I have a feeling
It's a feeling
I don't know why
It's just a mental,
But I adore you,
So strong for you,
Why go on stalling,
I am falling,
Love is calling,
Why be shy ?
Let's fall in love
Why shouldn't we fall in love
Our hearts are made of it,
Let's take a chance, why be afraid of it
Let's close our eyes
And make our own paradise
Little we know of it,
Still we can try to make a go of it
We might have been meant for each other
To be or not to be, let our hearts discover
Let's fall in love
Why shouldn't we fall in love
Now is the time for it, while we are young
Let's fall in love!
-- music Harold Arlen, words Ted Koehler
Max Steiner composed some exciting suspense music for The Big Sleep, Howard Hawks’s 1946 movie of Raymond Chandler’s novel. It is very effective, and so, in its way, is the swinging number Lauren Bacall and band perform at the casino run by racketeer Eddie Mars: And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine (music Stan Kenton and Charles Lawrence, lyrics Joe Greene). The lyric locates us in noir central: “She’s a real sad tomato, she’s a busted valentine.” But my favorite musical moment in The Big Sleep is subtle enough that you might not notice it the first time around. Bacall (as one of the notorious Sternwood sisters) and co-star Humphrey Bogart (as detective Philip Marlowe) are bantering in a restaurant. In the background, a piano player is playing two great jazz standards: I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan (music Arthur Schwartz, lyrics Howard Dietz) and Blue Room (music Richard Rodgers, lyrics Lorenz Hart). At first you might think that what you’re hearing is just tremendously appealing café music. Only later do you realize that the two songs themselves have captured, in a whimsical fashion, the structural meaning of the scene.
The Big Sleep will culminate in the image of two lighted cigarettes in an ashtray as the words THE END appear on the screen. It’s a fitting image for the romance of Bogart and Bacall, who like to smoke and drink and make witty repartee in a roadhouse café. The by-play between the two romantic leads is utterly charming, but it is also, for much of the picture, utterly incongruous because incompatible with the story-line. The movie needs them to be lovers, the audience expects them to flirt, to link, and to clinch, and this duly happens, but at considerable violence to the logic of the plot, which puts their characters on the opposite sides of a quarrel.
Though this duality may threaten the coherence of the picture, it makes the scenes between Bogart and Bacall doubly entertaining. The dialogue is full of double meanings and playful digressions. In the restaurant scene with the piano soundtrack, the two are nursing their drinks. They employ an extended racetrack metaphor to communicate their sexual interest. She: “Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first, see if they're front-runners or come from behind, find out what their hole-card is. What makes them run.” He invites her to take a stab at summing him up. “I’d say you don't like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.” He: “You don't like to be rated yourself.” She: “I haven't met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?” He: “Well, I can't tell till I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class, but I don't know how far you can go.” She: “A lot depends on who's in the saddle.”
The ostensible purpose of the encounter is for Bacall to pay Bogart off – to pay him for the work he has done and get him to drop the case. Thus: I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan. Once this plot requirement is out of the way, Bacall and Bogart get down to the real cinematic purpose of their being there: to tease and flirt and advance their budding romance. And now the piano player plays Blue Room, which idealizes the successful outcome of such a romance. Lorenz Hart’s lyric stars you and me and the prospect of our betrothal and a subsequent time ever after when “every day’s a holiday, because you’re married to me.” It’s a song second perhaps only to Tea for Two (music Vincent Youmans, words Irving Caesar) as an idealized fantasy of marriage so beautifully innocent it almost brings tears to your eyes.
The Big Sleep needs the two songs in the background, and not simply because they are in exact counterpoint to the course of the conversation between Bogart and Bacall. A soundtrack of popular songs by Rodgers and Hart, Schwartz and Dietz, Irving Berlin, and the other great masters of the thirty-two bar song is as necessary in noir movies of the 1940s as the city streets, the silhouette in the window, the Mickey disguised as a highball, and the night spots the characters frequent, from Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca (1942) to Eddie Mars’s casino in The Big Sleep, where beautiful costumed girls check Bogart’s coat, offer to sell him cigarettes, and vie for the privilege of delivering him a message.
Nor do the songs suffer from being relegated to background music, shorn of lyrics. The solo piano renditions of I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan and Blue Room insinuate themselves in your consciousness. If you don’t recognize them, fine; if you know them, so much the better. When you listen to an instrumental version of a song whose lyrics you know and like, what you’re hearing is a metonymy of the song: a part standing for the whole. The text is not altogether absent if you the listener can supply it. (When the septuagenarian Frank Sinatra went up on the lines of The Second Time Around the audience helpfully sang them). But to make my point about the interdependence of Hollywood films and popular songs, let me offer this montage:
-- -- What better way to convey the faithful consistency of “iron man” Lou Gehrig, the Yankee first baseman who long held the record for most consecutive games played, than with Irving Berlin’s song Always? In Pride of the Yankees (1942), the song does double duty as the musical affirmation of Gehrig’s loving fidelity to his wife, Eleanor, played by Teresa Wright.
