Goblin

Theme to Suspiria

by Andrew Fort

m.c. escher

In the dream there was a courtyard, and a pile of apartments across the courtyard, as if the window I looked out and the distant apartments were all part of the same circular complex.

There was also a caterpillar (or was it?) running through the various apartments.

Also, the apartments were built at impossible angles, so it was very much like an M.C. Escher drawing. And inherent in this was the knowledge that the caterpillar was actually a team of burglars in cunning disguise, scaling the sides and the stairwells of the building in order to sneak in and out of apartments unnoticed.

But this was just a portion of the dream, which mostly centered around the sense of dread that this plague of robbers represented.

I was home alone. I was eleven.

In the dream my friend Jeff and I had somehow stayed too late at school and it had gotten dark when we weren’t looking. As we walked home through a nightscape haunted by neon, adults were busy doing adult things in all of the houses. You could sense it in the air. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the electrical charge we both felt was, but Jeff was very succinct: he listened intently, then told me: “I hear balls.” That seemed to clarify everything.

He wanted to stay and try to catch a glimpse of what was going on through the bedroom window; I decided I’d better get home. My parents had left for the night, and my mother had put my dinner on the windowsill which faced the courtyard: a metal bowl of the type that we used to feed the dogs, full of liverwurst and cooked ground beef. She had never been the best cook in the world, but this was a new low. I pushed it aside and watched out the window, as the caterpillar-burglars raided the apartments.

hot lava

 

I was beginning to feel agitated, so I decided that, since I was alone, I might as well play “hot lava.” I got up on the bed and pretended that the carpet was untouchably hot, and that if I fell in I would turn to ash. As I made my way around the room, past my denim record player, past my lamp whose light bulb still had melted crayon stuck to it, over the bed, past the little bookcase, and the closet with the mysteriously rattling metal doors, and back to the windowsill, I realized that I was not alone. As the lava roiled beneath and the burglar caterpillar prowled the Escher landscape outside, I noticed that sitting on the window sill was a disembodied head: bright red, like a devil, but not with the traditional black hair and goatee; in fact, aside from the redness, it looked rather angelic, with close-cropped pale blond hair and the handsome features of a baby-faced man.

It began talking to me, saying things I didn’t understand—adult things—and I remember terror mounting within me as I realized that what I really needed to do was shove the head into the roiling lava.

I woke up in one of those panic-sweats.

Despite its vividness, the dream was forgotten by the following morning.

But these things have a way of lurking subconsciously. When I returned home after college, I had learned many of the adult things that the devil-head had been whispering into my ear, but rather than answering my childhood questions, they only raised more questions. The world had become more baffling and my place in it more uncertain.

For one, I had realized that there were two kinds of writers: writers-for-hire who recognized their status as writers meant that their talent was to be exploited for material gain, and those who wrote because they were unable not to. The first type seemed to me more practical, and it seemed like they had a clearer path forward to a successful, happy adulthood. The second type often ended up poor, miserable, and alcoholic, and quite possibly laboring under a delusion of talent. One of the baffling adult questions on my mind was whether or not the fact that my work had been rejected in bulk meant that I was of the second type.

suspiria redAbout this time I saw the film Suspiria. Almost immediately, the dream came back to me. In fact, the theme music, and the film in general, seemed to be an elaboration of that dream. It was as if Dario Argento and I had been to the same vacation spot in hell and brought back different postcards. When I saw the girl running through the forest, and when I saw Stefania Casini fall into the room filled with razor wire, and when I heard the Goblins howling on the soundtrack, something inside me unlocked.

Guided by this music, I found myself laboring over a screenplay which eventually became a novel, in the same bedroom out of whose window I had watched the Escher landscape. For better or worse, it was the first time I was able to follow a novel-length vision to completion.

As it turns out, writing is a lot more difficult than dreaming. And publishing that writing is even harder. But it was at that point that I knew irrevocably which kind of writer I was. The important thing is that I did it in that very same bedroom, and when I look back on all of the complex emotions of childhood, and the sometimes baffling and tortuous beauty of the everyday world, I think I wouldn’t have it any other way.

During the month of October MIDKIN will devote entries to music and themes in keeping with the season. Submissions along these lines are welcome.

