Brahms does Jenny Craig

Oh, Brahms.  I must tell you I’m on the train, and I’m not happy about it.  A man with incredible curly-whorly bedhead is sitting right in front of me and at least I hope that my bedhead cannot be that bad, can it?  A certain conductor—not a train conductor!—floated into town this last weekend and I fear that I have no judgment in his presence whatsoever.  I should flee him like a typhoon.  “Meet me at such and such” he says and a maze of cab rides and bad decisions follows.  As evidence I present my slack-jawed, red-eyed self, practicing Brahms in the one functioning corner of my mind, while the train clatters on.  Nachos were made at 1:30 am, large plates of desperate, lonely nachos, humming with erstwhile microwaves.  Twice in one weekend nachos were made (I use the passive voice because it was as if they made themselves):  twice eaten, twice slept upon, twice regretted.  No, more than twice:  this morning, each pang of salty reflux is but an atom of my infinite nacho regret.  Oh, Brahms, what can I say about you?  How can I get past the paunch, the cigars, the brothels and the hemiolas; how can I step past them to the real you?

Brahms has many virtues; but certainly his greatest contribution to the history of culture is his demonstration that obesity can be musically satisfying.  How many times have you been at a master class on Brahms and heard the coacher say to the coachee, “play it fatter, bigger, rounder …”?  Bazillions of times.  Brahms is the culmination of a giant all-you-can-eat buffet of wholesome harmony.  (Wagner the culmination of a giant all-you-can-eat orgy?  Ahem.)  It is true:  you will be playing a phrase of Brahms, and towards the middle you will start to feel the phrase fill up with … yummy goodness.  With tasty filling.  It is terrible to hear such phrases played without the artist tasting the custard in the middle, even just a little; it becomes Brahms with Nutrasweet.  Don’t even get me started on those fat, delicious, dripping chords, yearning to be played with sausage fingers.

I’m letting the imagery run away with me, straight to the deli counter.

Could you imagine a fatter, denser, bigger beginning to a piano concerto than the opening of the first Brahms concerto?  (Compare, for instance, to the lucidity and transparency of the opening of the second … the crystalline chords in the piano and the single line in the horn …)  It is a marvelous, daring, growling beginning, and perhaps most audacious in its thickness of texture and of thought.  Despite all its drama, it is really just a series of incredibly prolonged chords; the tension is partly the result of forcing us to linger on these chords, to “suffer” through them.  And what chords!, almost never in root position, almost always in some sort of inversion.  A particular favorite of Brahms’ is the V 6/5 …
Really “just” the dominant.  But first we are forced to hear the C# in the bass, alone (just the basses, in all their gruff guttural glory), and then the rest of the chord, grating against it.   Brahms really wants us to know what the bass is, separately.  It would be one big splat of a chord if Brahms didn’t make us face that duality within.  Grr!  I am a big fan of V 6/5 too; it is like a chord with phlegm in its throat.  It rattles, somehow—that dissonant second moved up to the top of the chord, seeming more dissonant than ever, more unresolvable—and all those trills that Brahms gives us at the beginning, all the timpani rolls and hairpins:  all of it is rattling against the cage of the given chord, rattling to express its own inversion, to express … its fixity on its instability.

Not the usual defining opening, then.  No root position chords.  No comforting concord.  Though the bass movement is unsurprising and typical (tonic down to dominant), the rest of the texture seems to want to hide this clarity, elude this definition.  A strange combination of majesty and difficulty.  Brahms says, I’m going to tell you something huge, in fact I’m going to confront you with it, and it’s very thick and dense and fuzzy and fat, and you will have to eat your way through it, bite by complicated bite, until you find out what you’re eating and decide to go on Jenny Craig …

Stop me, please.

