Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Month of Music, Day 5

“I am,” I told her, “excessively busy. So don’t even bother asking me to be in my blog today….”

“What!” cried Lady. “I don’t want to be in your stupid blog. And you’re no more busy than usual!”

“Well, it feels like I am,” I told her. “After all, I’m personally in charge, now, of some 400 years of musical history, and what happens if I flub it up?”

“Is there any reason to think you might?”

“I feel that I have to do something about the Grosse Fugue, and that has me completely stopped.”

“And what’s wrong with the Grosse Fugue?”

“Well, you know that Beethoven went deaf, right?”

“Well, we all know that!”

“So the deafer he got, the weirder his music got. And finally, he wrote a string quartet, and one of the movements was this fugue. And since the internet is shunning this table, I can’t get the full story, but it went something like this: everybody hated it. So Beethoven wrote another movement, to replace, and that was nice. But then he turned around and published the fugue as a stand alone piece. And now, most people who play the quartet use the original, with the fugue. But you also very frequently hear the fugue all by itself. So it’s definitely a Catch-22.”

“Is it that bad?”

“Frankly, yes. It’s extremely dissonant, extremely complex, and—unfortunately—an absolute masterpiece. It’s a sort of musical psychosis. It’s something that only Hannibal Lector could like. It is, in fact, absolutely fascinating, in a thoroughly repellent way. Music for Auschwitz? This would be the top hit!”

“Well, skip it, then….”

“I’m considering it,” I told her. “And then again, some part of me needs to incorporate it. After all, not all music needs to be beautiful, as odd as that sounds. And the Grosse Fugue is sort of like a hurricane, but instead of rain, you have razor blades. Or maybe it’s what a string quartet would sound like, if you replaced the instrument with jackals.”

“Wonderful,” said Lady. “Wow—this blog post will set the world on fire….”

“Well, I just listened to it again,” I told her. “And the good news is that it’s only fifteen minutes.”

“And the bad news?”

“It feels like fifteen hours….”

“It can’t be that bad…”

“I should probably listen to it once a day for a month or so, and then I’d get it,” I told her. “Here’s the deal. A regular fugue will have one theme, which will be passed around like a Frisbee among the players. But when the player doesn’t have the theme—or the Frisbee—then he or she plays some music that is related to the theme. But Beethoven decided to go one better—which is why he created a double fugue. So now we have two fugues going on at the same time.”

“Oh, dear….”

“It’s easy to understand if you listen to Ernst Toch’s Geographical Fugue,” I told her. “And of course you’ll never hear the word ‘Trinidad’ without smiling. Anyway, the fugue, and especially a double fugue, is really cerebral music. And even though we think of Beethoven as a passionate composer, he was quite cerebral in his way. As well, of course, as psychopathic….”

“Still don’t think you should include it,” said Lady. “Who needs ugly music?”

“It was an ugly time of my life,” I told her. “Remember? Maybe pain is a kind of fugue. After all, the same themes kept recurring, day after day and week after week. I was lying in bed, and dreading the moment when I had to turn. Or I was taking pain medicines—though never, thank God, opiates—and feeling a slight bit of relief. Each day was essentially the same, with only minor variations.”

“I remember seeing you during those days,” said Lady. “You looked haunted, and you moved like an old man. You could tell how much it hurt….”

“It was the endless repetition,” I told her. “Do you remember how Santana was feeding me papaya smoothies? He had just taken over the café, and I could see in his face the worry. So I kept on coming into the café, and he must have known that I was a regular. So each day, he’d make me a smoothie, which I didn’t much like. But there it was—if it really could help, who was I to say no? Oh, and most of the time he didn’t charge me.”

“Well, what went around came around,” said Lady. “Because now the café is packed….”

“The worst day came,” I told her, “at pretty much the end of the experience. Because even though I didn’t need surgery, well, I wasn’t sure. I knew that if the pain continued, somebody at some point would suggest it. And of course, if it’s a choice between constant pain and getting relief through surgery, I’d have to do it. So one day Craig came in, and said something like, ‘Well, they tell me you’re going to have surgery,’ and I lost it. So there I was, sobbing in the Sala Poética and that’s when David found me….”

David—a guy from Mexico who is, in fact, stuck in Mexico. And nobody knows when he will get out or get back. But there he was, and there I was, and suddenly I was sobbing in his arms and telling him my entire life story.

All right—not the entire story. Just, in fact, the painful stuff, which in the mood I was in was pretty much everything.

“Pain is so exhausting,” said Lady.

“So I’m sobbing away, and telling David that my whole life has been pain, pain, pain and nothing but pain, pain pain. And it started when I was a kid…”

“Well, at least you didn’t go back to harsh fetal environments,” said Lady. “Or did you?”