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Goblin

X

Adult Books

By Andrew Fort

Wild GiftOne of the great mysteries of my adolescence involves a book. Not a musty, leather-bound book hidden away in some cloistered library, but a cheap, mass-produced hardback. It was one of these so-called “Adult Books” referenced by John Doe and Exene Cervenka on their album Wild Gift.  The song itself was not the instigator of the mystery, but rather an artifact around which all of the other mysteries of adolescence began to coalesce, and a confirmation that if you wanted to, you could categorize the things of the world into Child and Adult. 

Never mind the fact that adults often behaved like children, and children very often behaved like adults. Never mind the fact that most movies labeled “adult” were in actuality the most emotionally immature movies in existence–though I had no direct experience of this at the time, I did know, based on a free adult newspaper that a female friend brought to school one day when we were much too young to be looking at such things, that naked women seemed to enjoy lollipops every bit as much as my friends and I did. And I don’t mean that as a double entendre. This was clearly part of photographic procedure for this particular newspaper.

Do You Like MeI don’t think my experiences in first learning about sex were any different from anybody else’s of my era. We were clearly moving out of the sweet, innocent phase of notes tossed across the classroom when the teacher wasn’t looking: DO YOU LIKE ME? CHECK ONE. YES. NO.

But we were clearly not adults. And what did adult mean? And why were all the adults so secretive about it? The only straight answers I got were from other adolescents, and these sounded patently ridiculous: You put WHAT WHERE? 

Due to the uniform silence of the adults, things began to take on a sinister sheen, like in a sci-fi movie where the protagonist suddenly uncovers a vast conspiracy. Where aliens have taken over the world and everyone is complicit, and every child is doomed to be indoctrinated into the conspiracy and there’s no going back, ever.

DoloresThis song came out when I was about eleven years old. My sister, who was then seventeen, played it all the time and ran around the house singing the lyrics:

They’re all in a line, like
Adult books
I don’t understand Jackie Susann…

What did it all mean? I didn’t understand it either. Even more puzzling, my grandmother had a copy of a Jacqueline Susann book–DOLORES–on her book shelf. My Grandmother, who lived by herself in a little house in Long Beach and only rarely dated. (When she did, it was usually a guy named Dick Tracy. If ever there was a reason to believe that adults were just putting us on, that name had to be one of them.)

So when John and Exene sing Clifford shackles Jane, throws her on the floor she says no, no, yes, what was my eleven-year-old mind supposed to make of it? And was my seventeen-year-old sister now an adult, or what? Did she “go for Tomata?” Whatever that was supposed to mean? Did my grandmother? Did Dick Tracy?

I never really received satisfactory answers to these questions. And now that I’m older and have children of my own, at about the same ages, I really have to wonder if it all seems like a vast conspiracy to them. That sometimes, at night, adults slink around in the darkness and pull off their masks and do depraved things to and with one another.

And even if they asked me point blank whether or not this was the case, I’m unsure whether my answer would be YES or NO.

X

[silence]

By Andrew Fort

fog 1Imagine you are having a dream. Any dream; insert your random montage here. Trying to shop for Brussels sprouts, for example, but the plastic bags are turning into jellyfish which threaten to sting you. Or you desperately need to go to the bathroom, but Chevy Chase is blocking the entrance, and he’s being really mean. And anyway the bathroom is not a bathroom, but a Ferris wheel. Chevy still won’t let you by.

Now imagine this random montage of absurd imagery is also deeply emotional. It is, in fact, making you weep with a sudden depth more profound than anything else you have experienced. And it’s happening while you’re awake.

And then imagine it’s over in an instant.

They might have been visions sent from God, if God had Captain Beefheart for a playwright and Salvador Dali for a set designer. They might have been visitations from dead relatives, if my dead relatives were Jane Curtin and Bozo the Clown. Or they might have been acid flashbacks, if I’d ever done acid.

I hadn’t.

As I began to figure out what was happening, I became aware that I was being revisited–usually about ten times a day, not counting the ones that happened while I was asleep–by long-forgotten dreams. And they weren’t the meaningful ones. They were just any old dream which I might have had over the course of a lifetime which has probably been too stuffed with surrealist art, pop-culture references, and hand-wringing philosophical quandaries. But somehow they were always paired with a sudden spasm of free-floating grief.

fog 2What was clear to me from the start was that this was something which originated in the chemical or electrical processes of the brain. My thoughts and emotions had never followed this particular pathway before. With a little sleuthing from my wife, we came upon the culprit: TLE, or Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Everything written about it said that it emanated from a small–often microscopic–scar on the brain which caused localized seizures and didn’t affect motor function. As the Temporal Lobe controls memory and emotion, it seemed entirely plausible as the source of these profoundly gut-wrenching inanities.