-- Johnny Mercer’s lyric for Tangerine (music Victor Schertzinger) extols the charms of a vain and fickle Latin beauty. To the strains of this song, Barbara Stanwyck plays the ultimate femme fatale in Double Indemnity (1944), who conspires with insurance man Fred McMurray to eliminate her husband. In a flashback in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), the same song plays on the car radio when Stanwyck, playing a neurotic heiress this time, flaunts her father’s wealth to betray a friend and seduce Burt Lancaster. The great Jimmy Dorsey big band version of this song features Bob Eberle’s romantic solo followed by Helen O’Connell’s brassy satirical retort.
-- As David Raksin’s theme for Laura (1944) plays in the background, the homicide detective played by Dana Andrews becomes obsessed with the murder victim, a beautiful dame (Gene Tierney), whose picture hangs on the wall. Laura obligingly returns to life -- the corpse in the kitchen belonged to somebody else – and whenever in future we need to summon her up, we need only hum Raksin’s theme. Johnny Mercer added his lyric to the music months after the movie was released.-- To Have and Have Not (1944) is notable for being the first movie pairing Bogart and Bacall. It’s the one in which the foxy young actress seduces the hardened skeptic by teaching him how to whistle: “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” The song she “sings” in the movie’s nightclub scene is How Little We Know (music Hoagy Carmichael, lyrics Johnny Mercer). There are three things to keep in mind about the scene. 1) It is the composer who is playing the piano. 2) The song is an under-appreciated gem in the Carmichael – Mercer canon; I like it almost as much as Skylark. 3) It is said that the young Andy Williams enhanced the voice coming out of the throat of Lauren Bacall. (4) Jacqueline Bouvier loved the song, and during her junior year in Paris, she wrote out the bridge in English and in her own French translation for the benefit of one of her French hosts.
-- In The Clock (1945) office worker Judy Garland meets soldier Robert Walker on a two-day leave in New York City. At the moment they realize they are falling in love, the piano player in the restaurant is playing If I Had You (music Ted Shapiro, lyrics James Campbell and Reginald Connolly).
-- Somebody puts a coin in the jukebox in the diner and out comes I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me (music Jimmy McHugh, words Clarence Gaskill), triggering the recollected psychodrama in Edgar Ullmer’s strange reverie of an unreliable (unbelievable) narrator in Detour (1945). The movie is a paranoid masterpiece, and the very title of the song goes to the heart of its mystery. The viewer “can’t believe” the events he or she is witnessing, because the narrator is either delusional or a liar or both in some blend. The same song punctuates The Caine Mutiny, where it has a more conventional signification.
-- A drunken Fredric March still in uniform and his game wife Myrna Loy dance to Among My Souvenirs (music Horatio Nicholls, lyrics Edgar Leslie) on his first night back from the war in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Hoagy Carmichael tickles the ivories at the gin joint where the reunited couple have gone with their daughter (Teresa Wright) and returning airman Dana Andrews.
-- Rita Hayworth invites the American male in the form of tightlipped Glenn Ford to Put the Blame on Mame (music Doris Fisher, lyrics Alan Roberts) in Gilda (1946). In The Lady from Shanghai (1947), the same red-haired enchantress seduces Orson Welles and coyly sings Please Don’t Kiss Me (same songwriters), a phrase that says one thing and means its opposite. Given the way Hollywood films wink at one another, it’s no surprise that we hear an instrumental version of Put the Blame on Mame in the background when tough-guy Glenn Ford sets out to foil the killers in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953).
-- The radio reliably pours out love songs in keeping with the plot twists in Delmer Daves’s Dark Passage (1947). Humphrey Bogart plays an escaped convict with a new face who will escape to South America with Lauren Bacall if he can figure out who killed his pal and framed him for the murder. During the course of the movie we hear instrumentals of I Gotta a Right to Sing the Blues (music Harold Arlen, lyrics Ted Koehler), I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan (music Arthur Schwartz, lyrics Howard Dietz)\, and Someone to Watch Over Me (music George Gershwin, lyrics Ira Gershwin). “You like swing, I see,” says Bogart. “Yes, legitimate swing,” Bacall counters. When Dark Passage gets serious about the love story, we see a record spinning on Bacall’s record player and the golden voice of Jo Stafford sings Too Marvelous for Words (music Richard Whiting, lyrics Johnny Mercer) and legitimates the romance.
-- In Key Largo (1948), the fourth Bogart-Bacall movie on this list, Claire Trevor plays a washed-up night-club singer and full-time lush in the entourage of gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson). Trevor sings Moanin’ Low (music Ralph Rainger, lyrics Howard Dietz) a capella, her voice faltering, and when she finishes the torch song, says, “Can I have that drink now, Johnny?”