“I was a weird kid, and most it was because I was gay. Except that I didn’t know I was gay, because nobody talked about being gay. So it was confusing. And then I hated sports but loved music, so I got to be a cellist. And then that got all cocked up, because I had a big issue with one of my teachers….”

“Dear me, you were going far back.”

“I had a unified theory of my life, which actually was very simple. The theme, it turned out, was pain, since that’s what I encountered at every turn. So I was explaining that to David, and crying, and lying on David’s lap—as much as a 6 foot three inch man can lie in a five foot something guy’s lap. But it didn’t much matter,  because I was completely incoherent, and all David could do was sit there and stroke my head. Oh, and say, ‘yes, yes,’ or ‘no, no,’ or whatever it was he said.”

“Oh dear….”

“OK—so it wasn’t quite in the job description, but at least Nico came by and saw that I was in complete meltdown. Which was nice, since David was supposed to be making the little houses for you to paint. But there I was, so what could Nico or David do? And then, of course, I progressed into my college years, and guess what?”

“Let me guess,” said Lady, “it wouldn’t—just possibly—involve more pain?”

“You’re startlingly perceptive,” I told her. “One might even say sagacious. Yes, I detailed all of the pain, the loneliness, the uncertainty of coming out in the early to mid 70’s. I did everything but tell him about hanging out in the sixth floor men’s room of Memorial Library….”

“Is this information I really need to have?”

“Well, I’m sobbing away, and then I start to shake, and I realize that I’m starting a panic attack. So that’s just wonderful, since I now have covered absolutely every angle. Physically, I’m a complete wreck. Emotionally, I’m in a total free fall. Socially…”

“So then this beautiful little kid comes in—you know, the one who thought he was straight, but everybody knew he was gay?”

“Well, we didn’t really know,” said Lady. “Although nobody would have fainted away with surprise if it had turned out that he was. And whatever happened to him, by the way? Did he go into the Marines after all?”

“Well, we never saw him again, after that day. Which somehow doesn’t surprise me. Anyway, David turned me over to the beautiful gay / non-gay guy, and that was just terrific, since I was in a full-blown panic, and could tell the new guy all about my life, from the beginning! And by the way, did I mention….”

“Pain,” said Lady. “Yes, perhaps you did….”

“So we’re back to my childhood days, and the beautiful man is stroking me just like David. And though David is OK-looking…”

“Dear me,” said Lady, “and you were lying on the couches in the Sala?”

“Nothing happened,” I told her. “It isn’t that kind of a story. But then, guess what?”

“The beautiful man had to go into the Marines?”

“Or somewhere. So I’m still crying and explaining to people that my life—have I told you this?”

“And this was in working hours?”

“Of course! Look—what do people expect in a poetry work area? Normal, well-adjusted people? Of course not. You know, what Jill Johnston used to call nice normal fucked-up people. Poets, in short….”

“So what happened?”

“Well, the Marine or the pre-Marine or maybe the proto-Marine had somewhere else to go, and it was at that point that I decided I was hungry. So since the neo-Marine was clearly about to bolt, I went into the café, and asked for Santana. And he, bless his heart, knew just what to do!”

“Let me guess…”

“Yup, he put me at the very back of the café, where I was away from anyone else. And then he gave me the smoothie with about three tablespoons of sugar in it.”

“Wonderful,” said Lady, “a sugar-fueled emotional breakdown.”

“Oh, and he offered to drive me to the hospital, if I needed it. Which I probably did, but certainly didn’t want. Anyway, I ate and my sugar rebounded, and then guess what?”

“This story cannot go on….”

“It does. Because now my stomach erupted, which wasn’t surprising, since I hadn’t taken my acid reducer. So I’m in a panic, my blood sugar is iffy, my stomach is revolting—in every sense of the word—and I have to go to the pharmacy. But how can I? Remember the panic attack? Remember that I’m crying and shaking? So then I realize: I need Klonopin! And that’s when I look around, and I see Carlos!”

Carlos—the pirate poet. When the poetry is slow, he dresses up as a pirate, and gets people to give him money in exchange for a photo. And this money-making enterprise attracted the evil and small mind of a ranger up at the fort. So Carlos got arrested, and ended up in the hoosegow, still clad in his pirate outfit. It completely startled all of the drunks….

Anyway, Carlos and I head for the pharmacy, where we can get the acid reducer but not the Klonopin. So that’s when I decided to take Benadryl, instead, to see if it would at least make me sleepy.

“And did it?”

“Sort of,” I told her. “At least it took the edge off the panic. Anyway…”


“The Beethoven stays.”

After all, it was exactly how I felt that day….