The other night in Ann Arbor, it was cold enough that crossing the two-lane street from the concert hall to the hotel seemed polar-arduous, and I ended up not going out on the town, but sheltering in the hotel bar, gathering my thoughts for a talk on the music of Leon Kirchner the next day. The bartender graciously made me an unusual Cosmopolitan, and I had my nerdy but cute (Apple, of course) laptop out on the bar, and a copy of Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, and a score of Kirchner's Sonata No. 2, and a notebook, and all in all I thought I did a pretty good job of showing that I was working. No, no, I'm not lonely, I'm just working here at the bar with a drink. This was the message I hoped I was projecting.
However, fate. A woman a mere stumble away down the bar seemed to feel I needed company, and when her companion would head to the bathroom (which happened strangely often) she would come over and chat me up. She was at the concert; she said how much she enjoyed it; she was a friendly Japanese woman who evidently knew a great many people who knew a great many musicians, and Lord! how I tried through subtle and gracious body language to indicate that I was not feeling terribly chatty! but her radar was not receiving on my frequencies. Her accent was a bit heavy (perhaps ever so slightly drink-induced, as I also was inducing drink) and though I would be reading studiously, triple-dipping into my books and notebooks, she would come up and start in like this:
... well my nephew who is 14 he has piano lessons and I was at a festival in Europe in Switzerland, you know, and my friend who took me knows the conductor who used to be there and so we went backstage and were talking and I met someone there and he was saying hello and he played Beethoven and...
Wow. My eyes, which had been previously delving into a complex score of Kirchner, and my brain, which had just survived a two hour concert including a very rhythmically challenging work of Meyer ($@#$*#$!, don't tell Edgar I said that): both of these glazed and lost focus, like a donut wilting in the sun. I would smile and grammar itself (if not its logical underpinnings) seemed to flee and leave me flailing for utterable phonemes. I had my hand still on my score, as if to declare I belonged there, in the land of my studies and my notes, but she drew me ever further into her land which was like no land I had ever visited, an Eastern and yet still Dickensian world of strange coincidences, and people who know people from other lives, and conductors who love cookies.
I don't want to offend any readers of Think Denk or put anyone off from saying hello after concerts and whatnot, but I hope it will not shock you if I say that occasionally someone launches into a story backstage and I find my mind wandering, for whatever reason. Call it artist fatigue, if you will; a casualty of circumstance. Often you are so preoccupied with what you &*()@#$ed up during the concert that you have trouble concentrating on the people before you. But I cannot say, in this case, that I was bored or lost interest; what she said was so Joycean in its manifold twists and turns and streams of association that I was actually flabbergasted and simply intellectually at a loss. And when her friend came back she would go back to her segment of the bar, and I would be left with my brilliant computer file, a miracle of productivity, consisting of:
Leon Kirchner's Music
And these generic, hopeful but pathetic words now seemed stripped of even the possibility of meaning, rotating as they were in the vortex of the narrative the woman had left behind. And may I remind you, reader, that the woman came back several times, in installments if you will, resuming the story which seemed unresumable, like the Scheherezade of Michigan, telling and retelling, always leaving a dangling thread...
Finally, I had finished my drink and my cheese plate. Crumbs were delicately and casually spread over my scores and books. It was nearly time to go. My file had slightly grown. At that moment, a third party, who apparently worked at the hotel, came to speak to the woman and her friend, and the following dialogue ensued:
Hotel Woman: Hey.
Japanese Woman and Friend: Hey.
Hotel Woman: Were you at the show tonight?
Japanese Woman: Yes.
Hotel Woman: How was it?
Japanese Woman: It was really good.
Hotel Woman: Well, how did it compare to Spamalot?
Japanese Woman: Well...
Friend: I mean that's not fair...
Hotel Woman: Nothing can really compare to Spamalot.
Japanese Woman and Friend: Right.
I stared at my now empty cocktail glass and at the relics of literature and "high art" scattered about me. They too seemed insulted, demeaned; the beautiful moment where Leon quotes Pierrot Lunaire in the Sonata No. 2, allowing it to emerge from the Viennese waltz, was open on the bar, and it sulked, knowing itself unrecognized ... And I shudder to imagine what Saul's novel was thinking! People have the power to compare anything, even the incomparable. I know Greg Sandow is going to come down hard on me for being an elitist fool, deaf to the decline of our way-of-thinking, but I had felt somehow (with no offense to the many good, presumably well-intentioned, people who have worked on the show) in my heart that Beethoven Op. 96, at least, if nothing else, could be seen by most people as objectively "better" than Spamalot. I saw Spamalot in St. Louis and should never have sat in the balcony because I considered throwing myself off several times. But, Spamalot lovers, I understand that there must be differences of taste, and in these matters there can be no dispute blah blah blah etcetera etcetera, and as I packed up my things and headed up to my room I tried to draw a whole moral from the evening but perhaps I would just lie down .... zzzz ...