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Saying goodbye - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
Saying goodbye
My parents told me at the weekend that my uncle Bryan had died. They didn't seem to be mourning him very much.

He was an alcoholic. For decades he'd been telling people that he had a terminal illness. He said he was going to die. "We all are," I'd say, taking his 'terminal illness' with a pinch of salt. The same sort of pinch of salt with which I learned to season his stories of being asked to join the Beatles, of living next door to John Betjeman, of getting shot at by the CIA.

I last saw him seven years ago, at my grandma's funeral. His mother-in-law's funeral. Bryan patted his beer belly and told me proudly that the bulge was his liver, all swollen up like a balloon. I tried to change the subject, but there are only awkward conversations at funerals: conversations where death is vividly and embarrassingly present, or conversations where death is vastly and overpoweringly absent.

My aunt Denny -- my dad's younger sister -- finally divorced Bryan after years of him refusing to work, living off her earnings, having affairs, and slowly dragging them both into drink, depression and eventually attempted suicide. (She survived, moved away, joined AA, got a good job, and is now teetotal, happily remarried to a fellow AA success story.)

As a child I loved visits from Denny and Bryan (always the two names, always in that order, indivisible). Both of them were full of life and laughter; they played games with my sister and me, they told jokes -- even rude jokes, which shocked and delighted me. They used to come and stay for New Year, and we'd all play noisy card games, and my sister and I would beg to be allowed to stay up to see the New Year in, but we weren't old enough, so instead we got to say "Good night, see you next year," which never failed to amuse us.

Bryan used to play Scrabble with me when I was small; he always won, and it was only years later that I found out he used to invent words in order to win. I didn't mind, when I found out; it seemed better than the patronising way some adults always let children win, as if always winning was a good thing to get used to.

You don't always win.

I don't know if anybody was there when Bryan died. Denny didn't find out until a week later. It turns out he left all his worldly goods to the French woman with whom he'd had an affair. All his records, his guitars. He used to talk to me about music. He gave me his complete set of Beatles LPs; also Wagner's Ring cycle on vinyl, 25 LPs in a gigantic box. He told me that the Ring took 20 years to record, and you could hear the difference in the recording quality between the first discs and the last. I still haven't listened to it, so I can't say if that's true or not; I hate Wagner, but I didn't have the heart to tell him.

He was telling the truth about the terminal illness, even if it was an illness partly self-inflicted. Who knows, maybe he was telling the truth about the Beatles, about Betjeman.

I remember his beard always scratched when I went to kiss him goodbye.
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Comments
From: kaet Date: April 13th, 2004 05:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't like Wagner myself, but Spengler, and a fair few other people who I tend to trust unless evidence exists to the contrary, identify Wagner is the pinnacle of the music of the West, in the way that some christians and others attach themselves to Bach. Okay, so Tristran and Isolde is the one they usually go for, but never-the-less people who like the Ring, really like it, :). I've never been completely convinced it's not Stokholm syndrome from its numerous hours, but I'm prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. He's one of those people (like Bach) I'm sure I'll persist with, on and off, until I draw my last, because I'm sure that if you grok him it's very rewarding.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: April 15th, 2004 02:30 am (UTC) (Link)

Bach, et alia

Maybe 'christians and others' attach themselves to Bach because Bach was self-identified as Christian, and believed that his music was a form of cooperation with God's other creative acts in the world. But you don't have to be a Christian to value Bach :-)... or Wagner, although I do know some very able and muscially unorthodox Christians who have agut level reactin against Wagner. As for Wagner and Spengler, Spengler loved the structuring and consciously manipulative composing, on the grand and complicated scale, which Wagner created. Whilst I can't stand Wagner for his manipulativeness and his insistence that the listener is allowed to accept only what he, Wagner, intends, I can see why his command of expression and modality in instrumentation makes Spengler rate him so highly. But Bach doesn't hold your head firmly clamped into one position: he allows the listener spiritual and mental freedom in a way which Wagner does not - which is, perhaps, why Christians value Bach the way they do. He is more than the sum of his Oratorios. Spengler doesn't come from a point of view which would conceive of or validate that particular kind of freedom so there's no criticism of him implied at all. It's just that he comes from a different starting point altogether.

It'd be interesting to know the hows and whys of your keeping on with Wagner as well as Jan's dislike of W. ---?

