Friday, February 20, 2009

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Eastside Road, Healdsburg, February 20, 2009

OVER ON HIS BLOG Renewable Music, Daniel Wolf writes
Not writing enough (i.e. almost no) songs. Why? A terrific fear of words (sounds, meanings of words, appropriate scansion, emphasis) and not being, myself, a singer.

In his fascinating (though to me unsatisfyingly negligent about the walking itself) memoir As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning , Laurie Lee describes an evening in a peasant's hovel, when he broke out his violin — he was walking across Spain in 1935 with only his violin to support him — and played for his hosts. At first they listened in silence; then, we he played a "woozy fandango" he's picked up a few days earlier in Zamora, they came to life, the man and wife dancing savagely and powerfully, the two boys picking up spoons to accentuate the rhythm.
The sons asked me for another tune, and this time they danced together, with linked arms, rather sedate and formal. The daughter came quietly and sat on the floor beside me, watching my fingers as I played. the scent of her nearness swam troublesomely around me with a mixture of pig’s lard and sharp clean lavender.
The girl was asked to sing, and she did as she was told, in a flat unaffected voice. The songs were simple and moving, and probably local, anyway, I’ve never heard them since. She sang them innocently, without art, taking breath like a child, often in the middle of a word. Staring blankly before her, without movement or expression, she simply went through each one, the stopped -- as though she’d really no idea what the songs were about, only that they were using her to be heard.
With the singing over, we sat in silence for a while, hearing only the trembling sound of the lamp. Then the woman grunted and spoke, and the boys got up from the table and fetched the mattresses and laid them down by the wall.

This, I think, is what song should be, artless and spontaneous. Of course it's impossible to achieve in a salon or a concert hall, and impossible to compose. But when we attempt to compose it this is the thing to strive for. It's what I like in Ives and Scelsi.
Laurie Lee: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

(New York: W.W. Norton, 1985, pp. 63-64)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Crisis and community

Eastside Road, Healdsburg, February 17, 2009

ONE THING ABOUT THE DEPRESSION, it may force us away from extreme individualism back toward a semblance of communitarianism.

From "Sowing For Apocalypse: the Quest for a Global Seed Bank" by John Seabrook (in Seed Savers Exchange, 2007 Harvest Edition):
I asked how his cancers had influenced his work in saving seeds. [Cary] Fowler replied, "The first one, I didn't handle it very gracefully. I was scared. Really scared. And the reason I was scared was that I hadn't done anything — I hadn't contributed constructively to society. And that was frightening."
From This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (taken from the Project Gutenberg online edition):
Amory, even had he not been a selfish man, would have started all
inquiries with himself. He was his own best example--sitting in the
rain, a human creature of sex and pride, foiled by chance and his own
temperament of the balm of love and children, preserved to help in
building up the living consciousness of the race.
In self-reproach and loneliness and disillusion he came to the entrance
of the labyrinth.


Of Amory's attempted sacrifice had been born merely the full realization
of his disillusion, but of Monsignor's funeral was born the romantic
elf who was to enter the labyrinth with him. He found something that he
wanted, had always wanted and always would want--not to be admired, as
he had feared; not to be loved, as he had made himself believe; but to
be necessary to people, to be indispensable; he remembered the sense of
security he had found in Burne.
Life opened up in one of its amazing bursts of radiance and Amory
suddenly and permanently rejected an old epigram that had been playing
listlessly in his mind: "Very few things matter and nothing matters very
On the contrary, Amory felt an immense desire to give people a sense of


"I am selfish," he thought.

"This is not a quality that will change when I 'see human suffering' or
'lose my parents' or 'help others.'

"This selfishness is not only part of me. It is the most living part.

"It is by somehow transcending rather than by avoiding that selfishness
that I can bring poise and balance into my life.

"There is no virtue of unselfishness that I cannot use. I can make
sacrifices, be charitable, give to a friend, endure for a friend, lay
down my life for a friend--all because these things may be the best
possible expression of myself; yet I have not one drop of the milk of
human kindness."

OR, AS MY COUSIN Hazel once pointed out to me, there are only two things that really matter: Generosity and Gratitude. Neither works in the absence of the other; together, they make everything work.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sinfonia Muta

Eastside Road, Healdsburg, February 4, 2009


I POST THIS SONG here, not because it's particularly important, but because I hope thereby to get back in touch with the author of the poem, Nicu Lutan, who we met in a restaurant in Milan where he was waiting tables.

An engaging fellow, Nicu is anything but reticent. He saw to it that I had a broadsheet celebrating him and his poetry and, most of all it seemed, his connection to famous people. But I found him genuinely likable. And the more I looked at one of his short poems the more I liked it:
il silenzio sta
come un orco enorme
pronto ad ingoiarmi
non gli do retta
e lo strangolo
col mio canto d'amore per te
which my computer helpfully translates as
Hush it is like a orco enormous ready to swallow to me I do not take notice to it and I strangle it with my song of love for you
(I don't know why computer doesn't know that orco means "ogre, bogeyman".)

Well: Enjoying a grappa after dinner I sketched out a little musical setting of the piece on the table-paper. I left it for him, taking this photo with me. I've looked him up and found him here, but the e-mail link on the web page doesn't work any more. If anyone runs across him, will you put him in touch with me please?