If you think I'm the kind of guy who only enjoys translations of what Joe Cocker is laboriously squeezing out of his head while high, think again. My brow has its high side too. I remember when I was a tot, the Beatles' breakup caused me no upset, because Beethoven was my musical main man. I based this, of course, on solidly musical concerns, not (for instance) on the repeated Beethoven references in “Peanuts”, of which I was a slavish devotee; or the idea that nothing really popular could be good (although, then, what was I doing reading “Peanuts”? It must have been for the angst.); or on the fact that liking Beethoven was and remains the quick and easy route to musical snobbery. All of these things, I'm sure, brewed up in my contrarian child's soul, but the fact of the matter is I did (and do) like Beethoven. And my parents had, through luck or design, managed to acquire some first-rate performances and recordings, which I proceeded to grind into dust on their inferior playback equipment. If you asked me to name a favorite musical experience, this one would be near the top, even after all these years: me and my dad making a big bowl of popcorn, turning down the lights, and listening to Rudolf Serkin wail his European way through the Moonlight, Pathetique, and Appassionata sonatas of old Ludwig van, on a much-abused Columbia 6-eye; the radio dial of the stereo our only illumination. Truly lost in the sound, beauty and popcorn alone sustaining us, a forty-five minute step away from the world.
I was thinking about this the other day when I pulled an ancient yet well preserved copy of Walter Gieseking playing the Moonlight and Pathetique, from a cardboard box at the Goodwill. Ninety-nine cents later, it was mine, along with a few others at the same price, thick cardboard and stout vinyl, all mono. I had bested iTunes yet again.
And the sound-- I put it on while cooking dinner, and suffice it to say we had a late dinner. I kept rushing back into the living room, saying out loud “This sounds really good”. Gieseking was hitting on all ten fingers, and the recording just sang-- old enough to probably be done direct to disc, no editing or not much; a true performance, not a tape collage. I don't begrudge people their iPods stuffed with ten thousand songs-- we are busy people, hanging on by a thread, grabbing art sustenance anywhere we have the time-- but when has anyone been struck on their iPod not just by the beauty of the music, but the beauty of the sound? There is something to be said for not taking your music with you, for (at least once in a while) going to your music. The water at the oasis will always be sweeter than the water in your canteen. I had to finish grilling the fish and making a salad, but I kept coming back in at every stage, hungrily absorbing the contents of the disc. And every time I did so, I got a faint buttery taste of popcorn in my mouth.