-- Manipulative Anne Baxter supplants Bette Davis as queen of the stage in All About Eve (1951), and the romantic Broadway ambiance of New York City is communicated in background instrumentals of all-star songs by Rodgers and Hart (Thou Swell, My Heart Stood Still), Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler (Stormy Weather), Arlen and Johnny Mercer (That Old Black Magic), and Ralph Freed and Burton Lane (How About You?).The last named begins, “I like New York in June.”
The use of Among My Souvenirs in The Best Years of Our Lives is exemplary. Edgar Leslie’s 1927 lyric communicates regret at the passing of time. Trinkets and tokens diligently collected and treasured offer some consolation but do nothing to stop the flow of tears. In the movie, when the U. S. army sergeant played by March comes home he brings souvenirs of the Pacific war as gifts for his teenage son. But like the knife in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Crusoe in England,” when it has become a souvenir on the shelf after Crusoe returns home from his island, the mementos of the global conflict have lost their meaning. They seem vaguely unreal, lifeless. In contrast, the photograph of his wife that a hung-over March looks at the next morning – another sort of souvenir – has all the meaning in the world for him. And Among My Souvenirs – played on the piano by Hoagy Carmichael, hummed in the shower by a drunken March, and heard as background music -- unifies the whole sequence and endows it with the rich pathos that make the song so durable a jazz standard. I recommend that you listen to Art Tatum play it on the piano or, if you can get your mitts on it, a recording of Sinatra and Crosby doing it as a duet on television in the 1950s.
-- A version of this essay appears in Boulevard, ed. Richard Burgin.
“In any great adventure, if you don’t want to lose…you won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews.” Eric Idle
This video clip is even better than the one I posted on Dean Martin 's birthday (June 7) of the famous reconciliation scene during the Jerry Lewis Telethon of 1976 twenty years after he and Dean Martin broke up their world-famous comedy act, with "Jer" playing the out of control overgrown teenager. and "Dino," nine years older, the straight man and Lothario. They had enjoyed a ten-year-run of movies and sold out appearances at the Copa and other such hot spots when they decided, like many a couple, that they had irreconcilable differences and couldn't endure another day in each other's company. The Telethon enounter, arranged by the Godfather, was the first time they saw or spoke to each other after twenty years of stony silence. Sinatra: "I think it's time, don't you?" [Imagine if you could reconcile two warring nations this way.]. Notice the cigarettes -- not as props but as part of the routine in several senses. The Dean-Jerry exchange is sweet: "So. . . how ya been? . . . There were all these rumors about our break-up and when I came out to do the show and you weren't here I knew they were true. . .So. . .ya workin'?" Dean, on why they broke up: "Because I was a Jew and you were a Dago." The phone number line is good, the duet with Dean and Sinatra is funny ("I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "Too Marvelous for Words"), and though Dean is not in the best voice, the sequence helps substantiate Jerry's assertion that he was the greatest straight man of all time. -- DL
On December 25, 1995, this is how they reported it on TV:
The composer Lewis Saul was prompted to write to us about the current movie release "A Late Quartet" and his reaction to the trailer. Lewis had earlier written about the Beethoven String Quartet in C Minor, the subject of the film and one of his most beloved pieces of music.
December 17, 2012:
I have not yet seen the entire film. Watching this trailer, I wonder how many of you -- trained musicians or not -- can tell that the actors are "faking" it? Does it bother you?
Obviously, good directors do everything they can to "shield" the audience from seeing this sort of thing -- but as a musician, and IN PARTICULAR -- as someone who considers this marvelous piece of music to be one of the most sublime compositions ever created by human spirit, I am hoping it won't ruin any part of the film for me!
With that in mind, I thought folks who have already seen the film might enjoy reading my post on this unbelievably potent and heavenly work. Or read my post, then go see the film.
I still cannot believe they made a movie about the Great Opus 131, and I can't wait to see it. Soap opera and everything."
Here's Lewis's original post from July 12, 2010: Op. 131:
No, that can't be right -- it just sounded nice! But it was like 39 or so -- and it was Paris -- a Montparnasse cafe in fact and it was raining lightly (probably) and I knew a poet (definitely) who expressed his unreserved enthusiasm for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Op. 125 -- particularly the final movement, the "Ode To Joy," where Beethoven unleashes all the forces at his disposal, including vocal soloists and chorus.
I tried to explain to this poet how Beethoven -- using only the simplest and most basic harmonic structure (think two-chord rock 'n roll) -- spins the earth around with powerful orchestration and unbelievablly brilliant variation in color and temperment ...
... but the best part was that this particular poet taught me the meaning of the German words which I had never really taken the trouble to learn.
Muß ein lieber vater wohnen means a lot more to me now thanks to this wonderful poet friend who turned me on to James Joyce, playfully informed me that Joan Miró was not a woman -- and had the good sense to bring Frank Zappa along as the soundtrack to our local hysteria ...
Much like his musical output as a whole, Beethoven’s 17 string quartets can be divided into three convenient periods: Early, Middle and Late.
