Monday, December 28, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
For my brothers Carl and [Johann] Beethoven.
Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me. You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you. From childhood on, my heart and soul have been full of the tender feeling of goodwill, and I was even inclined to accomplish great things. But, think that for six years now I have been hopelessly afflicted, made worse by senseless physicians, from year to year deceived with hopes of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be impossible). Though born with a fiery, active temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was soon compelled to isolate myself, to live life alone. If at times I tried to forget all this, oh how harshly was I flung back by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing. Yet it was impossible for me to say to people, "Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf." Ah, how could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection, a perfection such as few in my profession enjoy or ever have enjoyed. - Oh I cannot do it; therefore forgive me when you see me draw back when I would have gladly mingled with you. My misfortune is doubly painful to me because I am bound to be misunderstood; for me there can be no relaxation with my fellow men, no refined conversations, no mutual exchange of ideas. I must live almost alone, like one who has been banished; I can mix with society only as much as true necessity demands. If I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me, and I fear being exposed to the danger that my condition might be noticed. Thus it has been during the last six months which I have spent in the country. By ordering me to spare my hearing as much as possible, my intelligent doctor almost fell in with my own present frame of mind, though sometimes I ran counter to it by yielding to my desire for companionship. But what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone standing next to me heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended me life - it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me. So I endured this wretched existence - truly wretched for so susceptible a body, which can be thrown by a sudden change from the best condition to the very worst. - Patience, they say, is what I must now choose for my guide, and I have done so - I hope my determination will remain firm to endure until it pleases the inexorable Parcae to break the thread. Perhaps I shall get better, perhaps not; I am ready. - Forced to become a philosopher already in my twenty-eighth year, - oh it is not easy, and for the artist much more difficult than for anyone else. - Divine One, thou seest my inmost soul thou knowest that therein dwells the love of mankind and the desire to do good. - Oh fellow men, when at some point you read this, consider then that you have done me an injustice; someone who has had misfortune man console himself to find a similar case to his, who despite all the limitations of Nature nevertheless did everything within his powers to become accepted among worthy artists and men. - You, my brothers Carl and [Johann], as soon as I am dead, if Dr. Schmid is still alive, ask him in my name to describe my malady, and attach this written documentation to his account of my illness so that so far as it possible at least the world may become reconciled to me after my death. - At the same time, I declare you two to be the heirs to my small fortune (if so it can be called); divide it fairly; bear with and help each other. What injury you have done me you know was long ago forgiven. To you, brother Carl, I give special thanks for the attachment you have shown me of late. It is my wish that you may have a better and freer life than I have had. Recommend virtue to your children; it alone, not money, can make them happy. I speak from experience; this was what upheld me in time of misery. Thanks to it and to my art, I did not end my life by suicide - Farewell and love each other - I thank all my friends, particularly Prince Lichnowsky and Professor Schmid - I would like the instruments from Prince L. to be preserved by one of you, but not to be the cause of strife between you, and as soon as they can serve you a better purpose, then sell them. How happy I shall be if can still be helpful to you in my grave - so be it. - With joy I hasten towards death. - If it comes before I have had the chance to develop all my artistic capacities, it will still be coming too soon despite my harsh fate, and I should probably wish it later - yet even so I should be happy, for would it not free me from a state of endless suffering? - Come when thou wilt, I shall meet thee bravely. - Farewell and do not wholly forget me when I am dead; I deserve this from you, for during my lifetime I was thinking of you often and of ways to make you happy - be so -
Ludwig van Beethoven
October 6th, 1802
It is either a blessing or a curse to be extremely knowledgeable about music, its history, its forms and the like. Even more so, unlike the average music listener (and that isn't a dig on them, mind) I pick up on the trends, the recycled lyrical content, the retreaded guitar sounds, etc. The same keys, the same chord changes, the same sounds, the same format....endlessly and repeatedly regurgitated to an otherwise oblivious general public. Rock in particular has fallen into this horrible ditch; the last gasp of anything remotely creative from rock was in the late 80's/early 90's, and even then, it didn't even come close to matching its glory years between 1967-1975. Of all the bands from the aforementioned late 80's/early 90's, the only ones still standing are Pearl Jam, who are so cringe-worthy and torpid as to render them unlistenable.
Now...how DID this happen, one has to ask. Various theories abound, but the great Bill Bruford opined about this pretty extensively in his autobiography, and his theory is thus: The death of creativity in pop music can be traced back to when publicly traded companies, responsible to post quarterly earnings, started taking over record companies and adding them to their media conglomerate empires. In the beginnings of rock, the music existed before the record companies could dream it up. It was a permutation of black American blues: raucous, untamed, and free. The "suits", even in the 50's, did their level best to get their arms around it and exploit it for monetary gain. But even then, the creativity wasn't bled out of it. Then came the 60's: The Beatles, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle...all representing forms that were either wholly original or creatively stolen (probably closer to the latter), but sounded fresh and creative nonetheless. The power was with the artists, not the executives, yet both prospered. The early 70's, particularly the progressive rock movement, marked the apex of creativity in rock music (in my opinion). Emerson, Lake & Palmer liberally ripped off classical music in the most aggressive way, but who could possibly have the ability to do so in the first place? Keith Emerson was about as talented musician as rock would ever see. Yes got away with writing twenty minute opuses on three straight albums. Genesis did a whole album based on a surreal (and incomprehensible) story by Peter Gabriel written about a Puerto Rican street kid who finds himself in a kind of Salvador Dali world, desperately trying to get out...a musical journey spread out over two LPs. Pink Floyd might have produced (according to some critical opinions) the 70's equivalent of "Sgt. Pepper" with their "Dark Side of the Moon". Inevitably, the question that beggars to be asked is this: What are the chances that a record company would ever, EVER let any of these bands produce any of these works in this day and age. The answer is obvious; Q.E.D.