My doctors were a little slower on the uptake. I first had to see a therapist who, despite being perfectly pleasant, was clearly concerned by the end of session two that I was wasting her time. About six months after the incidents began I made it to a neurologist, who instantly recognized what was going on. Still, it took a month or two to find the right medication to get this to stop. In the meantime, I began to experience a depression like I’d never had before.

I understand that others probably experience depression differently, and it can be debilitating for many. But that wasn’t the case with me. True, everything seemed meaningless. True, nothing held my interest. True, everything was colorless. But ironically, it was a very productive time. Nothing held any meaning any more, but since nothing held any meaning, there was no reason why I SHOULDN’T continue to work on my novel, or do the dishes, or open an IRA. Since none of it meant anything, everything was weighted equally—inaction as well as action. I got a lot done, and I lost thirty pounds to boot, because eating also didn’t interest me.

fog 3But where it really hurt, aside from the random finger-jabs of inconsolable weeping, was that I couldn’t listen to music. None of it. All of the music that has brought me comfort over the years and helped me become who I am, it all reminded me only of myself. It was no longer a communication from someone out in the world to me, but only a communication from my own poorly-wired brain to itself, and it seemed as meaningless as the sudden Sisyphean dream-memory of a cat trying to retrieve a bean from the top of a flagpole while I watched from below and a boom-box played “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”

So what was I left with? Silence.

When the medication eventually kicked in, music began to creep its way back into my life. In fact, it was as if it had never left.

I have often heard people say that if it weren’t for modern pharmaceuticals, they wouldn’t be able to function. I’m sure, given the mildness of my condition, I would have continued to soldier on. But I have also heard it said that music is like medicine. For me, the two are now inextricably tied.

[silence]

Rodgers and Hart

My Funny Valentine

Excerpt from The Emerald Ballroom 

red-and-blue-1

by Andrew Fort

The air was dense with smoke. A mask of moisture appeared on her face almost immediately. Anna clutched her bowling ball bag and pushed through the crowd. She considered finding a table and going through the articles in the bag, but the music was too numbing. Instead she wandered through the crowd. She lost track of time. She had a dozen or more listless, bored conversations with listless, bored people who swayed rhythmlessly to the music and whose eyes wandered around the room as if they’d rather be talking to anyone else. The band played one miasma of a song after another. Anna’s senses were dulled. Occasionally the colored lights shifted; red became blue or blue became dirty yellow. At some point in the evening, while talking to a man in a leather jacket who claimed to be an “Assassin of the Establishment,” she momentarily forgot where she was and what she was doing there. She slipped through the crowd into the bathroom and looked at her face in the mirror. It was a face she had long since studied into meaninglessness. She squeezed an emergent pimple.

The woman in the stall directly behind her began to cough violently and Anna caught sight of something red. There was a sound of water splashing. Eventually the woman emerged from the bathroom stall and stuffed something that looked like a length of surgical tubing into the garbage can. She had the face of a junkie. Anna watched her go. The bass from the band made the latch on the bathroom stall buzz like a dying beetle. She suddenly despaired for everything she had left behind. Numb and unsure of where else to go, she left the bathroom.red-and-blue-2

She wove her way through the complicated screen of clubbers to the other end of the room. When she reached the door, she stood for a moment with her hand on the handle. The lights went from blue to yellow and the pianist pounded a sickening, unresolved chord and let it resound. It sounded premonitory. Anna saw her own shadow change color on the door. She turned on instinct to see the stage illuminated by a single spotlight, under which Ferrian was standing.

“O,” Anna said. She did an unintentional double-take, looking back at her colored shadow on the exit door and then at Ferrian as the piano introduction continued, pulsing and dissonant. Ferrian swayed along. She was dressed in a kinky ensemble of black fishnet stockings and a white poet’s shirt which stopped in a ruffle high on the thigh. Anna felt as if she had been tricked; she had come to the club looking for M. and meaning had stepped in sideways.

The piano introduction continued, jazzy and a little perverse, with a bass line that descended stubbornly until it had reached the bottom keys. There was an effect of deepening, of widening. When the bass ran out of places to go, it began descent on a new note. Ferrian’s face was transported. Her eyes were closed. There was a flush of fever on her cheeks. She began to sing, her voice surprisingly deep and resonant and drawn out of her slowly, so that every note verged on expiring before it became the next.

