Brilliance can be subtle.


I suspect Barbara isn’t going to like this. But I think we’ve all just been schooled. Without meaning to, at all, Barbara kinda sorta sucker-punched us, me included.

Easy to get taken in by all the self deprecation. Yet the list and related recollections tell a very different story. This is a woman who actually knows quite a lot about music. And contrary to her account, she hasn’t been living in a vacuum. Look to the list.

Jay Nordlinger of the National Review is an accomplished and highly sophisticated music scholar. Barbara wanted to talk to him about music. So she did. Me? I’d be happy if he let me buy him a drink. Why did she buttonhole him? Not because she’s a ditz. Because she’s an aficionado.

She lists Bach’s Goldberg Variations twice. She recognizes that the Glenn Gould and Daniel Barenboim performances are distinctly different pieces of art. She has an ear. All her classical references are to specific orchestras and recordings. She’s no dilettante.

I get it that she grew up with the big bands, as I did. But did you notice how many of them she saw in person? Imagine having been a witness to Louis Armstrong, let alone all the others, including Benny Goodman, both Dorseys, and Artie Shaw.

Significantly, though, she revealed that she continued to follow jazz after the big band era. She called out Chet Baker and Charlie Parker as well, both superstar icons to the true believers of jazz. It wasn’t a bobby-soxer mentality she was caught up in. It was the music.

Other items on her list likewise suggest that she hasn’t stopped listening. She’s just picky. Nina Simone is there. Patricia Kaas. And Jeff Buckley. Looking at a Rolls Royce ( or should I say Packard?) standard here. In her quiet way she’s letting us know that not much of the music we’ve imprinted on impresses her much. Or she’d remember it.

So here’s a kind of side challenge for everyone. Pick just one song you’d like Barbara to listen to. I’m sure she would. Put in a link she can take. And ask her what she thinks.

I’ll start. She has a fondness for falsettos. Nobody has a bigger library of falsettos than Mick Jagger. So I’m going to offer up this little known gem for Barbara’s delectation.

The Rolling Stones – Heaven from Kinamazing on Vimeo.

Be prepared. She will be invariably nice. But she will also be honest. She will not say she actually likes it if she doesn’t. She’ll just be a bit faint in her praise. How ladies do things.

Do you have the guts to play this delicate game? Bet you do.

P.S. A quick refresher course for those of you whose memory of ladies is phantasm or nonexistent. From my first ever blog:

Some of us… can’t help remembering ladies. They were our mothers and grandmothers, our friends’ mothers and grandmothers, and they had no idea they were prisoners of a vicious sexist culture. They knew how to smile, how to make strangers and shy ones feel welcome, they knew how to dress up for a party, how to dance to ballroom music, how to practice countless skills that made houses into cheery homes, and we loved them. In every possible way they exemplified the essential human virtues and mediated their children’s vulnerability through their own. They were playing a life-and-death role, especially in those first six years, and one that fathers couldn’t play because their role back then was different. Fathers weren’t second-string mommies, always playing catch-up on the sensitivities not born into men. They were, when all was said and done, judges — the ones charged with preparing the children to be strong against the institutional temptations and corruptions that were coming after the time of safe haven was over. Their job was not to be taken in the way mother could be by an artful grin or pleading. Their job was to say no, to describe the consequences, to levy the punishment so that the lesson would be learned in the home, not in the dangerous realms of the outside world.

And the mommies knew that was their role and supported it. They knew what a man was. Do you? Tread with care.

16 thoughts on “Brilliance can be subtle.

  1. Dear RL,
    I’m so vain I prob’ly think this post is about me.
    Be still my heart!
    I haven’t listened to your Mick Jagger piece yet, but I’m going to get a cup of coffee right now and do so. I wish I still smoked.


  2. Hoooooo-kay. <>

    I’ve listened to it nine or 10 times by now. The first couple of times it scared me. It’s the sound that accompanies my wakeful hours from 3 a.m. to 5, when all of the sins of my life are replayed, all the wrongs I’ve done, all the wrongs done to me return in memory and, most of all, the thoughts of my impending mortality — “the ruffian on the stairs,” as Josrph Epstein calls the fella with the scythe, the one who is fewer steps from me than from most who write here. I found the sound elegaic (not the right word, but neither is “haunting,” although close too).

    I did not write back immediately because I was thinking about the music, and coming back to relisten as I also went about other tasks. It’s beginning to grow on me a bit. You would help me if you were able to explain to me the occasions when you yearn to hear “Heaven.” When driving fast? During a romantic interlude? When you are happy? Sad? I looked up the lyrics because I couldn’t entirely discern them from listening, and see they have an erotic bent. That wouldn’t have been my first reaction to the recording, but the more I hear it the more I can feel that part of it too.

    When I said I wished I still smoked I was thinking about tobacco. I’m having additional thoughts about that as well.

    • I warned everybody, and even I can’t tell for sure. Asked my wife: Barbara hates it.