Everything is short term. In an earlier time, a band was given three albums to "get it together". The first two albums from Yes were interesting experiments, but they didn't hit their stride until "The Yes Album", which is where the material that made up their classic catalog began. Two albums later, "Close to the Edge" managed to bring it all together into one timeless album. Led Zeppelin hit their stride by their second album, but it was "IV" that produced songs like "Black Dog" and "Stairway to Heaven". Now, bands have ONE album to come up with a hit. If they're lucky, they'll get two, but that's chancy. Record companies need hits; they need quarterly earnings to be positive, lest their stock prices tank and their investors grow disgruntled. In the conflict between art and commerce, art may have won a few battles, but it clearly lost the war. Now the best any of us rock fans can muster is Tool, a good (but not great) band that is entirely too harsh for these ears. Closer to it is Nickelback, who are the perfect distillation of blandness, regurgitated barre chords, stale riffs, and obvious key changes. The food equivalent would be eating three month old crackers: edible but stale.
Per this listener, I'm still hoping, still digging. I've postulated since college that there's ALWAYS something interesting to find out there, one need only dig a little deeper, look a little longer. I have found some interesting acts out there, but you'll never hear them on the radio. I frequent a bar in Greenwich Village called the 55 Bar; I've been there three times and have yet to hear an act that didn't impress me. If going to dank music clubs that are approximately 600 square feet to hear something good is what I've been reduced to doing, that is what I will do. If listening to Big Band composers like Bix Beiderbecke and Count Basie for inspiration is what I have to do, I'll do it. If scouring online radio sources like Pandora (as opposed to real radio, which is atrocious) is what need to be done, I'll do it. But one thing I'll never do is accept the status quo and learn to like it.
Monday, December 14, 2009
I work for a very large financial institution in downtown Manhattan. I, needless to say, work in finance. I'll say no more on that, and only mention it to give the proper shading to the story I'm about to post. And so the story is this....
'Round about twelve o'clock today, a group of about 300 people appeared on the plaza of my building, chanting, yelling, and generally making a ruckus. Having lived and worked in Manhattan for the better part of my professional life (actually, ALL of my professional life), I've grown accustomed to this kind of unorthodoxy, as it is a daily part of being a part of this city. But this was no ordinary day, you see. The minions of ACORN, the scandal-ridden "community organization" descended up on my beloved financial institution, heaping scorn and ridicule on my CEO. (Note: They've changed their name to some other snappy acronym, but it's the same people.) One particularly amusing placard read that the CEO of my financial institution "hates puppies"; another amusing one stated that my financial institution should be "foreclosed" upon. Strangely, furniture was parked on the plaza. (Some of it was actually pretty nice.) The mob found their way into the lobby of my building, chanting, whistling, and generally disrupting an otherwise pleasant business day. They were summarily expelled from the indoors, but did manage to stick around the plaza for about another forty-five minutes.
Now, this is what really annoys me about this whole exercise. What we're talking about here are people who are demanding that my bank, which is a privately held institution, should be loosening its lending standards to accommodate low-income, high-risk borrowers. Their theory, and also President Obama's contention, is that these financial institutions should loosen their credit since they took money from the federal government to get themselves out of a jam. All fair, were it not for the fact that the reason these financial institutions got themselves into a jam is because they had loose lending standards, due in no small part to the federal government prevailing upon them through moral suasion and outright threats to do so vis-a-vis the Community Reinvestment Act. When Obama's economic advisors say things like "we need to get the banks to start lending like crazy" (attributed to Christine Romer), I'm rendered speechless. That was the very reason why financial institutions got themselves into this jam in the first place. The government forced them to make sub-prime loans, which caved the whole industry. The Fed and the Treasury subsequently bailed them out, but now they're BLAMING them for making bad loans, while at the same time admonishing them to make MORE bad loans, this time to small businesses, because unemployment is going up and Obama's "stimulus" package failed to stop unemployment from going up. (Unemployment was at 7.4% when it was passed; it is now at 10%.)
It is a mad, mad world.
For more on ACORN:
Sunday, December 13, 2009
a.) My work schedule at that time was punishing, and I was finding it increasingly hard to find the time, energy, or brainpower to come up with anything even remotely interesting to say.
b.) See entry a.)
All things being equal, I've decided to take another crack at the blogosphere for the very simple reason that, aside from being (somewhat) intellectually stimulating, it also serves as a pretty neat time capsule/journal. Additionally, it allows me to continue to hone my writing chops, to punctuate, spell, and form coherent sentences. There's been a fair amount of reading that has been done since my last blog entry, so there's a plethora of knowledge to draw from that is fresh and new. No more stale postings....for a while, hopefully.
And we'll have fun, fun, fun 'til our daddy takes the T-Bird away....