

Bryan said...

I gotta put another few years in here, get even more homesick for Philadelphia; these two cities serve as purgatories for one another.

How are you, my friend?

Peg said...

Thanks for the mention, Bry. We love your writing even more than your cooking. You're so talented and handsome!