Monday, December 2, 2019

Glenn Gould and the sacred gift of silence

A musician so outrageously gifted that he worshiped silence, listening to the notes as if small, restless friends. 

He shied from human contact yet always embraced Bach.
 Head-flung-back ecstasy

Genius does not go unpunished. There were the obvious eccentricities, the quirky cadences, the sotto voce, preternatural humming that came as a prayer to gods others could never know.

Weighted with awareness

Always alone, even with people, communing with that music of dark space wherein you risk deafness by the awful beauty of solitude. So Canadian: it is the distance between us that pulls the soul upwards.

You can see it in the hunched back, weighed with awareness, in the hands that were always beautiful white wings, and the head-flung-back ecstasy as music holds him as a lost lover.

Glenn Gould, when in the deep trance of talent, gave us whatever music always meant to reminded us of.
The awful beauty of solitude

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Brigitte Bardot: The Attraction of Detachment

Brigitte Bardot had a talent for beauty.  But it wasn’t the ridiculously perfect face of Catherine Deneuve. Or the seductive, interwoven curves of Raquel Welch. Bardot’s beauty was never cheekbone-dependent.

Indeed, she had an attitude that somehow forced her appearance to the wings, an insouciance that made her surprisingly relevant to the 1960s, where her sex-symbol sisters seemed increasingly absurd. It was a rebel streak, not a come-hither. The slight overbite. The updo cascade of blondeness. And a detachment that didn’t stop with the people in her room, but included everyone.

Bardot. Picasso. Beauty. Beast.
You just knew she was going to handle this film gig like last night’s lover, with a soft adieu and a pout and then out the door; that she didn’t care about character nuance or plot development.

It was her pilgrim spirit, an easy laughter than had more to with exits than entrances. You followed her into the next scene just to see if she showed up.

And then she left. No facelifts. No excuses. Seeking the 60s sunshine all golden over Cote d'Azur, alone with animals and others without guile.

What to make of her oeuvre? All the insubstantial films. The wasted time. Doesn't matter. She's not listening, caring as much about them as she does for you, held somewhere between a Gallic shrug and a seductive playfulness that comes so easily to those with no past.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Brian Jones: Born Under a Bad Sign

“Yes I want to be famous, and no, I don’t want to live till 30.”  - Brian Jones

Brian Jones, the founder – and the best musician – of ever-popular The Rolling Stones - didn’t know how to handle fame. He was destroyed by popularity. The more fame Brian gathered, the more drugs he ingested, until...
Jones: Leader of the Pack

He gave The Rolling Stones its name, booked its early gigs, made up set lists, led the way in its rebellious attitude and style – and was fired by the other members.

With his beautiful, angelic golden pageboy haircut, his dandy suits, his just-above-a-whisper voice, his obvious fragility, who would have known he sired and abandoned eight children and beat women?

He wanted The Rolling Stones to remain as a rhythm & blues band, not a rock n’ roll group, and battled the others to control the artistic vision. He was ignored. In a brief time, The Rolling Stones became known as the world’s greatest rock band.

Brian Jones was the first international pop star to embrace – what became known as – world music with his production of the record Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka. Released in 1971, it failed to sell. World music went on to explode in the 1980s.

He met and lived with actress/model Anita Pallenberg. (It’s been said she was the only woman he ever loved). She left him for Keith Richards whom she left for Mick Jagger, kind of…
Two J's: soon gone

He was the only Stone to appear on a Beatles song, performing a great, meandering sax solo for You Know My Name (Look Up the Number). He also played on Baby You’re a Rich Man. He never received credit.

When he died, he owed debts amounting to over 200,000 pounds – which was finally cleared in 1982. Today, his sister receives about $21,000 annually in royalties. Sir Mick Jagger is worth about$360-million dollars.

Jones: The coolest Stone of all
It’s likely that he was drowned in his pool by a handyman whom he had just fired. Due to Brian’s lifestyle, the suspicion was never pursued.

He was the first big rock star to be admitted into the ’27 Club’, followed by the three J’s - Jimi, Janis and Jim.

Appropriately, the sad soundtrack of Brian Jones’ life is his beloved Blues:

Born under a bad sign
Been down since I could crawl
If it wasn't for bad luck
You know I wouldn't have no luck at all

-       - Albert King

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Sam Cooke: We’re talking Faith

It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die
Cause I don't know what's up there, beyond the sky
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come
- Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke: He was perfect
He came from the church. Listen to the Soul Stirrers. But hold on. Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe never made to American Band Stand. Sam Cooke (1931-1964) did. 

It was always about Faith – in himself, in his talent, in the Lord that first heard his voice. You can’t fake faith. It’s immune to fraud. He must have known that Faith = Magic = Soul. And Sam Cooke had soul.

Artistic truthfulness is tricky. It can’t be rehearsed.  Sinatra – no slouch on straight talk – said, “When I sing, I believe… I’m honest. If you want to get an audience with you, there’s only one way. You have to reach out to them with total honesty and humility.”
Wonderful World

Somehow, nudged by a holy ghost, Sam Cooke brought the Church to pop radio.

So even when he sang an ostensible teen-sell-out ditty, like Havin' a Party, it somehow had that pixie dust of faith sprinkled everywhere.  Same thing with Wonderful World.  There’s a warmth, perhaps a background sadness to his work, where other artists raised double-tracked, chrome-plated paeans to youth’s transitory glory.

A change gonna come
Voice. Looks. Moves. Songs. He was perfect for his chosen profession, as if bespoke by an unstable though perceptive Entertainment God. To end it all drunk and naked,  bleeding to death on the floor of a midnight hotel, a bullet in the chest – to end it that way, to lose the Glory, to let the Faith slither through his hands with warm blood – it just wasn’t possible. Sam Cooke was never, ever to die that way at 33 years old. Justifiable homicide?

So he returned to where it all began, beyond the sky.

If there is indeed a Heavenly Choir, it sounds a lot like Sam Cooke.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Truman Capote: The Most Perfect Writer

Norman Mailer called Truman Capote “the most perfect writer of my generation.” Perhaps he was. The simplicity of his prose is deceiving. Like Hemingway, there often seems to be another tale - one of greater importance – hidden behind the one you’re reading.  Such a skill cannot be learned. It flows from the deepest realms of the soul and often, it seems, bespeaks trouble.

Truman Capote at his peak 
Capote termed his great work, In Cold Blood, a non-fiction novel.  In my many ways, his life followed the precepts of this genre: fact was hidden as fiction, and fiction was presented as fact. In the end, no amount of drugs and alcohol could meld the fact/fiction parallax, and grief became too severe.
Party (and host) of the Century

He said: “No one will ever know what In Cold Blood took out of me. It scraped me right down to the marrow of my bones. It nearly killed me. I think, in a way, it did kill me.”

Perhaps his greatest creation really was the Party of the Century. For the event, such as it was, came forth from Capote’s imagination, passion, and ambition.  Never before had there been anything like it. It’s as if The Party was a living, danse macabre of his psyche.

And after it ended and the last guests left, he was forever spent.

He was spent forever
Capote filled the ensuing years with sad, public displays of debauchery and rare, incomplete offerings of former brilliance, his talent eroded by pills, sophomoric disputes, mendacity, and disappointments.

The strange story of Truman Capote certainly wasn’t written by him. There’s an unimaginative coarseness to his declining years; a too-obvious narrative not found in his words; a hopeless, drunken weave toward darkness that engenders cliché. No, whoever wrote it has no talent at all.