Thursday, February 27, 2020

Beethoven. Picasso. Raymond Chandler. And a set of dull knives.

A couple of weekends ago, maybe it was cold and wet outside, my wife and I stayed home one night and put our feet up. Whiskey was walked and tired, the kids are all right, our fridge was full--there was even ice cream in the house. So we stayed in.

Our apartment isn't much, but it's cozy and warm. We're not slip-cover people, or antimacassar people, or the least bit fussy.  Our place is more comfortable than stuffy.  It's perfectly acceptable to kick off your shoes, fill a glass with seltzer and just chill.

Adding to that comfort for whatever reason, my ever-lovin' has allowed me to follow my predilection and line our living room with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. I am never without my closest friends, my books. Friends even if a preponderance of them do involve the Holocaust, the Black Death and the rise of the theocratic right.

We were doing something all-too-rare today--we weren't watching anything. Instead we were listening to New York's only classical music station, WQXR. 

I've been listening to the station since I was a kid. My harridan of a mother always had it on. Back during my youth, WQXR was "the radio station of The New York Times," and my mother would listen to, in addition to music, the news and, more important in those pre-internet days, the closing prices on the New York Stock Exchange.

The announcers would drone on and on. "Consolidated Amalgamation, thirty-two and a half, down an eighth. Poughkeepsie Woolens, nineteen, up a quarter. Environmental Despoliation, twenty-two and an eighth up three points." And so on. 

Also doing my childhood, they would read off the casualty lists from Vietnam, which was raging. The dead and wounded tallies from the North, the Viet Kong, the South and American forces. Even as a pre-teen I could tell we were being lied to. I don't know how I knew; I just did.

This evening, however, deaths--no matter how present during our current imperial hegemony--weren't being reported on. Instead WQXR played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. The simple, slow, opening notes. Transfixing.

I don't play the piano, or any other musical instrument save the ocarina, but Beethoven's score seemed so stripped down and unembellished it was as if it was being played with one hand, or even just a couple of fingers. (I'm told that's wrong. That it's a very complex piece and you need almost virtuosic skill to play it properly. That's not the way it seemed to my uneducated set of ears.) 

My wife, always an adroit observer of the passing parade, remarked on how basic and elemental the piece seemed. I asked her if she had ever seen Picasso's Bulls.

I handed her my laptop and showed her the sequence here:

To my mind, it's especially important to pay a moment's attention to Picasso's last bull. 

It's those opening notes of the Moonlight Sonata, rendered in a taurine manner.

My wife is an excellent copywriter. And since we both make a living with the tips of our fingers, we wind up talking, probably more than we should about the vagaries, the frustrations, and the rewards of our profession--or craft, if you want to get deep-dish about it.

"The simplicity," I said.

She looked at me, bored. I thought of a particular line from Raymond Chandler's "Farewell My Lovely." 

"On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks."

Nevertheless, I persisted.

"The simplicity," I repeated. "That's all you need to know about being a copywriter. Keep working until you can make it that simple."

"I suppose that's another blog post," she said. 

Then she glanced at my carotid, walked off to our expensively re-done kitchen and looked lovingly at her set of Henckels knives, nestled snuggly for now in their butcher block home.

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