Because my life is basically uninteresting, I thought I’d write about some records, maybe books, that have meant a lot to me. When I lived somewhere overseas, I was good friends with a guy who had studied to be a concert pianist. I’d never spent any time with people who lived and breathed classical music. I’d never listened to it much, it was my dad’s music. My friend got me into it, to understand it. A mentor to me in many ways. A Neal Cassady type, energetic, masculine ideal, always smoking hash. He, by the way, translated my first novel into French.
I asked him for his top ten pieces/performances and I got them. When I got back to NY I spent a lot of time at the 42nd street library, checking out music. The first classical music record I discovered on my own, the first one I wasn’t told was good, is a piano quintet by Dvorak, played by the Alban Berg quartet.
I have other recordings by the Alban Berg quartet which I put on often, nicely modern and dissonant for older stuff—the kind of thing I didn’t know before I hit 25: (a) Schubert quintet, and Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. I put on the Dvorak every once in a while. There’s something about that first record I discovered myself—found that I liked classical music sincerely and not because I was supposed to.
The equivalent jazz record is John Coltrane’s Coltrane.
I might have written about it before. (new theory: they say novelists write the same novel over and over again. I think bloggers write the same post over and over again. At least I do.) I’d always liked Coltrane, but I didn’t reach much far beyond Giant Steps. My French friend was also a jazz freak, a real prototypical beatnik, smoking hash, listening to jazz. Taught me about jazz too. All while playing backgammon, pretty competitively—something I just taught my wife to do, been enjoying the game again. Where was I…I found Coltrane’s Coltrane, again on my own, and then went nuts for everything Coltrane recorded. Still, it’s that first record that feels more like a friend.
When I was a kid, there was a bathroom stall in this supermarket where we used to go. Every time I’d go to the bathroom, I’d pick this stall, the last stall, in this dimly lit, beige bathroom that seemed like it was never visited. “How you doing?” I’d whisper warmly to the stall, as if we knew each other. I may have made more relationships with things than people in my life.
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