The first piano concerto is a young man’s piece.   (Brahms wrote fat even when he was thin.)  Now—let me burden you with my issues!—as a thirty-something, I occasionally find myself thinking back to my twenty-somethings, with longing and yearning and etc.  (Shocking!)  Quite often I also find myself in the company of twenty-somethings, pursuing their lives in passionate twenty-something ways, which, if you think about it, is sort of like confronting your past self, and trying to converse with it.  Sometimes you are looking at the twenty-somethings and enjoying how beautiful and fresh they are and how their face lights up with enthusiasm about something and you think, yes, that is wonderful, oh how I love that.  And you weep invisible tears of lost self.  But there are other times, where you are listening to a twenty-something talk, and you say to yourself, did I spout all that meaningless wasteful drivel in great fountains of uninteresting unnecessary conversation thus boring the hell out of my elders and perhaps even my peers?, to which the answer is certainly and sadly yes.  Do I really yearn for that idiocy? you ask yourself.  (Yes?)  This mixture of admiration for and condescension towards youth is not news to anyone, of course.

But my point being.  The first movement of the 1st Concerto is one long song.  You might offer, as a general rule, that youth speaks at length, while age edits.  And here, looking over the vast stretches of this score, you might briefly condescend; you might say to yourself, young man, learn to master your own voice, get it under control!  But then, as you keep looking, what could you possibly cut?  Because you have to hand it to Brahms, this material is damned good, measure after measure.  It seems impossible to write such an enormous structure without boring filler, but I think you could make the case that Brahms skips filler entirely; his spacious design is all substance.   The development doesn’t ramble.  He couldn’t edit himself, perhaps, because he thought, this is all so good!  And this next thing is so good too!  And why cut if it’s beautiful?  And Joe baby, maybe you’re right, maybe youth is right; don’t cut beauty.  Life cuts it soon enough.  They are oppressively long sentences and (yet) they have something to say.

Young Brahms is attached to the epic and the heroic and the Nordic.  It’s an interesting life story to watch him become more and more intimate, to renounce the massive.  But part of what makes this first movement such a success is the brilliant, instinctive planning of epic events:  his narrative, programmatic sense (never mind “absolute music”).  The opening orchestral tutti is basically a ternary shape: bluster/lyricism/bluster.   That is:  a dramatic beginning, then a quiet interlude, and then a return to the dramatic.  The quiet interlude (the “second theme,” sort of) has a deep, heavy melancholy; the return to the dramatic takes a heroic, almost joyful turn.   But something is missing from this vast picture the orchestra paints; as huge as the orchestra attempts to be, as world-embracing, it still can’t capture everything.  And when the piano comes in, liltingly, you know, you think:  this is precisely what I’ve been missing.  It is lucid where everything has been opaque; it is humane where everything has been historic, tragic, or beyond our control.

Actually, when the piano comes in, I cannot help thinking in terms of an epic poem.   To me, much of the material of the first movement is fateful by its nature:  rolling in circles, unfolding in arches, always karmically coming around.  Even the first melody of the piano, circling around its notes …
So:  imagine the orchestral tutti as a classical prologue, as the well-known terrible past events which all your Grecian auditors would know as a matter of cultural identity.  The piano or the pianist, then, is the poet beginning to tell the (unique, personal) tale which will unfold under the shadow of those past events.  Which is a way of rehearing the classical ideal; of rewriting the Beethoven/Mozart double exposition idea of the concerto (a matter of ritual, of precedent) so that it has a newly dramatic meaning (and yet is even more “classical” in the Greek manner).  The piano supplies what the orchestra cannot; the piano is the bard surrounded by the world of the orchestra.  I can’t think of another concerto where this dramatic juxtaposition is so perfectly evoked, where the piano is such an iconic, poetic individual.

I have one last unrelated thought about Brahms for this post.

I think a lot of the best Brahms moments are like this:  you hear a sonority, and you think, wouldn’t it be beautiful if that chord resolved, like so?  And in your mind it does, sort of.  But if it did resolve in actuality, then it wouldn’t be beautiful anymore, and—if you’ll allow me to wax a bit poetic on my own blog—it is only the impossible dream of a possible resolution that is beautiful.