My funny valentine…
Sweet comic valentine…
You make me smile with my heart.

Her eyes were closed, her voice deep and regretful, and so deadly serious it could only have been ironic, or so ironic it could only have been deadly serious. The little parenthesis appeared at the side of her mouth. The bass line continued to descend, hinting at richness, at profundity.

Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
Yet you’re my favorite work
Of art…

red-and-blue-3Anna felt betrayed by coincidence. Were she following a different trail, Ferrian’s performance might have meant something. As it was, she couldn’t connect it to anything she was looking for. But there was still a sense in which the performance conjured some of the richness which had been missing from the club itself.

She moved back through the crowd towards the stage. At that moment Ferrian opened her eyes in a sideways glance to the pianist and caught sight of something which shook her. It might have been Anna. She gave a self-conscious wink, but something had shaken her. She cocked her head slightly as if trying to forget—she sang “weak” for “Greek.” The pianist continued but Ferrian had fallen behind and couldn’t or wouldn’t keep up. Anna stopped where she was. Suddenly it seemed an impossible weight, the complex construction of self and a world where self could function. Meaning kept creeping in the side door, revising itself.

There was something fake about the club. The yellow light became red. Anna watched as Ferrian attempted to laugh her mistake off but the laughter shattered the spell of the music and it was impossible to find the thread of melody amidst the pianist’s cacophonous playing. Ferrian glanced behind her, panicked. She clutched the microphone stand. Anna could feel her face growing hot. People pushed up against her. Everything in the club felt fake and it seemed impossible that Ferrian would be able to recapture the richness of before. Her face convulsed, tightened. It looked drawn, like the face of the junkie in the bathroom. The bass began to descend again. Miraculously, Ferrian found her footing, almost stumbling on the correct phrase. The solemnity was even deeper for having survived that near-death. Anna watched, drawn in as Ferrian regained confidence and began to eerily sway, to cock her wrists and, Kewpie-like, swing in tiny arcs first the left then the right, even as the music reached a fearful clamorous pitch, the pianist pounding with both hands.

red-and-blue-4Halfway through the next phrase Ferrian looked behind her and an expression of paranoia, panic, came to her face. The song became unbearably tense. Anna saw a desperation in Ferrian’s face that mirrored her own. How could she construct a self when coincidence kept creeping in, skewing things? She felt herself going hot and shaky. She felt as if everyone were watching her. She self-consciously scanned the room. Ferrian sang the final phrase, her eyes wide in terror, as the pianist brought the song to a shockingly tonal close. Her expression faded from terror to acceptance. The pianist played a few final strains and the blood which had seemed to make Ferrian’s complexion so ruddy suddenly drained, leaking in a blackish trickle out one side of her mouth. It was an over-the-top touch, but utterly convincing and in keeping with the inherent camp value of the song.

There was a smattering of applause. Anna didn’t want to look at the Inferno; she knew that Ferrian’s performance had communicated the essence of the place more eloquently than the colored lights or the velvet curtain. It had communicated a complete world, a world somehow richer than her own. Perhaps it was only a world of the junkie on taking her first hit. She bumped into a listlessly swaying man in her haste to get out. Already the world was fading. She tried to hold a picture in her mind of Ferrian singing. She zigzagged through the meandering black shapes of the clubbers, trying to hold on to at least a scrap of melody. By the time she made it to the door and out into the cold, salt air, the only thing she heard with any certainty was the persistent clanking of the buoys.

Rodgers and Hart

Wim Mertens

Paying for Love

By Andrew Fort

paying-for-love-1
Andreas Vesalius Illustration

Once, a long time ago, I made an artifact. I’ve made a few in my time, but this one is special, because it’s on now-obsolete 3/4” videotape which is currently deteriorating in my dank basement and is unlikely to ever be seen again. It features the medieval anatomical drawings of Andreas Vesalius, manipulated digitally by a primitive computer, several quotations from 17th century poet Edward Young, and this piece of music, Paying for Love. Oh yeah: it also features a spinning, gravity-defying loofah, hovering above a pyramid as the sun rises in the distance.

