“Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.”
“Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.”
To hear Philip Larkin read “Aubade,” his last major poem, go here. (You’ll need RealAudio to listen.)
Warning–don’t click this link if you’re feeling blue. “Aubade” definitely won’t help.
I’ve been listening to an advance copy of Bill Charlap’s Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein, out March 23 from Blue Note. I don’t want to comment on it because (A) it hasn’t been released and (B) I’ll probably review it somewhere, but listening to Charlap play such familiar Bernstein ballads as “Lucky to Be Me” and “Lonely Town” has put me, perhaps not surprisingly, in a reflective mood.
(1) Are songs more likely to become attached to personal memories than pieces of instrumental music? If they are, is it because they have lyrics? Or is it simply that they’re so much shorter than symphonies or sonatas, and thus more easily recalled?
(2) Does the fact that I still associate “Some Other Time” with the memory of my friend have anything at all to do with the fact that it’s a particularly good song? Would it have remained so evocative for so long if it were less musically memorable?
(3) I almost never associate paintings or movies or ballets or novels with intensely specific personal memories–just music. Is this an idiosyncrasy of mine, or is music uniquely effective as an associational trigger? And if it is, why?
(4) Will this particular association eventually fade with the passing of time? And if it does, will I be sorry?
Which reminds me to mention that I went into Rooster Flowers Sunday afternoon to buy a bouquet for the kitchen table, and an album by another singer friend of mine was playing on the store’s sound system. My friend is currently on tour, and I haven’t heard from her for a couple of weeks beyond an occasional I’m-fine-how-are-you e-mail from Seattle or San Francisco. The moment I heard her voice, I felt as though she were standing right behind me. I almost turned around to say hello. Music is so powerful that way, which is one reason why it’s nice to have musician friends who make records. When they’re gone–even if it’s for good–you can still listen to them.
Lileks just caught up with Master and Commander:
I must now reshuffle my top ten all-time favorites. There you have it; there you have the human mystery. Two men on a ship. One a man of adventure and war, the other a man of science and healing; they are sitting in a room several thousand miles from home, a room designed to remind them of the civilization that sent them to this remote locale, and they playing a stringed duet (cello, violin) before a battle where they will endeavor to cleave the skulls of Frenchmen with sharp axes. And there’s no contradiction implied. No 21st century sensibility barging in to make us all wonder how people who appreciated the muses could then stick a knife in a man’s throat “for England, for home, and for the prize.” The story rambles, like any good voyage, and I never doubted a single minute of the film. It had absolute confidence in its characters and stories. I want ten more, please.
Read the whole thing here.
Our Girl in Chicago is on to something when she recalls (see below) how moving to Chicago taught her that New York’s cultural snobbishness is “precisely a form of provincialism, and one that was all the more invidious for being called sophistication.” Amen to that.
As regular visitors to the right-hand column know, I write a monthly wrapup of the arts in New York City for the Sunday Washington Post. It’s called “Second City.” I gave it that name in order to tease my adopted town about its chronic self-centeredness. It’s absolutely true that more artistic activity takes place here than in any other American city, but that doesn’t mean New York has a monopoly on important art, much less interesting art. Tyler Green, one of our fellow artsjournal.com bloggers, was listening to OGIC and me on the radio last night, and e-mailed afterward to tell us that he’d been struck recently by the vitality of the Los Angeles contemporary art scene–not just in and of itself, but by comparison with the state of the visual arts in Manhattan. And I wrote a piece about George Balanchine last year for The Yale Review (it’ll be in A Terry Teachout Reader) in which I made the following observation:
New York-based balletomanes who view with alarm the continuing decline of New York City Ballet need to start getting used to the notion that the city long known as “the dance capital of the world” may well be on the verge of becoming no more than primus inter pares in the increasingly decentralized world of post-Balanchine ballet.
