Monday, April 23, 2018

`I Live Among Such Damning Adjectives'

I have no memory of playing my maternal grandmother’s LP’s but I must have been listening. She and her second husband had albums by Burl Ives, “Sing Along With” Mitch Miller and John Gary. The Ives recordings stuck: “Billy Bayou,” “Killigrew’s Soirée,” “Funny Way of Laughing” and “Call Me Mr. In Between,” among others. I know the chorus and at least one verse to each. Like commercial jingles and TV theme songs from half a century ago, they are the sort of musical viruses that erupt unexpectedly, nag for an hour and return to dormancy. They are part of the reason I know we know more than we remember. As a teenager, the persistence of such songs embarrassed me, even in the privacy of my skull. The young are ferocious snobs. No more. It’s nice to carry around a sound track, augmented by subsequent voluntary listening. Ives had a beautiful voice, the songs are tuneful (a word I’ve never used before) and catchy, and I’m no longer interested in impressing anyone with my good taste.

At a more sophisticated level, Dick Davis describes a similar reevaluation of the past and acceptance of the present. “Brahms” is among the new poems included in Love in Another Language; Collected Poems and Selected Translations (Carcanet, 2017):

“Young Brahms played piano in a brothel parlour:
He watched the beery patrons go upstairs
And said, “Non olet,” pocketing his thaler,
But something nasty caught him unawares.
He never made it with a girl it seems;
His love was Clara Schumann, who had far
Too much to cope with to indulge his dreams—
Mad Robert flared out like a shooting star.

“I couldn’t take to Brahms when I was young—
Too sentimental, learnèd, ponderous,
I thought. Now that I find I live among
Such damning adjectives myself, I’m less
Inclined to carp, and if the cap fits wear it;
Let’s hear your heartache, Brahms; yes, I can bear it.”

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