Our assignment was to make a “music video” and as usual I was unable to accept the prompt at face value. Didn’t that just mean a video with music? I could do whatever I wanted! I remember our professor losing patience with me as I tried to get the effects I needed by suspending a loofah in the studio and then painstakingly instructing other students on how fast to spin it, whether to spin it clockwise or counter-clockwise, whether to let it swing from side to side. I specifically remember him trying to cut my allotted studio time short because he felt I was wasting it. Granted, he was not the type of guy to have much faith in my brand of pseudo-intellectual absurdism. He was the type of guy who lip-synced Sinatra songs in his spare time, a practice which we got ample demonstration of during in another studio-based assignment on the Three-Camera Setup, when he donned a fedora and sat under a prop lamppost.

Edward Young D.C.L. 1777 by British (?) School nullHe was trying to teach us Industry Standards, which was his job. And most video production jobs ultimately consisted of shooting music videos, infomercials, live T.V. events and possibly, if you’re lucky, sitcoms. But I had no use for these. And I also had no use for Industry Standards. A paying job? No use for that either.

Enter Wim Mertens. I found his cassette Motives for Writing in a Tower Records store and instantly fell in love with it. This piece in particular begins by sounding like a random accumulation of notes played by a small chamber ensemble, which eventually coalesce into something approximating a melody. Every instrumental motif which appears to be improvisational reveals itself in the course of the larger work to be a carefully considered part of the whole. Mertens sings nonsense syllables in a strangled countertenor. The music shares much in common with jazz and is yet as unlike jazz as anything you’ve ever heard.

Essentially, the complete opposite of Sinatra.

So, what was this “music video?” It begins with a dead body on the floor, and a voice-over relating the evidence found at the scene. The narrator eventually grows bored with the murder which, while puzzling, is not nearly sensational or occult enough for his tastes, and ends up fixating instead on a piece of paper (a clue?) found at the scene, which contains a poem, which he then analyzes, breaking it down first into phrases, then words, and finally letters, which he rearranges according to a logic of his own, finally ending up with the word “loofah.” Enter the spinning loofah, keyed in over the opening of the T.V. show “Mysterious Universe,” traveling through space and coming to rest atop a pyramid as the sun rises behind it. The meaning of life.

paying-for-love-2
Loofah

The finished project was a great success. Somehow, even the Sinatra-worshiping professor liked it. Another student, whom I greatly admired, took to calling me the “Dalai Loofah.” The video was screened at a number of festivals around the country.

And that was it. I was soon to discover that the wider world had different tastes than that of the academic one. When I eventually showed the video to the head of the music video production company I later worked for, his one-sentence response was, “I didn’t get it.” Apparently Industry Standards had no more use for me than I had for them.

I abandoned filmmaking not long after I graduated from film school, and the video now sits unwatched in my dank basement, but radiating a dense magnetic pull every time I go down there, as if to continually remind me that there are other ways of being: Sinatra is fine, if you like that sort of thing. Industry Standards are fine, if you like that sort of thing. But I’m here too, and I always have been.

I imagine someone from the future coming upon this image of the spinning loofah and asking What does this mean? What does any of this mean? But laughing delightedly, nonetheless.

It is this thought, more than anything else, which keeps me plumbing the depths of absurdity.

Wim Mertens website

 

Wim Mertens

Unicorn Purse

by Andrew Fort

unicorn-purse-2When my first son was less than a year old, that first January came as the capper to an exhausting year. It was cold and miserable. We were iced in, and all I wanted to do was get out of the house and go somewhere. Somewhere new, that I hadn’t been before. I was tired of being stuck at home with this little stranger, who had dropped into my life seemingly out of nowhere. But he was sick. Really sick.

If you’ve never had kids, you might not know how alarmingly high their fevers can get when their sick. If you’ve had kids, you may have forgotten. It’s alarmingly high. Days are measured off by the amount of time between ibuprofen doses, which most often seem to interrupt the blessed oblivion of nap time. Very young children with high fevers either wail constantly, causing you to rue your existence, or lie in your arms in limp, soggy contortions with the disturbing heft of a Ziploc bag filled with liquified leftovers. You worry about the permanent brain damage a high fever can cause, to them and to you. You worry about dehydration. The worry and self-doubt are constant.

