A few fragments on music
oh, and death too...
Cellists, I learned at some point, look for holes in concert stages where other cellists have placed their endpins. This strikes me as just a wonderful fact. The materiality of music, the most ideal of the arts…
And speaking of cellists…
Nearly a decade ago, I discovered some Paul Tortelier masterclass sessions that were on YouTube and obsessively watched a bunch of them. (I’m not a cellist btw, though I once owned a very poorly constructed one that I found in a thrift shop and used it to produce random sound in an improvisational band I was in way back when). I am delighted to discover that they are still there!
Here he is instructing students on how to play Debussy’s moving Cello Sonata. We should all have such a teacher.
Claude Debussy btw is the only French composer I would put in the same elite class as the Germans who make up the greatest of those who have written in the Western art music tradition. This is not a popular stance in some circles, I recognize, but I will brook no opposition to this wholly idiosyncratic position. He is so dear to my heart, for so many reasons, that I simply must have it so. One relevant fact: An evening I spent at the Salle Pleyel many years ago with close friends and La Mer will resonate in my spirit for as long as I’m here.
I have a photo of his grave somewhere that I cannot find at the moment. Here’s someone visiting him at the Cimetière de Passy to play him a lovely little tribute.
Bach lost both his mother and his father before he was ten years old.
How did he not just collapse? How did he become what he became?
If a child can lose both parents at such a tender age and somehow still become Bach, then anything is possible.
Sometimes, you learn something useful from Wikipedia: Nicolas Slonimsky named his cat Grody-to-the-Max after learning the phrase from his friend Frank Zappa’s daughter Moon Unit.
Here’s Slonimsky saying some nice things about Zappa.
I was born on the day the Beatles recorded the instrumental track for Eleanor Rigby. They overdubbed McCartney’s vocal on my second day on the planet.
Before I knew this, it was my favorite song on Revolver, with Got to Get You Into My Life a close second. Tomorrow Never Knows and Taxman somewhere just behind.
It feels somehow perfectly ordained, that perhaps the saddest, most despairing song by a band whose fundamental message was love, love, love is the one they were making when my melancholic self was being introduced to the world…
Everyone should know one important musical fact that took place on the day of his or her birth.
No, I repeat, I’m not one of those ‘Yoko broke up the Beatles’ people. McCartney denies it, and he was there, that’s good enough for me.
I can’t help remarking this, though, which I just found the other day, even if posting it here makes me look like I’m anti-John-and-Yoko. But it’s not me, I object—they are doing it to themselves!
John’s adoration of Chuck Berry is beautiful—he is of course right that rock ‘n’ roll would not be rock ‘n’ roll without CB. But gosh is his vocal performance here awful. And then there’s what Yoko does…
Lennon would have made a much better tribute to Chuck by just clearing off the stage, and being sure to take Yoko with him, to let Berry do his thing.
This btw is how you properly worship Chuck Berry: fidelity to the spirit while stirring a little extra Jimi spice into the mix.
How to explain the working out of the plan of the universe?
To watch as petty, malevolent people pass their days suffering no loss, while men like the great jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter, a peerless artist (member of Miles’ brilliant ‘60s quintet with Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, and Miles) and by all accounts a gentle and compassionate human being, are led by the fates to watch all the people they hold dear be taken away before their time. His daughter Iska, gone at 13 after a seizure. His wife of 26 years Ana Maria, disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean while aboard the exploded TWA Flight 800, on her way to join her husband for a vacation in France.
How to reckon with that awful destiny for such a man? How?
Franz Schubert dies at 31, and of his parents’ fourteen children, nine die in infancy.
Charles Manson, by contrast, lives to the age of 80, and has his banal songs lovingly recorded by artists who know exactly what he’s done.
We simply cannot understand such things.
Great American musicians killed on buses while on tour in Europe: Collin Walcott, sitar and tabla player in the group Oregon, in East Germany on November 8, 1984; Cliff Burton, bassist in Metallica, in Sweden on September 27, 1986.