• 1 •
I'm looking forward to a great concert tonight with the Chicago Composers Orchestra. The group sounds terrific and is such a crucial thing to have in this city. Congratulations to everyone involved with putting it together and keeping it going. (This being a full orchestra, that's a lot of people!)
• 2 •
On a totally unrelated note, and I'm a couple years behind in my praise here, but Of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? is the most recent in the series of pop albums that come along in my life every so often and cast the whole pursuit in a fresh and exciting new light. And I'm not just talking about the song titles, with which I am hopelessly enamored, e.g. "Gronlandic Edit."
The record's normative M.O. involves efficient three-minute pop tunes with tons of musical/productional brilliance stretched across concise lyrical conceptions. But in the centerpiece, the 12-minute "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal," the approach is turned on its head. Here the musical continuum is astonishingly consistent, is basically the canvas, and the forward temporal element comes from a rush of lyrical ideas.
He begins like this: "The past is a grotesque animal and in its eyes you see how completely wrong you can be."
And moves through this: "I'm flunking out, I'm flunking out, I'm gone, I'm just gone, but at least I author my own disaster."
And this: "Sometimes I wonder if you're mythologizing me like I do you," among other things,
Before ending here: "None of our secrets are physical now."
• 3 •
I also reread The Great Gatsby to begin 2011; the universe kept mentioning it to me and I decided it was time. I'm floored with how deftly Fitzgerald handles the past. The book is all about the past, but you don't even realize it for most of the text. Until the end when the lyrical ideas increase in density and frequency, this just remains implicit in the way the characters comport themselves.
The message I suppose is that the past is gone, though it's not that simple or stark, so pithy summary isn't that informative. The messier poetic truths the whole novel gives us are much more useful.
Throughout there are so many little and big metaphors of things disappearing--the glow of afternoon light in a living room, a radiant look on someone's face. Most notably it's the heat of summer, which wraps around most of the events and especially the climactic day of the story. The characters don't realize the "cooling twilight," their autumnal moment, is coming until it's already emphatically arrived. And I guess the tragedy lies in that lack of recognition.
"He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was..."
And a page later:
"Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something--an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man's, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever."
• 4 •
Because I can't end on a note like that, I'll head back to Kevin Barnes' lyrics.
"I spent the winter with my nose buried in a book while trying to restructure my character, 'cause it had become vile to its creator. And through many dreadful nights I lay praying to a saint that nobody has heard of and waiting for some high times to come again."
On the last page of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald wonders if in the European's first encounter with the American continent he stood "face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder." In little ways we experience that rush of newness and possibility when we set our eyes on a new place, a fresh idea... when we imagine a saint... when I hear an album that really surprises me.
Here's to a new year in which we'll seek elusive rhythms not just in the past, but in the continents that remain unexplored--if not to humanity as a whole, then to each of us personally. May our modest new experiences always be sufficient to satisfy our capacity for wonder.
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts