Tuesday, March 9, 2010


There had been a mysterious voice, and nature was all mixed up with art, as in the combination of the Brooklyn Museum and the Botanic Garden. Paintings taking me into memories, some of them deadly dark, as in the horror in Gorky and the danger in Hobbema, and some of them filled with hope, as in the beauty in Hobemma and Manet and Matisse and Claude de Loraine and Bellini.

Other people I now knew who were, like me, on the hunt for their true histories talked of how music brought them every closer to what they needed to know and to who and what they really were. To me it was sights more than sounds, at the start anyway, but there was music too. Since that morning in February when Bonnie and I had spent the night at my place and then headed up to the Met and she passed me her Walkman on the E train that we were taking to connect with the 6 and it was as if I had always had music, though music had been no more part of the world I first came from then was art.

Now I bought a Walkman of my own – happy that the people I had come from would no more go in public with ear phones on than they would do the sorts of things I had done in parts of the world, Borneo and Chad, that they, though well traveled, would never want to see.

And now I went from having music only in certain stretches to having music all the time.

I had so rarely even had simple equipment for playing music. I would forget music, then plunge in and rush to catch up, as in the mid-sixties when suddenly I was mixing Bob Dylan, Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavor, Pete Seeger, Dionne Warwick. Long periods when in transit and abroad with no music, then these other periods working hard to catch up, as in the days I was on a Washington project and walked over from grim foggy bottom to the Kennedy center, an oasis in a wasteland, and always found a single ticket available. Or when I was living, strangely, on the far side if Hong Kong island, staring out past mostly deserted smaller islands and into oriental infinity, and decided I was in love with a girl I had met on a recent sojourn over in the Philippines. That time it was Paul Williams, her favorite, and Carole King, whom I had almost missed, and Carly Simon – and later my catching up sank even to a Captain and a Tennille. Even as it went to Ray Charles, and Johnny Cash, and Crosby Stills and Nash and into Robert Flack, each of these just a few years after everyone else knew them. I thought now of the girl who had been in Manila. It was just four years since we headed into the abortion, two years since we had the divorce.

And now I was wandering around with a regular person’s Walkman. Sometimes I would take it up to the roof of my building, sometimes war it while wandering the streets, and often I had it on – earphones and no helmet – my shooting around Manhattan in the early morning, or speeding downhill on Second fast enough to catch the changing lights – riding all over Manhattan and parts Brooklyn on my new Raleigh bike with earphones but no helmet.

This time at the start, with my first Walkman, I began with Mozart and Haydn, aware that I had no more clear idea about either of them than I had had about Piero della Francesca before I entered art this year. I made a stab at Beethoven, whom I thought would be a link the past I was exploring, Beethoven whom I had played over and over on my small blue portable LP player from the time I was 15 until I mysteriously lost interest at 17.

Right now I needed not the grandeur of Beethoven but the delicacy of Mozart.

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