Early: Opus 18, Nos. 1-6, all written between 1798-1800;
Middle: Opus 59, Nos. 1-3 (1805/6); Op. 74, the “Harp” (1809), and Op. 95 (1810);
Late: Op. 127, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135 (1823-26)
I cannot recall when I first heard a Late Beethoven quartet. It must have been my senior year of high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy, where my composition teacher had pointed me towards the microfiche machine and a few spools of microfilm which contained the Complete Works of Beethoven! How I used to pour over those beautiful scores, surfing the microfilm the way we do the net today -- carefully studying these (mostly) unfamiliar scores.
After thoroughly absorbing the Late Quartets, I began to feel a particular fondness and appreciation of Op. 131 -- not that the others are not equally brilliant and exciting, world-shaking music -- but 131 became a focal point for my idea about what it means to write for these four stringed instruments …
HOW I BECAME SUCH A HUGE AMADEUS FAN
I have 15 or 20 different recordings of the string quartets. The Amadeus Quartet recordings from the 1960’s -- recently reissued on CD -- are my favorites, by far!
I still have the original 10-LP DGG set and listen to it often, marveling at how much better analog vinyl sounds than squeezy-thin dynamic range and contrast CDs. I’ve never heard better performances -- particular the Late Quartets.
Unlike most quartets with a famous name, who routinely replace departing players (“Juilliard,” “Tokyo,” “Turtle Island”), The Amadeus Quartet had always agreed that “ … if any member could no longer play, for whatever reason, the Quartet would not continue” -- and when Peter Schidlof, the violist, died in 1987, The Amadeus Quartet disbanded.
I had the good fortune to hear the Tokyo Quartet play this here in Tucson in April of 2008. My review of that performance is here.
HOW FIVE BECAME SIX AND OTHER DETAILS
Op. 133 (“Grosse Fuge”) was originally the last movement of Op. 130. Shockingly, Beethoven listened to reason and his publisher and agreed to replace the mammoth movement with a light dance movement (one of the very last things he ever wrote!), which now stands as the Finale to Op. 130.
Op. 133 was published separately -- although more and more quartets today are playing this as the Finale of Op. 130, a strange historic reconstruction …
What makes these late quartets so special?
First of all, if you are familiar with the Ninth (Op. 125) and/or the Missa Solemnis (Op. 123) or the Diabelli Variations (Op. 120), you already know that his style and perhaps even his fundamental musical language had changed dramatically from his output of the previous decade or so.
But the string quartet being the intimate, ultimate form for any composer (true today, methinx), Beethoven seems to have deliberately set out to not only “change” music -- but to revolutionize it!
Briefly, the other Late Quartets:
Op. 127 (Eb Major). The “Eroica” (or “heroic”) key! The quartet begins with massed tonics (seven or eight notes played by four) going to dominant seventh chords in -- respectively -- second and third inversions -- all leading to a quick transition to a delightful, slippery Allegro trip in ¾ time, which ends simply. The second movement is an astonishing series of variations on a simple, rising theme in Ab Major. The notes become blacker and blacker (faster rhythms) as the movement progresses, modulating to E Major a few times, before a beautiful ending; simplicity itself. The third movement (“Scherzando vivace”) is the usual jocular Beethoven, but in this Late period, the joke is a bit bizarre and otherworldly -- particularly in the Trio, which sweeps by like a witch on a broomstick. The Finale is a regular rondo-type 4th movement -- but the theme has a very bizarre (“Late”) element to it -- the Ab changing to an A-natural after two repetitions:
Op. 130 (Bb Major). Not only did Beethoven search out new sounds and explore novel harmonic territory, but he obviously felt constrained by the typical four-movement form (Op. 127, for example). Here he burst forth with six separate movements!
I. Adagio - Allegro. A wonderful example of beginning with a fairly typical sonata-form type of exposition and quickly changing key and mood (there are some major seventh chords in this section which are astonishingly beautiful for 1826 or anytime!)
II. Presto. A thrilling fun ride. Beethoven screws with your head as he jumps from duple to triple meter;
III. Andante. Gradually increases in intensity until it fairly busts apart at the end!
IV. Alla danza tedesca. A light joyful dance -- four voices in perfect balance;
V. Cavatina -- Adagio. This short movement is rightfully proclaimed a mini-masterpiece. The middle section (Beklemmt [“anguished”]) is positively 20th-century sounding!
VI. Finale. A bouncy happy replacement for what used to be a massive double-fugue (see below).
Op. 132 (A Minor). Beethoven makes do with only five movements in this soul-shaking masterpiece. That he opens with a low G# (the “leading tone” to A, the tonic) on the cello was in itself a revolutionary thing to do -- but Beethoven pushes the form to its limits in these quartets. Here -- as in 130 and many other late, and even early and middle works -- he moves back and forth between slow and fast. A Minor is a “dark” key -- and he ends the movement with the first violin sawing back and forth on the same E on two different strings. The second movement (A Major, ¾) also begins on a G#! The trio uses the first violin’s A string to make a bagpipes-type sound. Then follows the famous “Lydian” hymn of thanksgiving, a march and a dazzling ¾ Allegro appasionato to close things out.
Op. 133 (Bb Major). This massive double-fugue which must be heard to be believed. There is a massive amount of ink, virtual and real, spilled over this masterpiece. One of my favorites is here.
Op. 135 (F Major). Famously, Beethoven “prefaced” the music with actual musical notation (which does not appear in the actual work itself) from a goofy canon he had written several months earlier. (Beethoven wrote many such canons. Some are very funny.)
OPUS 131 in C# Minor (39:17)
1. Adagio, ma non troppo e molto espressivo -- attacca: (6:58)
2. Allegro molto vivace -- attacca: (3:05)
3. Allegro moderato -- attacca: (0:56)
4. Andante, ma non troppo e molto cantabile -- Andante moderato e lusinghiero -- Adagio -- Allegretto -- Adagio, ma non troppo e semplice -- Allegretto (14:17)
5. Presto -- Molto poco adagio -- attacca: (5:27)
6. Adagio quasi un poco andante -- attacca: (2:04)
7. Allegro (6:30)
No one had ever written a string quartet in seven movements before!
The word “attacca” means that the players proceed directly to the next movement without pause. Therefore, a listener with no program might conclude that the piece is in two very long movements! (The only pause occurs after the fourth movement).
In fact, the quartet is really in five moments -- Nos. 3 and 6 are really just short introductions to Nos. 4 and 7, respectively.
1. Adagio, ma non troppo e molto espressivo -- attacca: (6:58)
A fugue of unsurpassed beauty, intensity, majesty -- and of course, inventiveness! The first violin (notation above) opens with the dominant note (G#) which lands on the leading tone (B#), followed by the tonic (C#).
The fourth note (the first beat of the second full bar) dips down to the submediant (A) and is held for three beats -- almost like a divine sigh -- before it continues on its way towards the second entry in the second violin, played a fifth lower. The texture thickens magnificently as the viola enters back in the tonic and the cello follows, again a fifth lower. With much typical fugal imitation, the music continues along, moved steadily by the quarter-note pulse, surging towards something.
Using an enharmonic (D#/Eb), he modulates to six flats; nine bars later to G# Minor (eighth-notes are introduced), and then to A Major, where we then encounter the First and Second violins in a delicious duet:
Beethoven immediately repeats the octave skip, but a half-step higher, as he moves to D Major for the
2. Allegro molto vivace -- attacca: (3:05)
second movement -- a delightful romp in 6/8. Beethoven at first holds back a bit with a fermata and ritard, but eventually the quartet shouts out a slippery bit of off-beat sforzandi in unison much of the time -- until the music simply dies away …
3. Allegro moderato -- attacca: (0:56)
This quick transitional movement features a wonderful run in the first violin:
and ends on a nice loud dominant chord.
4. Andante, ma non troppo e molto cantabile -- Andante moderato e lusinghiero -- Adagio -- Allegretto -- Adagio, ma non troppo e semplice -- Allegretto (14:17)
This massive theme and variations begins with a theme which speaks to simplicity itself. There is barely anything to it.
I’ve worked at The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts since at least last Wednesday.
If you get that joke, then you’ve probably been to The Bookstore where you’ve probably met owner Matthew Tannenbaum. Matt’s been in the book business for a little while now. He recounts the beginning of his career as a bookman in the chapbook-sized My Years at the Gotham Book Mart with Frances Steloff, Proprietor (on sale during business hours; come on in). He’s working on a longer memoir, so I won’t, nor for reasons of plausible deniability do I particularly want to, divulge the details—which are wild, heartbreaking, historic—suffice it to say that The Bookstore came into his care during the nation’s bicentennial year and, despite claims to the contrary, he’s been serving the people of Lenox and the greater community ever since.
The Bookstore is a New England City Lights: a thriving counterculture symbol not simply because of Matt’s connection to banned-book champion Steloff nor solely because of his own place in that continuum (e.g. the poster trumpeting Matt’s reading of Kerouac’s Dr. Sax with Michael Gizzi and Clark Coolidge, the photo of him shaking hands with Vaclav Havel) but precisely because it’s a shop stocked by a man who knows that reading a book, whether the pulpiest mass market, the most surreal love poetry, or the humblest picture book, can reveal in any person of any age limitless reservoirs of imagination, of wonder, of hope. In the E-Age, selling print books is about as countercultural an activity as you can engage in in these United States.
That’s one of the reasons, but not the only, that puts me in my car 2 ½ hours ’round-trip three days a week. On one of those three days, I usually get a compliment on the store’s selection, which has been cultivated by Matt through nearly four decades of his own literary love affairs—but is also the result of a bookman having a deep and ongoing conversation with his community. Because he loves to hear what people love to read, whether they’re old friends or new acquaintances, they in turn allow Matt to suggest books they might not otherwise consider, enlarging their own point of view. It’s buoying to observe and it happens all the time.