Last year, the U.S. State Department asked me to write an essay for on-line distribution to other countries about the state of the arts in America. In that essay (on which I drew for the introduction to the Teachout Reader), one of the things I talked about was what I called “the ‘deprovincialization’ of America’s regional performing-arts groups.” I don’t discuss that nearly often enough on this blog. It looks like Our Girl–and you–will be doing it for me this week. Good.
P.S. Welcome back, OGIC. You were much missed last week.
A bit nervous? A bit nervous?! Look, remember that student in your college classes who locked eyes on the text in front of her when there was any danger of being called on? Who visibly blanched when the teacher so much as leaned in her general direction? Who had four different outfits the color of the classroom walls, the better to camouflage herself? That student was me.
I couldn’t speak in class in high school. I couldn’t speak in class in college. I couldn’t speak in class in graduate school. For a few years there, I taught some college courses and, lo and behold, I could speak in class. Necessity will make you do the damnedest things, and I daresay I spoke pretty well in the courses I taught. But for some moments in the studio at WBEZ tonight, that intervening experience fled, and I felt every bit the shy, quiet, scared mouse of old. I was surprised, to put it mildly, to find that some of that old resistance had stuck around.
Terry and our gracious, resourceful host Edward Lifson helped exorcise those ghosts and got me through the rough patches of this, my very first radio broadcast. I felt warmed up by the second half of the show, and was able to express some of the things I had wanted to say. By the time our time was up, it was much as each of them had promised beforehand–I was surprised and sorry to see the hour run out, and full of thoughts that would never get voiced. But the beauty of this medium is that what doesn’t get voiced can always get blogged.
Over the next few days I’ll post some further thoughts on the whole interesting question the WBEZ series Should I Stay or Should I Go? raised about the dilemma of artists in Chicago. One of the more startling moments tonight was hearing read back to me all the factoids I jotted down about myself a few months ago, when Terry first invited me to co-blog. One of these noted my attraction to what I called the “medium-hot centers” of the world, a category in which I implicitly included Chicago. When I uttered that phrase in October, I didn’t think too much about it, but participating in WBEZ’s good series this week made me do some of that thinking belatedly. In the makeshift case for Chicago I tried to put together tonight, the idea of medium hotness was central, if unstated.
So what does it mean to be medium-hot? What’s the attraction of “medium”? Here’s one way of describing what I find so liberating about the scene and atmosphere here, especially in comparison with the only other place I’ve ever lived, and the place every city compares itself to, New York. This departs from something John Updike says in his brief preface to the recently published collection of his early stories, pointed out to me by the perspicacious OFOB [Our Friend On the Block, a recurring character here who is encouraged to recur more!]. Updike talks about the difficulty he had writing fiction in New York City, and his inevitable “flight from Manhattan,” where he found too little ordinary life going on for his purposes. Updike felt he couldn’t thrive there as a writer, and speaks of wanting to be somewhere where he could immerse himself in the ordinary, and find the extraordinary therein. This was how he conceived of his particular task as a writer, and New York was the wrong setting for that project. Reading this got me thinking that what I love about this city, big and richly varied as you could wish it, but not superlative and not the default destination that New York is, is how from moment to moment it offers you a choice between the ordinary and extraordinary. You can move from one to the other kind of experience more or less at will. Sometimes in New York City, in my experience and Updike’s, you could get stuck in the extraordinary, and get very tired.
To a great degree, of course, this comes down to questions of individual temperament, which brings us back to where this post started. Yet aside from such considerations, I can’t help remembering that one thing I actively wanted to get away from when I left New York ten years ago was the casual assumption, not universally held but not in short supply either, that everything of import was of bicoastal, and mainly east-coast, origin. It felt suffocating. For all our back-and-forth tonight about just how immune Chicago is or isn’t to accusations of provincialism, part of what I feel I escaped by coming here was precisely a form of provincialism, and one that was all the more invidious for being called sophistication.
And that’s not all! Look for more on this topic in the coming days–and please e-mail me with your thoughts, whether you’re in Chicago, New York, or a different place altogether. This conversation started by our new friends at WBEZ seems to me one worth carrying on.
P.S. It’s nice to be back.