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Toast to a Diaper

I was sitting in Seattle, worshipping an enormous donut, slinging down coffee like an oil slick over my soul, when my eyes beheld an advertisement in the New York Times …

Journey of a Thousand Miles:  My Story  … by Lang Lang (w/ David Ritz)

You can pick up your own copy here.  Now, I know him a little from Marlboro and other places, and he is a very gifted artist and has always been charming and friendly to me. But, when I saw this autobiography, I became upset, against my better judgment.  Why, you ask?  Because I have been working on my own autobiography, all this while, which was to be released in tandem with the Albuquerque Olympics.  And who wants to read TWO pianist memoirs?  In other words, he and his ghostwriter scooped me, and that’s not all.  By a strange, curious coincidence, the title of my autobiography is very similar to his, and it is called …

Journey of a Thousand Pop-Tarts:  The Toasting of a Concert Pianist

Chapter 1.

I dreamed of many things as a boy in New Mexico.  Air conditioning, for example.  And a functioning septic tank.  But one touching dreamy episode from my youth will infer you so many volumes and volumes, about my youth.  Here it is.  Halley’s Comet only comes really once a lifetime, as I’m sure all of you know out there, and it came right astride my puberty, streaking across my tweens, in phallic phosphorescence.  (Take that, LL!  I bet that phrase isn’t in your autobiography.)   Well, I had just finished practicing the twelve Liszt Transcendental Etudes, twelve times, and my parents and I had an emotional conference about the comet while my father prepared a snack of tortillas and Cheez Whiz.

(This last sentence is an example of “local color” which I learned about at Las Cruces High School, from my charmingly insane English teacher.  From this teacher I learned to write one-page essays about Kafka, asserting in their first paragraph that Gregor Samsa is an “unholy trinity of Christ, bug, and man,” and concluding “in conclusion, I have shown that Gregor Samsa is an unholy trinity of Christ, bug, and man.”  My eloquence leaves me without words.)

Oh (Proustian digression) if only I could reconstitute those squished tortillas with Cheez Whiz–or sometimes creamy peanut butter!–if only the disturbing smell of them would permeate the mouse-ridden shadows of my New York Apartment, resurrecting those halcyon dehydrated days … just the way my father would dip his knife into the jar and scoop back those processed gobs, and slather them upon the slimy floury surface, fresh from the crisper!

So we had a conference, and I expressed so much wonderful youthful enthusiasm about this timely phallic comet that my parents agreed to wake me up in the middle of the night to see it streak.  And so I went off to my happy sleep, in my JC Penney’s pajamas, confident in astronomical joys.  Let me remind you now that I was a very artistic child with tremendous gifts (tremendous!).   It would be a shame for me, even now, not to share my every last snore with the world, as they are and I am so artful and imaginative.  Oh, wait, I was supposed to put all that in the third person, or something.


What transpired over the comet was only reported to me the very next day.  My parents apparently came in to wake me up.   Dare they disturb the sleep of such an artistic child?  But step to my bedside they did, indeed, over the shag carpet which cushioned the ever-creative tos and and fros of my burgeoning gurgling existence.

“Oh, Joe, should we wake him?”

“He looks so peaceful and creative and musical sleeping there, it seems a shame.”

“Yes he needs his rest if he is to learn the complete works of Bach tomorrow.  But … it is a once in a lifetime moment.”

And that decided them.  They tapped upon my shoulder, and when I turned to speak to them, I said the following:

“*&*() you, I don’t want to see the &*()#$ Halley’s comet.”

Oh youthful openness to wonder.  I was like a flower stretching open to receive the universe’s radiance.  And I was quite hilariously outspoken!

This is a true story except for most of it, but in conclusion I think it speaks vast volumes about my youth as I have said, and with that I must move on to another crucial formative moment in my life, about which I am sure you will be thrilled to read.

