#50: The Value of the Musical Long Form

Music in the long form is seriously undervalued nowadays. Especially classical music – typical, but not exclusive domain of the long form – is distorted in public perception into something that is pleasing, calming, soothing, relaxing, inconsequential. Inoffensive snippets and soundbites of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach (and maybe a few others) are what most people get to identify with classical music.

This is caused by the victory of the “song” model of music, where music only exists as a roughly 2-5 minute snippet of melody, typically with voice, and ideally without any difficult melodic development, maybe in an A-B-A form. There is of course value to such music; but it should not be all there is.

Even genres like pop, rock, country, hip hop/rap, R&B etc. have suffered from this. Contrast albums (and their songs) from the 1960s through the early 2000s with what you typically get today. A song like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” – which did launch the music video business for real – could probably not find (and sustain) an audience today. Concept albums like Eminem’s second and third albums (The Marshall Mathers LP, The Eminem Show) or Fluke’s Risotto and Puppy, or Moloko’s Statues (or even better, Live at Brixton) or Klaus Schulze’s Dig It need to be seen as coherent pieces of work, not just composed of single songs. The iTunes-i-fication has seriously endangered albums, the long form, and our attention span.

Music needs the long form. It needs the symphony, the music drama, the complete concept album. It needs pieces longer than 5 minutes, needs listeners able and willing to sit through a work of more than 30 minutes in concentration, without interruption, and let it work on them, in all their ambiguity, ups and downs, nuances, contradictions.

If you cannot have this, cannot have a serious interrogation of musical material, and the resulting emotional drama, there cannot be true catharsis. Maybe that’s what we are missing today.

#15: Happiness

I have struggled all my life with some form of sense of mortality and the definite sense of an ending. That is, I guess, due to a Catholic upbringing, in which the theme of death is permeating everything, albeit counterpointed with resurrection. I have not always been able to reap the benefit of an unwavering faith that G-d will take care of me just as I wish; because I do not want to presume to know what G-d might want, or to even dare ask G-d to intercede on my behalf. (I use the Jewish spelling of G-d to indicate that we cannot know what “God” actually is).

Life thus consists in hope, but not certainty, that things may well turn out well, but also in the awareness of the struggle that things do not just magically fall into place.

There is also the medieval “Wheel of Fortune” idea, so popularized by the Carmina Burana, which tells the tale that our lives will be favored by the fates some days, and other days not, and that high and low, rich and poor, will suffer from Fortune’s wheel. Breaking the wheel – the utopian notion that was Daenerys’ hope in Game of Thrones – is impossible:

However, hope may lie in realizing and feasting on the punctuated moments of happiness. Akhnaten did have a good little run, as depicted in Philip Glass’ Opera. At the height of his power, he invents monotheism (pace Freud, S. (1939). Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays), and enjoys his triumphant moments as the founder of a revised Egyptian religion, whose traces will probably survive as one of its followers, Moses, carries it with him when fleeing oppression in Egypt.

Yet joy does not last, and as Akhnaten’s realm falls, his happiness comes to an end. But it was real – in the years that he indeed was the new founder of his religion:

Just because the past is difficult, the future unseen, and the present stuck in the uncomfortable middle, this should not prevent us from enjoying the happiness we can make in the meantime. It is hard, excruciatingly hard, but possible, every day, to carve out a moment of transcendence, of divinity, of spirituality, of utter joy, of ecstasy, and of shameless undiluted humanity. Whatever darkness may have befallen you today, cast it out for a few moments, and remember, this is your life, and you control your reaction to it, so that, in the end, with hope, you can have peace.

I guess this was a very strangely Catholic post. Oh well. It’s Easter, why not have some hope!

#13: Poem: PASSOVER

there’s a feeling rising up
from somewhere deep

the strangest sensation:
intense, and yet gentle,
a realization, for sure,
of something I’ve already known
and yet
don’t care to face all the time

the silliest thing,
it’s so banal,
it is so trivial,
it is so utterly devoid
of any originality
and still
so rarely

we live our lives
in constant quite anticipation
of something to come,
of something to happen,
of some form of meaning
to emerge
to transform
to fulfill
the way we are

seek pleasure we
seek happiness
seek plain fulfillment
thus we:
how grand a happiness
we might achieve
and last it will
forever more

how sweet such hope
and yet how shallow
yet how vain
yet how dangerous
and plain

to see what’s here
is all we need:
is all we must:

for while the future needs be tended for
its seeds are sowed quite in the now
ideally, since yesteryear
and all we need is to proceed

but future’s work
and past’s achievement
lies in the here
lies in the now:

and if we can’t face
what lies beneath
if empty we fear ourselves to be
no future will fill it
and wither we will

for life is bracketed by death so clearly
in all its morbid obscenity
so unavoidably
and brazenly
and undeniably
just so

we come from nothing
we’ll go to nothing
your hope will be a hope against nothing
or a hope that in this nothingness
nirvana lies, not emptiness:

but still
it’s not for us to know
to hope, believe, aspire, yes:
but know we can’t

and thus
the only thing remaining
lies in the now
lies in the here
so if you lie
about your inner self right here
and if you hope just ‘gainst the truth
you’ll nowhere go
and nowhere be
and nowhere will you see
what all you have
what all is here
in the here
in the now
awaiting a future tender and fragile;
but more so, a present that’s real, not just passing:

‘tis just another way
of saying, life is short,
I know
and yet
this moment
this saddest feeling
this saddest knowing
had to be meditated upon
had not to be passed over
just too eas’ly so
or unthinkingly

this night
this night of all
like every night
time passes by
life passes by
like a thief in the night:
you better know
you better have done
what necessary was:
you better hope
that there is substance
in your life
while you are meditating
on the abyss of death
you need to focus on life
which is given meaning today
and only today
and in all the todays
still coming
till meaning is given by death

but today
you will remember
the oppression of days past
to ensure that none such oppression will ever return
but today
you will remember
the promise of days yet to come
to ensure that this promise will be there for all
but today
you will sleep, hopefully, knowing that if time,
if time,
if time had decided
that your work now be completed,
then today
would be a good day
to see an end to your suffering
and a beginning
to the closing
of your days

if not today,
if not tomorrow,
then sure another day

but today it is
today it is
it is time
to just be
just be
and be just
to yourself
and your love

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam,
shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu laz’man hazeh.



Corvallis, October 13th, 2019 – January 12th, 2020 – P#725

come, all doubts and questions come now
at the hour of the wolf
at the time of sleepless terrors
logic drifting into dreams so shallow
that some thinking still remains
yet all reason here is lost

failures fill this time of torments
symbols chase around in madness
and the mind, this strangest fellow,
cannot see a forward way:
goes astray, and fear takes over:
how I wish for sleep’s own brother

doors appear that cannot open
writing will escape my view
as I try to scribble something
I’m aware it is for naught:
dreams too lucid to be soothing
for a monster lurks inside

come now though, I did invite you
just by needing rest and sleep
my foolish need to stay alive
invites this torture evermore:
insomnia’s too nice a word
for this here spectacle at hand

and as I drift and drift now further
all that’s hidden gets revealed
(quidquid latet, apparebit):
yes, this is a requiem
yes, this is the day of wrath
where fear beats logic every night

and when I lay me down to sleep
I’d hope the Lord my soul to keep:
but holds dominion here at night
quite something else that broke my soul:
so should I die before I wake
I don’t know who my soul will take.