The New Yorker of My Dreams

In a vivid dream, I took my son to a new day-care center. (In waking life, he’s a 27-year-old rock star on his way back today from a gig in Denmark.) I stayed around to observe the class, and was appalled at how simplistic the musical activities were. I was carrying around a large metal can, like a lidded watering can, in which I kept all the knowledge of music I go around disseminating, but it was unwieldy, and I kept bumping people with it. I ran into Alex Ross, who sympathized and explained to me that one could never draw from the general culture any pleasure concerning the field one is an expert in, because extreme specialization isolates us from the general population in just that area of life we enjoy most. By way of illustration, he showed me a fake New Yorker article he’d written and pasted up for me in New Yorker format, full of musical diagrams and detailed and arcane references to rare pieces that I know well (Wolpe, Busoni, Johnston). It was indeed the music journalism of my dreams, but he said he obviously couldn’t publish it, because the number of people capable of reading it would fit in a small bus. I woke up and ran into Alex at an outdoor concert where some big modernist concerto was being performed, told him about the dream I’d had, and he was just delighted. I promised him I’d blog about it. Then I woke up again, of course, found myself in my bed with my wife gone to work and my little dog snoring at my feet, and Alex presumably off wherever he is when he’s working on a book.

I used to write about extremely obscure music in a widely-read newspaper. Now I’m writing a highly technical book about a famous piece of music. So I guess these issues of whom I’m writing for and why – and, consequently, what my connections to the rest of the world are going to be for the rest of my life – are much on my mind.


  1. says

    The watering can might have something to do with “canned music.”

    I don’t know if you do know Alex Ross in waking life, but if not, he might be a symbol of “establishment,” particularly when it has to do with music that you consider to be rarified. Perhaps at some point we all dream of being able to write for the New Yorker, but we know that it is, indeed, a magazine that has a readership with only a small percentage of people interested in “serious” new music. Even those who do write for the magazine are limited by that readership.

    I love layer dreams.

    KG replies: I was afraid the watering can might be something more phallic, so I’m relieved. I do know Alex, and I think for me he’s less the establishment than someone who writes for mass audiences via non-academic presses. The Voice was a sufficient dream for me, and the New Yorker’s stringent fact-checking always intimidated me, as does the Atlantic’s.

  2. says

    Well, I might be confusing your compositional and authoring worlds, but there might be some conflict there between your stated desire to make your music accessible, yet you carry around this watering-can full of amazing knowledge and information accessible to only a few.

    Performers run into this too. Well, I do at least. Nothing I like better than a piece I can sink my teeth into, maybe not even understand completely, but teasing out how it works is a great joy to me. To the listener, hearing the end result, who knows?

    KG replies: I do have a matched set of snobbish and populist streaks, and I channel the populism into my music and, when I get the chance, the snobbishness into my writing. Better than the other way around, I think. And you do play some music that takes a tremendous amount of teasing out, like that amazing Michael Byron piece. Love to analyze *that* someday – but does anyone want to read about it?

  3. says

    Anyone of a certain age or anyone who has listened to, read, experienced – or written about or created – serious art or music over the past few decades is in the same predicament. Being an academic sometimes deepens the divide between that which is popular, mass, consumable and stuff that is specialized, complex or requiring attention and study. It really hits home in the summer, when everything is supposed to be fun: no Schoenberg on the iPod, no Cambridge University Press books for the beach, and nobody knows what the hell you talking about when you mention Transcendentalism, even though you just told them you are working on a book on Ives. It’s like there is skywriting everywhere that says, “No allusions, dudes.” But this is who we are now, or anyone who is knowledgeable and, more or less, academic. As for snobs, the worst are the oppressive populists who assert their music is the truth of American life. So, hang in & with Alex & the rest and work up the bibliography for Fall courses (but remember, no bibliographies allowed until September). Try altering Scotch intake for different oneiric journeys. (And, the watering can is doubtlessly phallic, though as for it being unwieldy while you are disseminating – well, that might be wish fulfillment, or have something to do with Alex – but I am not going anywhere near all that!)

    KG replies: Eloquent.