I noticed that in Lang Lang’s autobiography, around 19/20ths of the way through the book, he gets a finger injury and is forced to take a month off, during which he absorbs the existence of Shakespeare, Monet, Descartes, and etcetera.  It is an exciting episode.  Now, my mind is altogether too absorbed by art and music and love of the universe to devote any space to envy or competitiveness, but I feel I should note as a matter of journalistic integrity (who am I but a journalist of myself?) that I appeared in a Shakespeare play at the prodigious age of 11.

Yes, I was approached by the cream of the Las Cruces, New Mexico theatre community to take the role of the changeling boy in Midsummer Night’s Dream:  the very precious boy that the fairy king and queen are fighting over.  (Oh, irony!  Oh, fate!)  Indeed, this changeling boy is an important element of the play, important enough that Shakespeare felt that silence, that most beautiful of sounds, would be his best verbal representation.

Breathlessly I accepted.  And I devoted to my non-existent lines what ten Laurence Oliviers, working with of an infinity of monkeys, could not accomplish in a lifetime.   But as I polished my non-utterances, like the doorknobs of enchanted gardens, I began to realize a fateful fateful fact; that is, when you stripped away the dross and gloss, all the limousines and toasts and the non-stop cocktail parties of the LC theatre scene, when you pruned away the beautiful inessentials, what seemed to be left of my thespian responsibilities was to stand around in a diaper.   A green diaper, with a sash; but still … it was a disheartening mix of Shakespearean sophistication and infantile regression.

And as I stood, night after night, in the diaper, some deep malaise must have grown in me, some dark foreboding, some abhorrence of a vacuum where my pants had been.

Predictably, came a crisis of the soul.   One night, well into my theatrical run, I found myself staring at a large pan of frozen fried chicken, which my mother had carefully selected from a bank of frozen meals as best to nourish my artistic growth, and with grateful ardor, I tucked into it strappingly.  Thus fortified, I then headed off to perform.  But even as our station wagon glamorously pulled up to the loading dock, something about that fried chicken had cast me in doubt.  I slipped on my sashed diaper, and sat musingly in the green room.  Is Art this sense of unease?, I wondered.  This was my first beautiful meditation on the nature of Art, and I am sure you look forward to many more as my tale profoundly unfolds.

Doubt was soon expelled from my mind while my ample meal was expelled from my mouth, and now gave the green room a dimension of green it had never longed for.  I lost my artistic epiphany, but in a way, gained a great work of art in odor, which was under-appreciated by its audience, like so many masterpieces.  I was quite eager to go on stage nonetheless, as I felt altogether better (always the performer!!!), but there were artistic reservations.   Oberon and Titania seemed slightly offput by certain aspects of the situation, and did not give their most salutary performance, and I am sure someday someone will do some research on me (“Neurosis and Performing in Early 21st Century New York:  A Dissertation with Copious Notes on Cocktail Consumption”), and will find accounts of these performances in the Las Cruces Sun-News and other important periodicals of the surrounding chile-growing regions, and marvel at how early, and how tangibly, my effect was wreaked upon the artistic world.

[more to come….?]

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Schubertt (sic)

Airport, luggage, dawn. Desolate lanes of structure, sleeping planes like sorrowful birds, vans vrooming out of the darkness towards lonely kiosks. I boarded the bus. I had just settled myself in my seat, when a woman deposited two two-year-old boys opposite me: they swayed there, it seemed to me, like two jiggly jello molds. Aww. Casting occasional coos at them, the mother de-and-re-boarded many times, for toddler equipment … the kind of equipment you’d need a congressional appropriations bill for … carseats, strollers, baby duffels, tripods, a gross of Ziploc bags, do I see riot gear? I watched and watched. But while executing this cargo transfer, she found time to deposit with each boy a small stuffed dog, saying …

“…here’s your puppy …”

and a small container, saying …

“…here’s your sippy …”

The boys each seemed to magnetize around their puppies and sippies, and slowed their jiggling, like planets held in place by dual suns. I was instantly swept by waves of envy. Where’s MY sippy, dammit? Where is my metaphorical mommy to give my sippy for playing my Schubert Sonata a few days ago? The piece is a &*()#$ hour long and I don’t get a sippy? Here, here, on the airport bus, of all places, I need my sippy, and not some faceless wakeup call from a stoned clerk, or some crappy Cobb salad, or minibar jelly beans ($7.95!). I looked down at my fist. My clenched, desperate cup of coffee was there. What a sour, sad sippy it seemed, alas.

