Seattle Vanishing

Quietness of a blue afternoon. Cars are streaming down highway 520 in the distance and a bird honks occasionally and there are little crescendos and diminuendos of occasional sounds which all seem to build a larger sense of silence. I lie in the tiny bed, upstairs, where other children grew up and look at their wallpaper and books and rocking chairs. Curious, I pulled a child’s copy of To Kill a Mockingbird off the shelf one night, and that very night, after reading a few drowsy pages I left it out by the open window. By the time I woke up the roguish breeze had scattered its yellow desiccated pages across the room, under the bed, among my clothes: pages “on tour,” seeking a home elsewhere. I gathered them up and stuck them back in the cover, but did not reorder them; maybe in some future summer? The title page had a crude, scrawled inscription, “[such-and-such] is a dork and a jerk”: a cruel and simple classmates’ critique. I arrived on the scene way too late to console this wound, but it stung as if I myself were such-and-such. Robbing the book of completion, I threw this one page away. No one needs it. It will sit out in the green garbage container by the curb and then go somewhere else and the house will be purer, lighter.

Summer, the warm blossom of the year, my favorite season by far, has been transformed by my life into a endless summer camp without canoes or make-out sessions (for the most part). Affections, rekindled, flying wildly, for places and people and pieces, each tossed off, checked off at the rental car return, and I suppose each loss or fulfillment must make a mark on me somehow. What is the chain that holds this mess together?

I have come to realize that the corner of the year I spend in Seattle has rented a roomy room in a corner of my psyche. Short drives to coffee bars, steaming Pho for lunch, jelly beans backstage, and a thousand other particulars … One classic Seattle thing I do, guiltily: late at night, I drive down Broadway to Dick’s Hamburgers, and people-watch while I wait for my order (Dick’s deluxe, fries, chocolate milkshake). Young white girls with dredlocks, in tattered clothes, hip and disaffected; pierced boys with skateboards; high school double dates, conforming to clich√©, returning from movies; strung-out clubbers snacking to absorb other substances they have ingested, succumbing to layered, unhealthy indulgence: motley dissipated bunch waiting on the calmish street under a merciless fluorescent bulb which speaks truth to image. It is quiet and awkward like the moment the audience hushes before the concert begins; people by unknown consent–perhaps because of the light–don’t speak loudly; they wait till they get in their cars for further misbehavior. Alone, I aim to observe people invisibly but I’m sure people must look at me too and wonder why the guy is coming, alone: what his weird tale must be, what botched date or other social encounter, or other personal frustration, must have resulted in this solitary binge. Ha, I’ll never tell. I have my own strange motivations, unclear even to me. A pianist contemplating anything but music. I pull up in the driveway and sneak up the stairs to the house, like a teenager coming home after curfew, and try to undo the door quietly, and at those moments of dark stair-climbing I am very far from Beethoven.

On this my last day in Seattle, In a little strip mall, I sucked down a spicy beef noodle soup with a tremendous bricky flavor of red chili, almost New Mexican (which is the ultimate compliment), and a lighter seafood soup with eggs and a wonderful floating pool of sesame oil. These flavors had a profound effect on me. The blue beautiful Seattle sky was just icing on the cake. The night before, food spoke powerfully to me as well: I felt had been visited mournfully by the very spirit of beef as communicated through a short rib, tender and melting, atop a crumbling onion tart; pickled peppers surrounded this tower like sour sycophants. And I am just envisioning, as I sit here, next to the brown piano which the girl who grew up here practiced, the crema on top of a perfect double espresso served at the Victrola Cafe in a white porcelain cup. Symbol of a propitious happy morning, of embraces not long past? All of these images and flavors seem to cut deep, ridiculously deep, and to engage mechanisms of desire more appropriate for greater things, for causes, for relationships, for religion. What is it about the simplest sensual stimulus? And it occurs to me that many of the people here seem to have “real lives” or narratives against which festivals, and associated stimuli, are mere contrast, a kind of distraction; but I may not be able to make that distinction. For me the Festival is, or must be, as real as anything; I must either choose to live comfortably in bubbles or choose some other way.

Is this some side-effect of being a musician? Or just some Denkish anomaly? Ugh it’s so hard to decide. As a last Seattle gasp, I played the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata and there is so much sensuality in there; I must admit I have occasionally mocked it. Particularly, the second theme in the first movement has long been overshadowed by one afternoon when Janos Starker hummed it to me by way of pedagogy (“to make the theme work, you have to cut it up”) and his demonstrative “la la las” have echoed in my head and made it difficult for me to take this theme seriously. But some sensual things simply find their moment to present themselves to you as tremendous inescapable facts; they fan or color a particular mood; and I played the second theme before the concert that night and it just seemed beautiful without baggage, or… if it had baggage, just the sadness that like every other theme it eventually ended. It made me happy that I could see it simply, plainly, and feel it “straight up,” without my mind’s second-guessing; and I was sure that it was my Seattle-leaving sadness that made it possible, that sponsored this musical happiness, and I was still humming it and hearing its inner voices as I checked my bags and pulled my laptop out of the bag and sat down in my small airplane seat and counselled myself patience for the next journey.

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6 Comments

  1. Lane Savant
    Posted July 31, 2006 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Seems odd to me that you can look at life out side of music as a “real life” while I am looking in the other direction. From my pathetic day-to -day existance into the “real life” of music.
    I heard you play on the 24th for the second time in my life. I am impressed with your passion. However there is music by modern, living composers that is every bit as ridiculous as that thing you started the show with.

  2. Canadienne
    Posted July 31, 2006 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I thought I was the only one who, upon landing at SeaTac, heads straight to Dick’s for a cheeseburger or two.

    You’ve made me look forward to Wednesday, when I’ll be touching down there at noon.

    SEA is also the only airport I know that includes “Espresso” in their overhead signage along with “Baggage Claim”, “Ticketing” and “Parking”. I love that.

  3. hari
    Posted July 31, 2006 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    sounds like such a lovely, idyllic summertime experience for you. i hope that some of those young hanger outers come to the concerts eventually; it would do them a world of good.

  4. musik-freak
    Posted July 31, 2006 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Your Rachmaninov with Amit was, with your Beethoven ultimate, the best of this year’s tival for me, a front-of-house volunteer. I really would like to read your dissertation. Could you or someone please let me know the university and year? If so, thanks.
    [email protected]

  5. tin197
    Posted August 22, 2006 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    You have described summertime so dramatic that i thought having to spend it, bores you. Oh well, try to relax and unwind so much this summertime, it’s the only way you can enjoy it.

  6. Posted February 22, 2008 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Well written! Thanks for letting us into your mind.

    Cheers,

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