The kids, man, The goddam kids. Listening to singles. Wouldn’t know a good transition if it split their Dres in half. Probably just listening to Vines, anyway, all six seconds if that, the visual more important than the aural. Fuckin’ kids. Only know Beck as the guy who got dissed by Kanye, not as the guy who faded from “Loser” to “Pay No Mind.” That latter track starts with the statement that this was song two on the album and the order, sped-up or heliumed-up in high-pitch, to: “Burn the album!.” Not as in “copy,” but as in “set on fire.” Or better yet, they don’t know Beck as the guy who faded from the manic, eclectic, raw creativity of the Mellow Gold album to the actually-mellow One Foot in the Grave acoustic album, a mini-masterpiece that showed whoever cared to listen that hell yeah, this guy knows his roots. But it’s not just the kids. No one knows that album.
I got a bust of Beethoven at home, and in mine he is not glaring. Figuratively. It’s a CD, not a statue. James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with my man Alfred Brendel on the keys. First three tracks are Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, aka “The Emperor.” The third and final movement is a rolicking, festive, and, if I may say, jaunty number. It’s too fast to be triumphant or regal, but it’s one of the higher emotional states for sure. It’s the tone of a feast day right when the kegs are tapped. This track is punctuated most not by anything in the score, but by the audience’s burst of applause at the end. The album engineers sustain it for several seconds, but, as applause always does, it fades.
Track four: the audience and the other performers have bailed. Levine has taken his baton gone scram. Only Alfred Brendel remains. The man’s got some shit to sort out. It’s Sonata No. 31 and it begins slow and soft, gently but not delicately. It sounds like a man ruminating, if such a thing could make a sound
Whenever I hear that transition from concerto to sonata, from concert hall to studio, from wall of noise to relative silence, it reminds me of coming home late on a Saturday night after the bars have closed. When I was single. When I didn’t get a number. When the social two-thirds of the weekend were over and I was days and days away from my next chance at finding Her. I had had a good time but probably not a great one, certainly not great enough to wipe away all that I don’t like about life. I get into my apartment and slide my bike against the wall, flick the deadbolt shut, and drop onto the couch. The din from the bar still rings in my ears and other people’s cigarette smoke still lingers in my hair and my clothes. I sit in the silence, in the darkness, and I feel it all fall away. It’s OK. I didn’t get The Girl, yet. It’s just me here. But it’s cool. It’s all right. I got everything I need. Tonight, really, was not that bad.
That’s what that transition feels like. Not sounds like, feels like. It’s visceral and tactile, and whatever Beethoven was doing when he was writing those opening bars of Sonata 31, he wasn’t glaring at the page or at me. He didn’t need the audience’s approval then and neither did Brendel. And now--at home, alone--neither do I.
Now watch me jumpstart at the first light of day. Or don’t. Either way, I’m good.