The last person to get on the plane sat next to lucky me. He was the window to my aisle, a tall lunk of a lad, and he casually sported a sweatsuit that was disintegrating at its edges, into threads that swept like a bead curtain over my face as he swung over me, smelling of nervous stomach. He said, by way of greeting,

“I’ve got movies.”

Trouble, I thought. As I parsed this statement and its implications of excessive friendliness, he called the passing stewardess over:

“I have an anxiety problem.”
“Yes,” she replied, serenely.

“And listen, I really don’t like flying, and I’m just really nervous.”
“Everything will be fine. Just relax.”

And this genius of customer relations walked away and he kind of trembled and swayed and gulped and I was left there with my rowmate and his movies. It was my job to do something, to prevent a full-blown freakout … (where is my sippy) … and I realized that this, THIS, was my heroic moment, that I had to be the brave sippy to his lunky puppy! Ahem, I said. This is an easy flight and I take it all the time! I fluttered by him all my horrible pretentious expertise about flying, all that well-traveled ‘tude, bravado all to make him happy and I told him (become the cheerleader you’ve always wanted to be, Jeremy!) yes I LOVE movies and I’d enjoy peering over at the screen to peep soundlessly on whatever movie you want to watch … I was groggily heroic and stoic and zzzzz.

Some of my jellybeans spilled.

The plane took off. The ground receded into misty morning distance, far from buses and lanes. “Is it normal, for the plane to go up like this?” he asked nervously.

I didn’t exactly know what to say.

And then there ensued that amazing mostly monologue of the Person From The Midwest Who Has Never Been To New York Getting All Excited About Coming To The Big City And Asking You What To Do But Looking Extremely Dubious and Bored About Any Suggestions You Give Him For Enjoying It. Finally I was in the taxi and against all expectations my luggage was in the backseat with me, turning into a giant alligator and it began hissing at me louder and louder about ssssssssss … sir you have to wake up now we are at your apartment, the maniacal driver said. And in my clean apartment I watched everything do nothing for a while. And I thought about that Schubert B-flat Sonata.

First, there is the folksong. I actually can’t tell you why, while practicing this piece over the last weeks, I kept thinking folksong, folksong … maybe it had something to do with Ives or Bartok or with my need to get back to the people or a vitamin deficiency. But the more you look at the tune, the more you wonder about it, and of course the famous half-cadence at the end with the famous trill


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… of course, of course. (A little note to all of you who freak out every time I begin to mention terms like “half-cadence”: don’t freak out, everything will be OK, do you need a sippy? Look it up on Wikipedia or something. Jeez.) Now, it seems to me that this melody, that this opening of the Sonata, perfectly represents something Schubert did that Beethoven was more or less incapable of doing: that is, patting his head while rubbing his tummy.

If you think of Beethoven openings


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… dramatic, tragic, rhythmic … or


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… suspenseful, waiting to explode … or


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… joyful bounding quiet energy waiting to explode … or even


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Beethoven openings can be conflicted consecutively, but not simultaneously. There can be tit-for-tat, but rarely (if ever) tit/tat. In this wonderful opening of the “Tempest,” there is the mysterious arpeggio, promising unanswered questions till the cows come home, and then there is the agitato, Allegro reply which doesn’t find much satisfaction either (neither urgency nor patience are rewarded) … but, you see, these are two characters in dialogue and not one really screwed-up schizophrenic (no offense to you schizophrenics, I love you all). In Beethoven, conflicts arise in the narrative but are not woven into the DNA; they are not inoperable tumors of meaning. They arise from tendencies within the musical “characters” (as in classic Greek tragedy) which inevitably lead to conflicts: but these Beethoven characters are good solid movers and shakers. They at least have tendencies, and are not prone to strange loops of self-deception and doubt. They need anger management, maybe, but not Zoloft.

