Well, 2013 has gotten off to a great start for me, thanks to Natalie Axton including my work for the LA Weekly in her roundup of the best criticism from 2012 at her blog, Living With Criticism. Ms. Axton writes:
The future of classical music writing may well look like what Christian Hertzog is doing at LA Weekly.
Sure, I’ll take whatever praise can be mustered for my work, but when it comes from a fine, perceptive writer like Natalie Axton, I cherish the kudos even more. Do yourself a favor and read Natalie’s candid, compelling essay about how she walked away from what most people would define as success, and found happiness in so doing.
Two decades ago I spent an evening hanging with my old UCSD roommate in San Francisco. We were in the Mission District, and Scott wanted to grab some coffee, so we walked into the first coffeehouse we came across. We were going to sit down and catch up, but a very obnoxious stew-bum who reeked of alcohol and week-old sweat was loudly pounding the table, insisting that he had been a general in the Marines. It cast a pall over our nostalgic reunion, so we got out of there as soon as our orders were filled. A few days ago, Scott found a thank-you-note/comic I drew memorializing “General” Brooks and passed it along.
John Cage was born on this date 100 years ago.
The older I get, the more beauty and inspiration I find in Cage’s music. His compositions, writings, and thoughts have become essential parts of my life. I’ve written elsewhere on this site about how embracing chance procedures led me to a compositional breakthrough. The result, a toy piano suite, can be heard below.
A copy of the score, which is free to download, may be found here.
Go out and hear some of Cage’s music performed live this week. http://www.johncage.org, the official site of Cage’s estate, has an events list which you may find useful.
If no Cage works are being performed in your area, sit down somewhere–preferably a place on whose sounds you would never think to focus. Don’t talk. Don’t read. Don’t write. Just listen.
Poor Paul Ryan. All he wants to do is read a little Ayn Rand, but invisible Barack Obama won’t let him.
Track of the Cat: special collector’s edition DVD
If Eugene O’Neill wrote a Western and Nicholas Ray directed it, you might get something like William Wellman’s 1954 film, Track of the Cat. It depicts one of the most dysfunctional families ever filmed for a Western. Robert Mitchum plays the macho, competent, but unlikable son, Curt. Tab Hunter is the youngest son, living in Curt’s shadow and afraid to do anything on his own. Dad is an alcoholic constantly searching for his bottle of whiskey (hidden by those “thieving women”) and Mom is a mean, Bible-thumping harridan. During a bitterly cold winter storm, the sons track a cougar killing their livestock. While this advances the plot, the real story is the poisonous interaction between the family members. William Wellman filmed this in Technicolor–yet the color design is all black and white (except for a few things that pop out of the screen like Curt’s dark red jacket). When a family member dies, the deathbed and the grave literally blot out most of the Cinemascope shot, overshadowing any living people in the frame. Roy Webb’s music underscores the family angst. I enjoyed the DVD extras, in particular the one about Mitchum’s horse, Black Diamond, a famous Hollywood horse who puts on a show here pawing, shaking his head, rearing up, and running across a mountain without a rider. Track of the Cat is a powerful psychological drama enhanced with in-your-face visuals and dissonant music, that ranks just below Nicholas Ray’s studies in tormented families from the same time
The brilliant and lovely cellist Frances-Marie Uitti on John Cage:
I remember John Cage laughing, always laughing no matter what happened. When the Frankfurt Opera House burnt down disastrously, right before the premiere of his Europera, he said “That’s marvelous!” and laughed.
And it was remarkable how he listened intently to whoever spoke to him. Fully present.
What an energy.
Along with his works, it was his laughter that I remember.