Saturday, March 28, 2015

`The Last Sounds He Heard'

One of modernity’s minor horrors: the car alarm. Some twenty years ago, while helping a friend move from her apartment in Albany, N.Y., I leaned against a car parked near the rental truck, and my touch set off a blast of hysterical ambulance shrieks. I jumped like one of Galvani’s frogs, expecting my first heart attack. The car in question was no prize – a Toyota of the same model and year I was driving, but with a drabber paint job. Who would bother stealing such a crate? That was my introduction to a new expression of vanity. Ned Rorem shares my aversion. In Lies: A Diary 1986-1999 (Counterpoint, 2000), the first volume I have read of his many-volumed diary, is an entry dated March 23, 1997. Rorem imagines a peculiarly modern urban indignity: 

“The last sounds he heard as he lay dying were the throb-throb of the garbage truck down in the street, and the mindless unstoppable screech of a car alarm set off by the truck’s vibration.” 

A composer’s vision of hell. One year and twenty-six pages later, on March 27, 1998, he writes: 

“A dream as complex as all of Tolstoy transpires in a millisecond, into which the harm of car alarms intrudes and wakens you. I’ve not had a good night’s sleep in thirty years. The astronaut dreams he is walking on the moon.” 

And another dream-like torment, on April 10, 1995: 

“In the dead of night the phone rings, but no one’s there. Then rings again, while car alarms clang incessantly throughout our puritan city.”

1 comment:

Denkof Zwemmen said...

Worse than the last sounds imagined by Ned Rorem are the last sounds heard by probably millions over the last half-century: the inane droning from a television in a hospital room.