I'll get my coat now!
From: kaet Date: April 15th, 2004 05:30 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bach, et alia

I suppose part of the reason I don't get on very well with Bach is that the laws of counterpoint, and so on, are quite simple, and whilst he's undoubtably a genius at applying them, it's like watching a virtuoso play Horrace goes Skiing, "and he's gone to the left", "and now to the right", "beautiful avoidance of a dischordance there", "he's doing it again, but backwards!" and so on. Much of it seems to be showing off, too, okay so it's not him showing off himself, probably the glory of God, or of music, or of nature or whatever, but still a bit ostentatious for me. Some of the later stuff, and the violin stuff, I get on better with. The early stuff seems to be deistic in the Newtonian sense, sets initial conditions and then just goes along with it, and to have a deliberately low Kolmagarov complexity (it's easy to describe the project and rules), despite being complex in realisation.

Spengler's like for Wagner seems to derive from its suppression of will, which I don't understand, it doesn't match the music for me. It should make the music, if he was on to something, the Schopenhauerian equivalent of modernist architecture (in the sense that for Schopenhauer wills were noumena) which would be interesting to hear, but it's not what I hear. I think that I might be listening to it wrong to get that out of it, it seems far too tempestuously teutonic to indicate that idea to me, as I am at the moment. I think lots of people avoid Wagner because he was, undoubtably, a twat.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: April 15th, 2004 06:30 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bach, et alia

You know Spengler's works better than I do by far - but I always thought that S's "suppression of will" was the listener's will being suppressed, the equivalent of my less-precise "head in a clamp" metaphor; and also the "wills" of the protagonists being suppressed by Larger Imperatives - the forces of tragedy, of Nature in the grand German sense, the will of the Gods. If those types of "suppression" are what S really meant (I don't think for a minute he thought W could be/should be/was inferior enough to be suppressed) than I can understand how suppression of the will could sound like Wagner.

Yes, he was a twat, except that's Insulting to Twats :-). One buttock, or prat, definitely. The keenest Wagnerians I know are to a person buttoned-up folk who feel very safe letting Wagner do their Sturm und Drang for them. Feh.

YOur comments on Bach did make me laugh, thank you, I completely see what you mean - pompous, fussy little showoff he must have been at times! But he was churning it all out as a FT working musician with a quota to fill. I like his stuff because it is masterly, if at times mechanical, and I think he must have had enormous FUN with a lot of it. But it is annoyingly Newtonian and neat for today's tastes, absolutely.

Thanks for your reply :-)
j4 From: j4 Date: April 15th, 2004 05:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bach, et alia

I'm afraid my dislike of Wagner isn't intellectually or spiritually motivated; I just don't actually enjoy listening to the music. I could probably come up with ideological reasons why I might not like it, if I wanted to, but they're not the driving force behind me bypassing the records when deciding what music to put on.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: April 15th, 2004 06:33 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bach, et alia

Sorry - I was just asking for a description of why you didn't like Wagner's music, not a justification.
j4 From: j4 Date: April 16th, 2004 08:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bach, et alia

I'd have to go back and listen again to give you a sensible description... it's so long since I've bothered trying to listen to any that now I'd just be waving my hands and saying "don't like it". Maybe I should try again, my tastes have broadened a bit...

Though there's also the problem that I don't really enjoy listening to things-where-the-words-are-part-of-the-point in languages I don't understand a single word of. (Yes, I could follow along translated libretto, but I find that really irritating... I don't like subtitled films either.)
sion_a From: sion_a Date: April 14th, 2004 01:58 am (UTC) (Link)
*hugs*
imc From: imc Date: April 14th, 2004 03:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Sympathy, if such be needed.

Also this last weekend, my Mum phoned to tell me that my uncle Alistair had died. He was a fisherman from Mallaig, so I've hardly seen him at all since childhood when we used to have occasional family holidays in Scotland. The last time I saw him was at my Grandad's funeral last year, and he wasn't looking too well then. The time before that was at my wedding.

Want to send a card, but the postal system is crippled.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: April 15th, 2004 02:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Mourning and memories

Your parents may have been mourning him in various ways for a very long time; it's part of the deal when you have a Difficult Relative. You mourn and hope and stop hoping and mourn and start hoping again and then mourn until eventually you accept that people will do what they do, and maybe you have failed them as much as they failed themselves - but ultimately they are responsible for themselves. Maybe he died more or less the way he wanted to die. It's good that you remember so many of his qualities - and sounds like a great thing to have chat about sometime with other people who knew him. Those are very special memories, very beautifully expressed. If I am glad you shared them I would imagine others who knew him would also be glad.
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