      Context. Why this is cool regardless. The Stones are rock and roll. They did this. The critics were stunned. Oh. You mean they always had the ability to harmonize like the Beatles or the Beach Boys? Huh,

      What do I think when I listen? I think the Stones are showing off. They can do anything. Anything from rasty to crystal. I love Mozart. I love Sinatra. And I love the Rolling Stones. They do every genre, better than anyone else, and they always make it Stones. Country, disco, rap, rock, soul, they do it all.

      One big boat you’ve missed, Barbara. Thinking you’ve also missed out on some Sinatra… Saw him late. He was great. Really really great.

      • You deserve a better answer than I gave above. I do seek out this song when I want things to slow down. Because I can always hear all the other Stones music in my head, that insistent provocative vitality. This is the opposite. It IS a middle of the night anthem of the subconscious. Like it’s probing and finding the hurt and doubtful parts but enfolding them in a cool but healing stream. Mostly, Stones are heat and passion. This is the vitality that exists beneath passion. It just goes, like the steady beating of an unmoved heart.

        • Beautifully stated, RL. Today I will look up and listen to some other examples of their music. Don’t give up on me yet.

    • Thank you, RonH. That andante is gorgeous. I can understand why it made you cry. I’ll order the recording today.

      There a version of Goldberg Variations, a transcriptions for strings (Dmitry Sitkovetsky and the New European Strings Chamber Orchestra) that may make you cry too. Does me. Some may find it schmaltzy — serious music, after all — but it soars and I love it. Have you heard it?

      Nice, Chris Botti and Sting. Botti performs here in Honolulu every couple of years and I try to save up my pennies for a seat in the first few rows. He puts on a great show.

      • I have not heard the Goldberg Variations recording you mentioned. But I’ll be sure to hunt it down.

        I’m very pleased you enjoyed the andante. While you can buy that track alone on Amazon, I got it back in ’94 on an album called “The Bach Variations”. Various artists doing interpretations of Bach, often quite interesting, but always “respectful”. Unexpected highlights include “Ave Maria” as a duet with harp and harmonica, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on Caribbean steel drums, or an Irish-sounding “Bourée From Suite In E Minor For Lute”. Of course, Botti’s andante is my favorite track on that album.

        I’ll admit to not really “connecting” with Bach for the most part. My heart’s more with the Romantics (cue Rachmaninoff or Chopin…). But I find that looking at works through the interpretation of another often helps me appreciate something I never saw on my own.

  3. Hi, Barbara,

    Rolling Stones from RL, naturally, and an easy win from Ron with Bach. Okay, I’ll stick my neck out. I’ve been thinking about this one for 36 hours straight and just changed my mind as I sat to type this.

    This one’s kind of a meta-song that relates to this thread and discussion. It’s about friends, music, and moving. Even if you’re not enjoying it in the beginning, please listen to the end as they change gears to finish.
    I asked RL to listen to some Arcade Fire once and he quickly came back with something like, “Nah, I don’t get it.” I don’t know how much he listened to, and I don’t know if he heard this track.

    Arcade Fire, Suburban War

    I was hoping the video would have lyrics, but I’ll reproduce them here:

    Let’s go for a drive
    And see the town tonight
    There’s nothing to do but I don’t mind when I’m with you

    This time’s so strange
    They built it to change
    And while we’re sleeping, all the streets, they rearrange.
    And my old friends, we were so different then
    Before your war against the suburbs began
    Before it began

    And now the music divides
    Us into tribes
    You grew your hair so I grew mine
    You said the past won’t rest
    Until we jump the fence
    And leave it behind

    And my old friends, I can remember when
    You cut your hair
    I never saw you again
    Now the cities we live in
    Could be distant stars
    And I search for you
    In every passing car

    The night’s so warm
    Yeah, the night’s so warm
    I’ve been living in the shadows of your song
    Living in the shadows of your song

    In the suburbs I,
    I learned to drive
    And you told me we would never survive
    So grab your mother’s keys we leave tonight
    You started a war
    That we can’t win
    They keep erasing all the streets we grew up in

    Now the music divides
    Us into tribes
    You choose your side and I’ll choose my side
    All my old friends, they don’t know me now
    All my old friends, are staring through me now
    All my old friends, they don’t know me now
    All my old friends… wait.

    If you can stomach that one, I have another one from the same group that might also be fodder for discussion. But we were only supposed to pick one…

  4. I feel like I know you somewhat by your list, Barbara, because it’s very similar to one my parents might put together. Therefore, I have a feeling presenting you with a song would be very similar to when I ask my mother to listen to something I like to see if she likes it. Overwhelmingly these have ended with a “no”. So I’ll float something to you that she does like to increase the odds you may also like it.

    It’s called Entre Dos Aguas by Paco De Lucia, who was a genius Flamenco guitarist:

    I don’t use the term “genius” lightly, either. Flamenco guitar may not be your thing, and that’s fine, but he was an amazing talent and I’m betting you’ll be able to tell. This sounds like a regular song at first, but please listen to the whole thing or you’ll miss the truly special parts. I hope you enjoy it.

  5. Well played, Tim. He’s amazing. After that incredible riff halfway through I wanted Linda Ronstadt to come out and sing to him in Spanish, seduce him, and live happily ever after in Barcelona, in the shadow of the great Gaudi cathedral. I’m betting she’ll like it.

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