If you’ve read Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day, you might have seen Matt’s name before. This contemporary epic of motherhood and community was written on December 22, 1978 at 100 Main Street in Lenox, down the street and around the corner from The Bookstore. Almost everything in Lenox is down the street and around the corner. Matt appears a couple of times, but the most notable occurs near the end of Part III, on page 53 of the latest New Directions paperback (NDP876). On the preceding page, standing in the health food store, the question comes: “You think something like a book will change the world, don’t you?” The answer, in the next line: “I do, I take pleasure in taking the milk with the most cream”. A few lines later brings us to this wonderful decision:
Let’s go in to the bookstore to see Matthew Tannenbaum
The dream figure of the boy-father-mother who turns into
The recalcitrant bookseller as we do
I look over the shoulder
Of a girl flipping through the pages of a book of women’s faces
All beauties, bigger than life, black and white
Scavullo on Beauty
You study poetry and read magazines upstairs
Let me tell you
The titles of all the current books:
The Suicide Cult, The Ends of Power,
The Origin of the Brunists, Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
War and Remembrance, The Winds of War, The Dogs of War, Dog Soldiers,
Mommie Dearest, My Moby Dick, My Mother Myself, By Myself, Uncle,
Mortal Friends, Nappy Edges, Tender Miracles,
Song of Solomon, Delta of Venus, The Women’s Room,
Ladies Man, Six Men, The Water-Method Man, Watership Down,
The Night People, Shepherds of the Night, A Dream Journey,
Daniel Martin, Delmore Schwartz, Edith Wharton,
Time and Again, Better Times Than These, Centennial,
The Professor of Desire, The Honorable Schoolboy,
Heart Beat, The Third Mind, Jack’s Book,
Beasts, The Magus, The Flounder, The Fabricator,
Words of Advice, Secrets and Surprises, Dispatches,
Prelude to Terror, Full Disclosure, Final Payments,
The World of Damon Runyon, The Stories of John Cheever,
Someone Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, Praxis,
The Annotated Shakespeare, The Last Best Hope
There are lots of beautiful things about this passage. There is no more “upstairs”—it’s now a slightly elevated section of the store with our children’s books. We don’t sell magazines; you can find a selection at Loeb’s Food Town next door, as well as newspapers. You can, however, still come and study poetry, as we’ve got an entire wall of it in the adjacent Get Lit Wine Bar, where I bartend on Friday nights, sometimes Thursday mornings.
It’s also a delightful snapshot of the publishing world in the late 1970s. One title in particular stands out: My Moby Dick by William Humphrey, a romp about a colossal trout and the fanatical angler out to hook him. It’s out of print, and we recently tracked down a used copy for someone. The Lenox connection is significant: Melville wrote Moby-Dick not but a few miles from The Bookstore at Arrowhead, on the Lenox-Pittsfield line. I pass by it every day on the way to work.
In my own decade-long career as a bookman, I’ve worked at various Borders and Barnes & Noble locations. I was the textbook manager at the Yale Bookstore. For a number of years, I was a manager at another great independent, the Northshire Bookstore, in Manchester Center, Vermont. I’ve worked for and with great people who have enriched my literary vocabulary, often in ways I never would’ve predicted. I’ve also worked for and with people who, in the end of the day, could’ve been selling hemorrhoid cream for all they cared, so long as you bought something from them.
The Bookstore is different.
Every once in a while, I’ll get a customer who, rather wistfully, goes on about how great it would be to own a bookstore. I try not to disabuse them. Those reveries of lounging around, talking literature the live-long are quickly erased when you have to deal with the day-to-day operations of unpacking, stocking, ordering, organizing the store. It never ends. But since we’re working with books, it’s a joy, and occasionally, moreso than any other bookstore I’ve worked at, we do get a chance to kick back and talk. About books, yes, but also about life. That is, after all, where the books comes from. It helps when Bookstore friends like Alice Brock, Bill Corbett, Harry Mathews, or Geoff Young stop in to say hello.
Anyone drawn to this blog is probably aware that the publishing industry is in—O clichéd phrase—a state of flux. We talk about this from time to time at The Bookstore. The conclusion we always come to is to keep doing what we’re doing, which is: to stock the best books, new and old, by the best writers from a variety of eras and styles and let great readers come find us. And they do. Every day.
Anyway, it’s too late to stop now. We don’t have every book ever printed available in the store for you to purchase. No one does, not even Amazon. But we do have a lot of great books, and there’s a good chance a few of those great books you’ve never heard of. So, like I said, come on in. I think of The Bookstore as like Ruthie in her honky-tonk lagoon.
We may not always have what you need, but we definitely have what you want.