Schubert’s tunes are made to reflect upon themselves, doubtfully. Also they draw so much more deeply upon cliché, upon signifiers of folk style, which are lingering around them, casting webs of (often sad) association. These webs of association may be part of Schubert’s special compositional “problem.” It makes his music feel less divorced from the world, more prone to weakness. When Schubert writes a little mini plagal cadence at the end of the first phrase …


and then immediately begins the second, strikingly, by lifting himself up to the same harmony at length …


Well, this is the perfect example of what I mean. The plagal is a cliché, coloring the end of the first phrase, a beautiful but hackneyed detail; but the clincher is the subsequent elevation and reinterpretation of this cliché, held up there for for three beats while you listen to the aching quality of the subdominant (despite its past prosaic identity). No, stop, it’s a cliché, you say, but why is it so beautiful?

Yes, that is one thing about Schubert: the musical cliché within, and without; as detail and suddenly in your face; moved from inner voice to outer, and no one, but no one, understood voicing better than Schubert. This revoicing is the eruption of the inner world … only what’s inside is old news, a torn worn keepsake.

Back to the main thesis: Schubert has managed to do two things at once. He has written a beautiful, lyrical, pastoral melody, and at the same time has removed some element of naturalness or some urge from this melody, from this genre, from this world. He has imposed some other voice which says not so fast or simply but or why. Not the florid, surging, questing why of Schumann’s “Warum?” but a darker, bleaker why. The trill is the final, coalescing materialization of this unease or malaise hiding behind the melody, but it is not (in my opinion) its first appearance. In the same way that Beckett, for instance, will begin a novel by tearing apart the justification for writing at all …

I am in my mother’s room. It’s I who live there now. I don’t know how I got there. Perhaps in an ambulance, certainly a vehicle of some kind. I was helped. I’d never have got there alone. There’s this man who comes every week. Perhaps I got here thanks to him. He says not. He gives me money and takes away the pages. So many pages, so much money. Yes, i work now, a little like I used to, except that I don’t know how to work any more. That doesn’t matter apparently. What I’d like now is to speak of the things that are left, say my goodbyes, finish dying. They don’t want that.

… so Schubert begins by writing the folksong that is expected of him and yet, perhaps, his heart is not in it. To that end, I feel that the most chilling moment of this tune is not when the trill (death?) appears, but just before: just the beat where the dominant chord is sitting there, alone, without a bass, abandoned, waiting.

God, I’m suddenly really pissed at myself, calling the trill death, even in parentheses. It just smacks of too-easy equivalence and New Musicology, etc. etc., short-circuiting Schubert’s meaning, making it all Lifetime Movie. How you “understand” the trill may be so important to the movement, and calling it death is–let’s face it–kind of a cheap out. Ack. It may make the audience ooh and aah, but are those really the oohs and aahs we want?

To think of it another way, look at the contour of the main melody …


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… Now, part of what makes this theme seem as though its “heart is not in it” is the way it circles around its very limited space. (Charles Rosen wrote the definitive article on this somewhere or other, but I’m too lazy to look it up … something about the gradual expansion of melodic space in Schubert.) It circles around its room of tones, not exactly looking for a way out; however, we as listeners may feel the absence of drive or will. We may feel the room’s limiting presence without exactly knowing it’s there.

Compare, perhaps, to the opening of the Archduke Trio …


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It seems fairly clear to me that Schubert’s melody is based upon Beethoven’s, but the intervals have merely been flattened out. Both themes are “about” the subdominant though (or you could say they are vehicles for, or toward, the beauty of the subdominant) and dwell on it before leaving for a half cadence. Compare Beethoven’s ecstatic half cadence with Schubert’s haunting half-cadence. There you go; that’s all you really need to get, to understand the “relationship” between these two pieces. It is the Archduke Trio theme, deflated and purged … without directionality, or with only the hint of directionality, with remnants of purpose, or question marks over its purposes. In Schubert I hear the simultaneous expression of something and the sadness of having to say it. The Archduke is not sad about what it has to say, no, no.

