Friday, January 23, 2009

Closing Out My First Day In a Mellow Tone

In a long phone conversation tonight with a dear friend, too seldom seen, we returned again and again to the subject of misunderstandings and the frequency with which we find ourselves misunderstood from that best of motives: enthusiasm. Now, my friend is a musician and an instrument maker, an artist and mask maker, a true bohemian and the gentlest soul I've ever met. The very idea that anyone new to his acquaintance would find in him anything uninteresting strikes me as astonishing. Few are the men I've ever met more likely to surprise, delight and reward with affectionate sympathy even the slightest interest. J. listens, as I've found musicians tend to do, with an even greater facility than he talks. As a talkative old party, what more could I require in a younger friend? That he is also very easy on the eyes only adds to his attraction of course, but we speak just now of higher things, and it is his enthusiasm; for music, for books, for sex, for life, that seems most often to put him into corners.

I'll explain, briefly. When asked what he was doing when I called, J. explained, without the least self-consciousness, that he was "just working on the script for the Job play." That this project is a puppet show, that it is, indeed meant to tell the story of the Biblical Job -- subject you will remember of that infamously heartless celestial bet -- and that, as with most of my friend's many artistic undertakings, this will involve "early music" and little or no pay, I understood immediately that we were off to unfamiliar places together. I know J. and his ways well. But not everyone would. How could one not want to know more? And yet, there are those benighted souls who on hearing just such a rare occasion for interesting conversation, will turn the talk immediately to the weather, the day's news, or the state of their child's diapers. My friend's enthusiasm, in much of his daily life, is met not with the curiosity he deserves and invokes from any sensible person, but instead with a coldly intentional misunderstanding. The assumption sometimes made -- from his facial tattoos, his quiet manner, the gamba strapped to his back -- is that there is simply... too much to address. And so a rare opportunity, a rare individual is missed.

Do not confuse eccentricity with interest. There are as many bores with feathers in their hair and studs in their eyebrows as there are in business suits and Florsheim shoes. But having ventured a chat with someone like J., however basely carnal one's initial interest -- the boy is hot, I tell you -- one will find, at least in him, fascinations far beyond the termination of the tattoo that may start at his navel. And yet friends, and even lovers, as well as strangers have refused the obvious invitation J. is to learn. And that is an awful thing, and breaks his heart I think, more often than one would assume one heart, however brave, could be broken.

In my own little life, lived far less expansively than J.'s, and fenced all around with timidity, hesitations and the avoidance of embarrassment, I too have had some experience of presuming too much on the interest of others. Though my stock of anecdote and event comes all but exclusively from the books that have always been better friends to me than I have been to them, my enthusiasm has too often been met with a not dissimilar indifference. When I've wanted so badly to communicate, for example how perfectly Addison may have addressed just the point being made, too often I've bumbled the quote, or even if I've got it right, I've dropped it too late into the mix and so spoiled rather than spiced the dish being served. My enthusiasm can be mistaken for pedantry, and my engagement for garrulity.

So my new venture online may serve only to prove yet another opportunity for misunderstanding. I never intend to bore, though I know I do. And if, in my enthusiasm for old books and old language, for long, breathless sentences and dependent clauses, for commas and chatter, I have already undone this new effort to engage with the world, I am sorry.

Perhaps I would do better to take yet another lesson from my friend, and let music make my way for me. I never finished my oboe lessons in Jr. High, and I can not sing, though I do, so I promise, when able to add a song to this typing, from a better source than myself. Perhaps, if it is allowed, I might share the Anita O'Day I'm listening to now. Do you know the great, late Anita O'Day? As jazz singers go, she is the rhythm of a snare drum and the snap of a bass, rather than the flight of trumpets. And I like my Anita old, in "recovery" and much the worse for wear. "Live in Concert Tokyo 1976" plays out all around me as I write tonight. "Sweet Georgia Brown" is pounding and skipping through brief thickets of polite Japanese applause and as always, Anita is swinging. I can't make such music myself, would that I could, so instead let me just humbly recommend for now something perfect that requires no explanation from me. This at least is an enthusiasm all too easy to share. Just find it and listen.

Meanwhile, goodnight to sweet J., whose music this isn't but who would listen attentively should I suggest or insist, and who, as I end for the day, I still wish were here, to tell me more about Job, and puppets, and harpsichords and Handel, and the boy that misunderstood and broke his heart again.

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