* We always have lots of readings at The Bookstore, but one that Best American Poetry readers might be interested in is Peter Gizzi and Bernadette Mayer, Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Posted by Michael Schiavo on November 12, 2012 at 02:57 PM in Art, Book Stores, Collaborations, Dylan Watch, Food and Drink, Guest Bloggers, History, Music, Poetry Readings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: Banned Books, Bernadette Mayer, Bookstores, Gotham Book Mart, Guest Blogger, Lenox, Matthew Tannenbaum, Michael Gizzi, Michael Schiavo, Peter Gizzi, Poetry, The Bookstore, The Bookstore in Lenox
Head on over to Coldfront where since July 2011, Jackie Clark has been curating the brilliant "Song of the Week" series. Clark invites contributors to write a short piece about a favorite song, any song, and you might be surprised by the choices. David Lehman kicks things off for what will be a sequence of BAP bloggers. Can you guess David's song from his opening lines?:
I remember the first time I heard it. Jo Stafford sang it in Dark Passage, a late 1940s black-and-white movie in which you don’t see the face of the hero, a prison escapee who had been framed for murder, until a risk-taking surgeon reconstructs his visage and Humphrey Bogart emerges from the bandages.
What would be your song of the week?
When I was young, it seemed logical to me that the most virtuosic performances should be the “best” music, and most worthy of my appreciation. As my tastes ran more toward classic rock than toward classical music, I was particularly an advocate of Led Zeppelin’s most fiery guitar and drum solos, or their more complex picking patterns in songs like “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Black Mountain Side”.
As I grew older, however, I began to sense deep flaws in this way of thinking, as it privileged a proposition about music over the actual aesthetic experience of music. As I began to ponder this distinction, I noticed more and more how much I could be moved by the most simple of songs.
Don’t get me wrong; I still love Led Zeppelin! But I now love realms of music that at one point seemed illogical for me to appreciate. The same goes for visual art and literature. I have grown into an attention to and profound love of the aesthetic experience of art, rather than allowing myself to be led by rationalistic a priori notions of what forms the most powerful art “should” take. I believe that only after experiencing a work of art should one attempt to identify the objective features that create the possibility of a powerful aesthetic experience. In this way, the aesthetic experience is neither entirely subjective nor entirely objective, but subjectivity and objectivity coexist—indeed, must coexist—in the aesthetic experience.
Federico García Lorca examines that mysterious quality in art (for him, most particularly in dance, music, and poetry) that lends it power to transport an audience. He calls this duende, a dark force of the earth, something other than the “muse” or the “angel,” rising from the mortal center of the artist rather than arriving from without, and many other things besides. Lorca gives an example of an old flamenco dancer at a competition:
Years ago, an eighty-year-old woman won first prize at a dance contest in Jerez de la Frontera. She was competing against beautiful women and young girls with waists supple as water, but all she did was raise her arms, throw back her head, and stamp her foot on the floor. In that gathering of muses and angels--beautiful forms and beautiful smiles--who could have won but for her moribund duende, sweeping the ground with its wings of rusty knives. -from "Play and Theory of the Duende"
She gives an utterly simple, unadorned performance—hardly even worthy to be called a dance. But her performance is so impassioned, so full of the acknowledgment of death, so full of duende, that she is awarded first prize, over all the ornate performances of her young and beautiful competitors. This is part of what I’m getting at when I talk about the experience of a work of art. The superficial features one might expect beforehand to produce a powerful aesthetic experience are not reliably the ones that actually do produce the greatest effect. It is not perfect execution or virtuosity that is the most profound aspect of art, but rather its ability to evoke the heart of the human condition, to allow us to transcend the bounds of time and mortality for a moment through the unwavering insistence on those limits. This is a mysterious power that we can experience in two arenas: art and spirituality. At heart, I suspect that these two practices are, or can be, one and the same.
This mortal passion that takes simple artistic forms has an amazing ability to endure, to retain its power to move the reader or viewer or listener, no matter how many times the work of art is revisited. This is not to say that virtuosic art or more traditionally “beautiful” art doesn’t have this same power—think of Keats’ Grecian urn: “When old age shall this generation waste, / Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe / Than ours, a friend to man…”—but it is suprising to speak of simple art this way because it seems counterintuitive to think that utter simplicity should remain powerful over time. The simple, unadorned poem or song is the most easily remembered, but because of its simplicity we might assume that its aesthetic effect would diminish over time, while more complex art would offer new layers of meaning and beauty to the searching subject. But often expressions of the most fundamental aspects of the human condition depend for their effect not on elaboration or adornment, but the opposite.
This is why, in the visual arts, I’ve grown to love Mark Rothko, whose best work is minimalistic, and yet strikes the viewer as perfect in the sense of being complete, final. In music, the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is a particular favorite of mine. For the same reasons, much Eastern poetry is among the work I most cherish. In the space of a handful of syllables, a poem can resonate as deeply as—dare I say it?—an epic poem by Dante or Milton. Buson writes:
The moth alights
on the one-ton temple bell.
On a branch
a cricket, singing.
Li Po writes:
The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and I,
until only the mountain remains.
We are the mirror and the face in it.
We are tasting the taste this minute
of eternity. We are pain
and what cures pain, both.
We are the sweet cold water
and the jar that pours.