Now look back at the main melody contour … and now compare that to the little “event” of the trill:


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The main melody essentially travels Bb-C-D-C-Bb, up a third and down, and so too the trill (F-Gb-Ab-Gb-F). These two circling movements are the same sort of thing, but at two different layers, and in two different modes. This combination of resemblance and dissonance is disturbing. There is a kind of grinding of layers against each other, a tectonic meaning-grinding, a deep-seated ambivalence. And after all it is just a folksong, right? (Right.) For me the trill is not death but this terrifying ambivalence, the darkest possible manifestation of the question mark of the half-cadence, the perfectly wrong thing. While the melody attempts to sing us into a certain space, the trill questions the existence of the space itself.

I don’t think Beethoven ever wrote anything as disturbing as this folksong with the bass trill undertone, its cousin and its existential nemesis. Beethoven, clearly, had his sippy, but Schubert … Even comfort is uncomfortable to him.

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Caption Contest

I besat myself in front of the irradiating monster, and invoked its mysterious POWER button. Flicker, flicker …

“I always thought yogurt was just yogurt,” said Jamie Lee Curtis, “until I did some serious reading in the yogurt aisle.”

In search of similarly penetrating wisdom, I left the television’s radius and found myself at the Ten Thousand Waves Spa in Santa Fe. I had laid myself out near the pool when two gentlemen entered the scene, separately … they seemed to know each other. The following conversation took place under the beautiful Santa Fe sun, with a stiff breeze from the pines blowing through the slats of our shelter …

“Greetings, man.”
“Blessings. What are you doing here?”
“My girlfriend’s workin today.”
“Dude do you feel that wind today … it’s like … Gaia is speaking to us.”
“Yeah, dude, he is.”

(As you might imagine, your faithful narrator was not entirely impassive at this moment, but let us leave him discreetly in the shadow of his towel.)

“So, I lost my best friend last Saturday.”
[slight pause]
“Bummer, dude.”
“Yeah.” [allowing friend to twist in the wind of his inadequate response] “It was my dog.”
[relieved] “Oh, f*#$, dude.”
“Yeah a couple months ago, he like sneezed.”
“Except he sneezed out these huge bloody lumps.”

[Meanwhile, let us not forget, a whole group of people is lying out there, attempting to have a spiritual sunsoak. Ancient Native American Lady looks on in the corner, naked, pendulous, while the Dudes discourse.]

“Yeah like two or three big bloody lumps and I guess the vet told me later they were tumours which he passed through his nose.”
“Yeah then he couldn’t breathe too well for a while … “
[imitates desperate breathing of his dying dog, at length]
“and eventually you know it was just time, he couldn’t suffer any more.”
“I’m sorry man … did you have a burial ritual?”
[no response … silence… for a while]
“Well, blessings of the Earth upon you, Dude.” [leaves pool area.]

I was called away from the scene at that point, both sunburned and spiritually scarred. The dog’s bloody tumours sneezed through my waking dreams.

But that was nothing compared to what horrors awaited me on the Internet. For instance, the following photo on Feast of Music:
… which apparently is me bowing before or after the Goldberg Variations at Wall-to-Wall Bach. This photo sent me straight to the nearest gym where I tried to sign up with every personal trainer on staff. White is not slimming, clearly; but eeeeeeeeek! However, the Gilmore people were clearly trying to wreak a more psychological kind of revenge, by cruelly posting the following on their website:

Oh. My. God. Bummer, dude. I feel the only way to recover from this is to propose a caption contest, a la New Yorker. What caption would you put below either of these pictures (with special emphasis on the Gilmore picture)? For example, what could I be thinking while I have that look on my face? Do not forget the Curtis Doctrine: yogurt is not just yogurt.

The best caption will get some sort of dubious prize. Blessings of the earth to all of you fair readers who participate.

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