For whatever reason, around the first of that most dismal of years, I had decided to challenge my listening habits by trying Chinese Opera. I don’t know what sickness of mind or constitution caused me to set up that particular challenge for myself at that particular time—maybe I was hoping it would be the thing that would simply push me over the edge. Maybe I imagined my son growing up to tell his friends, “Yeah, my dad? He hanged himself because of Chinese Opera.” I have a feeling I wouldn’t be the first.

unicorn-purse-1But whatever the reason, I was determined that I was going to listen to this stuff. My life was tedious and devoid of adventure, and I wanted to send myself somewhere totally foreign. Chinese Opera is pretty foreign. It was a grueling experience.

This particular opera I remember listening to was called Unicorn Purse. It’s a story of poetic justice. In short, a wealthy woman kindly helps a stranger, a poor young bride who describes dismal future full of poverty and worry, by giving her a Unicorn Purse—essentially a bride’s dowry purse full of jewels—to help her get started in life. Later, after a disastrous flood during which she loses everything, the once-wealthy woman takes a job as a nanny in a posh home. One day she sees her Unicorn Purse hanging in one of the rooms. The two women each realize who the other is, and they become lifelong best friends.

At the time, I didn’t know this. I only knew that Unicorn Purse was confusing, tedious, and full of strange whining sounds and weird rhythms. Just like raising children.

But the thing was, I kind of came to like it. The opera, that is. And now, instead of my children annoying and unnerving me with all of their whining and mewling, I am able to annoy them with what seems to be the poetic justice of Chinese Opera. And the gifts these little strangers have given me have more than compensated for the years of poverty and worry.

Dare you listen to Unicorn Purse? Here’s Aria D:

Unicorn Purse

24 Preludes and Fugues–Shostakovich

By Andrew Fort

shostakovich-1
A few weeks ago my teenage son came to me, clearly agitated about tonight’s election, enumerating all of the negative things which have been repeated in the press about the candidates and outlining his disappointment with our current political climate. At the time I didn’t really have any answers for him, other than: It doesn’t matter that there are no great choices. You have to choose one. Not the sort of thing a fifteen-year-old wants to hear.

I wrote this post before the results of the election, when everything was still up for grabs. I did that on purpose, because no matter who wins, it’s inevitable that there will be one side which is bitterly disappointed, and another side which is grudgingly triumphant at having won a race that was more like a Soviet death march than an Olympic marathon.

Somehow, every election year, many of us manage to convince ourselves that politics is the most important thing in our lives.

And yet, it’s not. I don’t mean to say that politics or the political climate don’t affect us; they do. What I mean to say instead is that who we elect is a representation of our values as a nation, but not the only one.

There are other things which are capable of representing our values. Culture, for example. Which is one of the many reasons this piece of music–the 24 Preludes and Fugues by Dmitri Shostakovich–is so meaningful to me. It contains an entire world, and it is completely outside of politics, though it came into being in a deeply political climate.

shostakovich-2At the time Shostakovich composed these pieces, he was simultaneously a tool of Stalinist Russia and its whipping boy. He was clearly a key player on the musical world stage, so the government sent him out into the world to represent Russia, even if he didn’t always represent his country in the way its leaders wanted it to be represented. You can’t tell a genius not to think for himself.

What Shostakovich did with these pieces was to retreat from some of the more political themes he had dealt with in the past into the realm of “pure music”–music which has no explicit meaning other than to be listened to.

But of course, it does have meaning: by taking Bach’s Preludes and Fugues as his model, Shostakovich was adopting a musical family rather than a nationalistic one. And though these pieces are supposed to be “pure” music, one in particular takes me through a number of emotions which can be applied to this most recent political cycle—a kind of five stages of grief: depression, confusion, disbelief, agitation, and finally, clarity. And when I listen to it now, I am not really thinking about Stalinist Russia. I’m not thinking about the political climate—his or mine—I’m just thinking about the brilliant music.

The pianist Olli Mustonen said “[Bach and Shostakovich] would seem to be very different composers, an 18th-century German and a 20th-century Russian. But even more interesting than their differences are the things that unite them. This is kind of like speaking of two mountaintops. Whether you are in the Andes or the Himalayas, when you are at seven kilometers, the scenery is quite similar. When you rise to this level of genius, there is surprisingly much in common, despite everything that may be happening at sea level.”

What I mean to say is that in our current democracy politics rarely rises above sea level. In fact, it often sinks below, to the point where we feel as if we’re drowning. But I don’t have to sink down there with it.

Even though I don’t belong up there at the top of the mountain with Bach and Shostakovich, I’m going to try to stay up there for a while. It’s a much better view than down in the mud.

24 Preludes and Fugues–Shostakovich