The Toa te Ching, in Stephen Mitchell’s sublime translation, reads:
Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
Simplicity: a door opening on the depths, a rung toward the heavens.
"Long Ago and Far Away": music Jerome Kern, lyrics Ira Gershwin:
Dear Mrs. Erenstoft,
You are the first person I know to celebrate a 100th birthday. I'd like to mark the occasion by sharing a few thoughts.
Until 1991, when I read Molly Katz’s book, JEWISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE, I thought you invented the phrase “little sweater.” The first time I came over after school in first grade, you gave us a snack before we headed outside to play. “Take a little sweater,” you told Inez. Then, every school day morning when I picked her up, you, in your ‘space shoes’ and short sleeve bathrobe, made sure that after she finished ALL her cereal with banana and brushed ALL her teeth, she had “a little sweater.” Once I became an adopted daughter and was at your house all the time, you made sure I had one, too. Sweet. Except in 9th grade when Inez and I wanted bids from Phi Epsilon and went to their sorority barbeque. You came running over after the party was underway and told the sorority girl who answered the door, “Inez and Nancy forgot these and will need them.” And you handed her two little sweaters. We got bids, anyway and did not accept (We were not sorority girls. We just wanted the invitations), but that night we were utterly mortified.
Oh Mrs. Erenstoft, it’s my nature to poke fun. I loved 95 North Drive. You left us lots of fresh fruit and cookies and your freezer was full of ice cream sandwiches and parfaits. More important, you left us alone. Whether we were in your finished rec room putting on puppet shows, in Inez’s room playing dress-ups and telling stories, or in the living room singing along with a new Broadway show LP, we had space to just be.
You had your own space. I saw that. If you weren’t on the phone or cooking, you were arranging, coming and going—in your pretty matching skirt and sweater outfits—to bridge, a meeting, a luncheon or a concert with Mrs. Fishman, Mrs. Bikoff and your zillion other friends. You had a fun life with the girls and a huge, fun one with Inez’s dad.
I never called Dr. Erenstoft ‘Sam,’ or you ‘Janet’ but Inez and I had a hoot substituting your names when we’d sing SOME ENCHANTED EVENING. My parents, too, burst into SAM AND JANET EVENING when they picked me up at your house and when we played SOUTH PACIFIC on our stereo at home.
I recently asked Inez for your longevity secrets. Here’s what she said: you eat three meals a day, have never been overweight, eat dinner early, do not nosh, do not complain, walk every day, love music, do volunteer work, play bridge, have lots of interests and tons of friends, get to where you have to go early, and have many places to go. She also said you have always loved your routine and didn’t like to deviate from it. Brava to that, particularly not kvetching and loving your routine.
From knowing you since you were only 41, I’d also say you like yourself, have been engaged in whatever you were doing, and gave and received much love. As Robert Frost wrote, “. . .and that made all the difference.”
You made a difference in my life. You gave me my first friend. A fun one, too. When she visited me a few years ago, we walked up Park Avenue backwards in the snow like we did to PS #66 over a half a century ago. I’ve gotten over the years of hearing “Inez is pretty and Nancy’s good in math”* and then Inez having the boyfriends while I still had the hang of math, and Inez spending summers at camp in the boathouse with her boyfriends while I spent mine saving drowning victims in junior life saving.** Until boys mucked it up, Inez and I laughed about everything. We’re back to that again.
Finally, remember your housekeeper, Bertha, who weighed well over 200 pounds? Remember Mary Martin flying on television as Peter Pan? Remember that beautiful rattan chair in your basement? And how badly it got broken? And how angry you got? Remember Inez saying she broke it? She DIDN'T. It was my idea to get Bertha from the laundry room, put her on the chair, tie a rope around her neck, and the rope to the ceiling to see if, like Mary Martin’s Peter, she could fly. We got as far as dragging her onto the chair. It broke. When you came home and hollered, Inez didn’t tell you that we tried to get Bertha to fly or that I’d come up with that scheme. She took the rap, saying she broke the chair.
I am sorry for my part in that mess. Sorry, too, that Bertha couldn’t fly.
Other than the Bertha episode, it went and still goes well. My spirit soared in your basement. All over your house.
Thank you for that and for being a great role model. Here's to you at 100. Stick with your routines. Take a little sweater. It’s a SAM AND JANET EVENING. When I think of you, I sing.
*I haven’t gotten over Inez being the pretty one, but that’s okay. It’s material.
**I didn’t save anyone in life saving. I flunked twice.
words by Hub Atwood
music by Carroll Coats
arrangement by Nelson Riddle
vocals & collage by Tony Rizzi
Sinatra sings it on "A Swingin' Affair." When they dropped "The Lady is a Tramp" from the album (because of the release of "Pal Joey" in which he sings it), this was the song that they substituted. They. -- DL
--Wandrers Nachtlied (1780)
Over the hills
Comes the quiet.
Across the treetops
No breeze blows.
Not a sound: even the small
Birds in the woods
Just wait: soon you
Will be quiet, too.
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.