He would be the first to admit that he hated most things avant-garde particularly when it applied to either art or music. It was simply a matter of being in the moment, and he knew you could not be ahead of time for there was only the moment in which you were in.
It wasn’t until I hit middle age, which on my scale will allow me to live past 100, that I discovered that cats are Celtic deep in their hearts. Our cat, she who adopted me and forced her then owner to marry me, like it or not, was in love with the tin whistle and the uilleann pipes playing had her in my lap, unmoving. But she had her Buddhist side as well, sitting zazen for hours, longer if accompanied by shakuhachi flutes. She said that cats were discerning, were connoisseurs of music loved cello, viola and violin but barely tolerated the bass. It was why, she said, all the great composers wrote for the higher strings. And, she would add, as for dogs, well they loved country music most, reason enough for pity.
It’s jazz, it’s a club, but there what once was is no more, there are no ashtrays on the table, overflowing early into the second set, no cloud of cigarette smoke descending from the too dark ceiling. There is no recognizable odor of a freshly lit Gaulloise, in the trembling fingers of a young man trying to look cool, trying not to cough on each inhalation, in the calm fingers of a young woman who you know speaks the fluent French of her homeland. It is none of those things but it is jazz, it is a club and in this city, now, it must suffice.
He says he has always hated classical music, and would rather listen to nails dragged across a chalkboard. He has been out of school for many years so I suspect he no longer realizes what nails on a chalkboard really sounds like, how even opera, which I can’t tolerate, would be preferable. He rattles off a list of composers he despises, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, and on and on the list goes, and I have to conclude his distaste for the music is sincere and deep. Still I ask if there is nothing he will accept, if not like, but which will fall short of detest. He pauses a minute in thought, then smiles, and says he does have two guilty pleasures. He admits he will listen to classical music, but only as Beethoven did after he went deaf in 1816, or failing that, he’d welcome John Cage’s 4:33.
It is hard, looking back, to recall just how many hours I spent searching with a fair amount of diligence for just the right song to express my love. Most often I would find it, but only after that love had been replaced by another, demanding a new song — you cannot use the same song for two different loves, that crosses well over into tacky. I have to admit I’ve given up totally on that quest, even as the number of available songs has grown exponentially, or so the various streaming services suggest. I have only a single lover now, have for twenty years, and as her hearing has slipped away it is her lips that read mine, and that is all the song we need.
They brought him myrrh on a flaming salver and all he could do was say “This is something I would expect from a butcher or a carpenter, and the camera angles would never work, so bring me napalm or punji stakes that we have proven to work.” They brought him ripe oranges and the sweet meat of the pineapple, its juice dripping from his chin, and all he could do was tighten his grip on the AK-47 and dream of night on the edge of the jungle. They brought him Rodin, Matisse, Rembrant van Rijn, and Blake, but all he would see was Bosch and Goya, and then only by the light of fading candles. They brought him the String Quartet in A Major played on Strads and Guarnaris, but he wanted the retort of the howitzer the crump of the mortar, the screams of the child. They brought him his child wrapped in bandages missing fingers and toes, and all he wanted was the nursery, a newborn in swaddling, suckling her breast as he stroked her head and remembered the moment of her creation.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)
My uncle and I would sneak away from the seemingly endless party, no one wanted to attend and couldn’t leave. We go up to my room and turn on the radio. He’d want to look for the Senators game, but they’d left town and no radio could pull in Minneapolis anyway, but despite Killebrew, Arbitron sealed their fate and this was Yankees country as well. I try to pull in C H U M from across the lake. It played music the local DJs wouldn’t touch, in which never found their constrictive playlists, provided by dad’s pal, the local rack jobber come self-assumed all label A&R man. Still, Mel would listen with me until he was missed then try and sneak back to the party, while I listen Don into the night, hearing songs I have to hunt for at the record store, for one thing I knew was that it didn’t have a section marked Canadian Content Rule.
Three beers over two hours
and, giddy, I want to sing
along with the Irish house band
in my horribly off key voice,
just two choruses
of Irish Rover or Four Green Fields.
It’s beginning to snow outside
and it’s a four-block walk
to the Government Center station.
I suppose it would sober me up
but a couple of more songs
couldn’t hurt, I’ve got two hours
before the last train and we can
walk across the campus
through the tunnels
once we’re back in Cambridge.
I probably should have gone
with Coors or Bud Lite
but Guinness is, all said,
a meal in a glass.
I would stand now,
but my knees seem
comatose, so let’s sing
to Auld Robbie, a verse or two
of Scots Wa Hae, it’s damn
near Irish anyway
and from this seat
in the Black Rose
Cambridge is a world away.
First Published in Celt at Aberffraw (Wales, UK) 2000