“Bohemian Rhapsody”: A Rhapsody

The year is 1977–maybe late October or November. I’m eight years old, having dinner in a pizzeria with my immigrant family in Blairstown, New Jersey–Dominick’s, I think it was. Suddenly, the stereo system at Dominick’s pipes out the unforgettable bass-snare drum beat of the latest hit on the radio:

BOOM BOOM Clap

BOOM BOOM Clap

BOOM BOOM Clap

BOOM BOOM Clap

Buddy you’re a boy make a big noise
Playin’ in the street gonna be a big man some day
You got
Mud on yo’ face
Big disgrace
Kickin’ your can all over the place

Everyone in Dominick’s but us–maybe two dozen Warren County rednecks–starts stomping their feet and clapping their hands in time to the music. Somebody yells out, “Fuckin Yankees!” (The Yankees had won the World Series that year.) And then, two dozen voices in unison, between bites of Jersey Neapolitan pizza, sing in commemoration of the Yankees’ victory over the Dodgers, and anything else that comes to mind:

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Malcolm Young (1953-2017), RIP

“A real entertainer, a mischief maker, lover of no fixed abode…”

I never thought, at the age of twelve (when I first discovered AC/DC), that I’d be reading Malcolm Young’s obituaries in the mainstream press. And yet, here they are: Rolling Stone, NPR, The Los Angeles TimesCBS News, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Guitar World. Angus Young, on behalf of the band.

Never has one man done so much, so many times, with so few chords.  Continue reading

AC/WTF in Lisbon: A Requiem Mass

I don’t understand this. I will never understand this. I try to come to terms with it, but words fail me. In my grief, I can only call upon the words of others, wiser than me.

“Mysteries like these can no man penetrate…”
–Voltaire, from “Poeme sur le desastre de Lisbonne,” on the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

“Oh Voltaire! Oh humanity! Oh idiocy!”
–Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, II.35

“You been…thunderstruck!”
–AC/DC

It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll. A long way down, too.

Postscript, May 9, 2016: OK, Axl/DC is starting to grow on me in a weird-ass musical Frankenstein’s monster guilty-pleasure sort of way. I mean, it could have been worse, but then, it could have been better (cf. Lizzy Hale).

Letter from a Chevalier to a Lady of No Quality

Dear Lady Who Was Sitting in the Middle of Row E at the Polish Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra’s All-Beethoven Concert, Enlow Recital Hall, Kean University, Hillside, New Jersey, February 6, 2016, between 7:30 and 9:30 pm:

I think it’s really cool that you brought your three young children to an orchestral performance, I really do. Audiences for classical music are starting to dwindle nowadays, and if classical music is to survive, it needs the support of the younger generation–like your three delightful little children.

But still, I would like to point out to you that

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B.B King is Gone: RIP

Though I’ve been to B.B. King’s Bar & Grill maybe a half dozen times, I regret to say that I never managed to see B.B. King perform there. I don’t even own a single album of his (embarrassingly, I’ve spent years borrowing B.B. King CDs from the public library). But no one can pick up an electric guitar wanting to play the blues (or blues-oriented rock) without somehow doing so in B.B. King’s shadow. I think I can say from first-hand experience that his style was much imitated, but never quite equaled (or in my case, approximated).

He died last night in his sleep at the age of 89. I’ll put more obits in this space as I get the chance. Here’s a nice tribute, with links, via Chris Sciabarra’s “Notablog.”

Stop coughing, stop texting, and shut up: toward a new ethic of concert-going

I’ve got aesthetics on the brain, which is usually what happens when I’ve got a lot of grading to do. Also known as self-distraction

Anyway, here’s an article at the website of WQXR-FM on the violinist Kyung Wha Chung’s recent performance in London, with some ill-tempered comments by yours truly, weighing in on the much-discussed “coughing child controversy.” It’s really just an anti-concert-audiences-today rant, one of my favorite subjects, whether I’m discussing rock or classical audiences. My comment is posted at 4:25 pm, under “Irfan Khawaja from Lodi, New Jersey.”

Happily, the Decorum Martinets seem to be out-commenting the Narcissistic Entitlement Defenders in this conversation. Some of my favorite comments include those of LAP from New Jersey, Glenn, Peter from Rosedale (on Andres Segovia), ilyatrakht, Reindeer Games, CastaDiva from New York, Dariv, Prevum Cor from Mexico City, and Ramona Perez Finkelman from Nyack. But it’s heartening to see lots of others.

We shall overcome.

Late Afternoon Thoughts on Listening to Mozart’s Requiem

I’ve been attending the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York for about twenty years now, and spent Friday night at its penultimate performance of the season–Bach’s “St. John’s Passion,” Frank Martin’s “Polyptyqe,” and Mozart’s Requiem. Here’s a nice write up. A few random thoughts:

1. The festival is financially supported by a long list of corporate and private donors, and by The New York State Council on the Arts. A real, rather than rhetorical question: is state funding really financially necessary to put on the Mostly Mozart Festival? Or is it there so that, for political reasons, the imprimatur and funding of the state is implicated in the festival, in order to create an inextricable link between state funding and otherwise private artistic performance?

2. The Bach and the Mozart were, of course, traditionally tonal; the Martin piece, composed in 1973, was dodecaphonic, or twelve-tonal–interesting, but certainly harder to listen to. The Martin piece was played by the violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaya, who performed it barefoot, in a rather odd-looking (but not at all unpleasant) dress, reminding me, in her performance style, of a cross between AC/DC’s Angus Young and Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Elizabeth in the 1994 film version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  (I mean that as a compliment on both counts).

little-superJumbo

The enjoyable result was a bit like listening to contemporary classical religious music performed by a crazed shred metal guitarist–a first for me.

I suppose it’s one of my idiosyncratic obsessions, but I couldn’t help reflecting, even in my enjoyment of the concert, on the inadequacies and missed opportunities of Ayn Rand’s writings on aesthetics. Nothing in Rand’s Romantic Manifesto prepares one for an experience of the kind I had at the concert, and a great deal in the book militates against it.  What is one to make of a book on aesthetics that offers a theory of music but makes no reference either to Bach or Mozart? And however unconventional one might find Frank Martin’s music, it (and music like it) surely deserved more engagement than Rand’s dismissive, moralistic rhetoric in that book would suggest. I realize that there’s recently been some interesting revisionary work on Rand’s aesthetics, and I’m the first person to say that her Romantic Manifesto contains some brilliant ideas (along with the fatuous ones). But on the whole, I’m inclined to think that Rand’s aesthetic writings are a dreary, joyless, and depressing affair, which detract at least as much from aesthetic experience as they contribute to it–something I often find myself thinking in the midst of novel-but-enjoyable aesthetic experiences like the one I just had. I wonder whether others influenced by Rand’s writings have had similar reactions.

3. A parting thought: as I watched the chorus and soloists make their way through Mozart’s Requiem, I couldn’t shake the thought that they all looked like children: they looked the way children do when performing on stage for the first time, beaming rapturously and ingenuously at the audience, engrossed in the performance, but thoroughly enjoying the attention being lavished on them–with the difference that these children had the musical skills of phenomenally talented adult professionals. I also can’t help thinking that a scene like that is part of what makes life worth living–and, I guess, part of what will supply the inspiration I’ll need to teach the six course load I have this semester. Classes start Wednesday.