George, don’t make no full moves. Please make it quick, fast and furious. Please. Fast and furious. You get ahead with the dot dash system. Oh, oh—dog biscuits! And when he is happy he doesn’t get happy. No hobo and pobo I think he means the same thing. I am a pretty good pretzler. Don’t put anyone near this check. In the olden days they waited and waited. I don’t want harmony. I want harmony. There are only ten of us and there ten million fighting somewhere of you, so get your onions up and we will throw up the truce flag. The sidewalk was in trouble and the bears were in trouble and I broke it up. You can play jacks and girls do that with a softball and do tricks with it. I take all events into consideration. No. No. And it is no. It is confused and it says no. A boy has never wept nor dashed a thousand kim. I am sore and I am going up and I am going to give you honey if I can. Mother is the best bet and don’t let Satan draw you too fast. They dyed my shoes. Open those shoes. I know what I am doing here with my collection of paper. Come on, open the soap duckets. The chimney sweeps. Talk to the sword. French-Canadian bean soup. I want to pay. Let them leave me alone.
—among the last words of Dutch Schultz
The information we're plugged into is the universe itself, and everybody knows that on a cellular level. It's built in. Just superficial stuff like what happened to you in your lifetime is nothing compared to the container which holds all your information. And there's a similarity in all our containers. We are all one organism, we are all the universe, we are all doing the same thing. That's the sort of thing that everybody knows, and I think that it's only weird little differences that are making it difficult. The thing is that we're all earthlings. The earthling consciousness is the one that's really trying to happen at this juncture and so far it's only a tiny little glint, but it's already over. The change has already happened, and it's a matter of swirling out. It has already happened. We're living after the fact. It's a postrevolutionary age. The change is over. The rest of it is a cleanup action. Unfortunately it's very slow. Amazingly slow and amazingly difficult.
It is said that when a Los Angeles classical radio station first played the Symphony No. 3 by the Polish composer Henryk Górecki in the early 1990s, cars could be seen pulling to the side of the freeways, because the drivers’ eyes were full of tears.
Oh! The noise the skeletons make, trying on new bodies.
Especially here on the tubes, human beings most often use language—words—to communicate with one another.
Not everybody thinks this is a good idea.
William Burroughs insisted that language is a virus, and one from outer space, one that is up to no good.
For “a virus operates autonomously, without human intervention. It attaches itself to a host and feeds off of it, growing and spreading from host to host. Language infects us; its power derives not from its straightforward ability to communicate or persuade but rather from this infectious nature, this power of bits of language to graft itself onto other bits of language, spreading and reproducing, using human beings as hosts.”
Leonard Schlain, meanwhile, argues in The Alphabet Versus The Goddess that language rewired the human brain, shifting dominance from the “feminine” right hemisphere to the “masculine” left hemisphere, thereby allowing brutal patriarchies to supplant worldwide more pacific matriarchal cultures.
Schlain’s brainshower seems to fit with Burroughs’ blood-curdling description of how the alien language virus reproduced itself in early ur-humans:
[A]lterations in inner throat structure were occasioned by virus illness . . . This illness may well have had a high rate of mortality but some female apes must have survived to give birth to the wunder kindern. The illness perhaps assumed a more malignant form in the male because of his more developed and rigid muscular structure causing death through strangulation and vertebral fracture. Since the virus in both male and female precipitates sexual frenzy through irritation of sex centers in the brain the males impregnated the females in their death spasms and the altered throat structure was genetically conveyed.
It is not necessary, that we lark in what Science Men would dismiss as lulu-land, there with people like Burroughs and Schlain, in order to recognize that language is an imperfect servant.
It is said, for instance, and even by Science Men, that in face-to-face communication, as much as 80% of all information is transmitted non-verbally.
And it is further found that people’s thoughts, even on such abstract subjects as time and space, translate into movements of the body, though they do not emerge in speech.
And that Science Men are even now discovering the wisdom in Kenneth Patchen’s observation that: “There is body; there is mind: they are mixed up together. Shakespeare with a hole in his sock will not write the sonnet of a Shakespeare with socks intact.”
When one is cold, one is different, from when one is hot. In all ways.
So one can imagine how much is lost. When talking to people here on the tubes. Where all information must be imparted through neutered nonentity pixellated words.
I have been paid all my adolescent and adult life to express things in language.
Yet have frequently and recurrently found myself failing to get across to people: on blogs, in email, in newspapers, in magazines, in books, on el telefono, in naked person.
I become this sadsack.
I, as you, am marooned on a planet where only words can move through to too many of us.
So I try words. On a planet where so many of the words are debased, devalued, destroyed.
Hi Man, what's happening. See you people later.That's from Lew Welch. Like all of us, Lew Welch: not a native of this planet.
Hi Man, what's happening. See you people later.
Hi Man, what's happening. See you people later.
Lowering the butterfat
to meet marketing requirements
actually increases the percentage of Calcium,
and other food elements
You could make this marriage work if you'd only try!
I am in Personnel.
Anti-personnel bomb. Exceptional Children. Homogenized.
Over-kill. Hydrogenated. Apostolic Faith. Pentecostal.
He died for our sins.
Pentecostal holy-mission. United Brotherhood of the Sons of Father Baptism Apostolic. Virgin Mother house of Grace the holy ghost immersion. Sanctuary redemption. Death. Devil finds work for idle excommunicate. Confess thy total pentecostal immersion, my son.
I pledge allegiance
You never say you love me anymore.
NEVER. NEVER PUT THE GOD-DAMN CAMERA IN THE GLOVE COMPARTMENT. I TOLD YOU AND TOLD YOU TO NEVER PUT THE GOD-DAMN CAMERA IN THE GLOVE COMPARTMENT. SO WHAT DO YOU DO? YOU PUT THE GOD-DAMN CAMERA IN THE GLOVE COMPARTMENT. AND IT'S STOLEN! SEE?
I am on top of the Empire State Building leaning on the railing which I have carefully examined to see if it's strongly made. The sound of it comes all that way, up, to me. A hum. Thousands of ventilators far away. Now and then I hear an improbable clank. The air, even up here, is warmed by it.So here we are. Marooned within the word. In language, but not in liquid.
To the north a large green rectangle, Central Park, lies flat, clean-edged, indented. A skin has been pulled off, a bandage removed, and a small section of the Planet has been allowed to grow.
I think, "They have chosen to do this in order to save their lives." And then I think, "It is not really a section of the Planet, it is a perfect imitation of a section of the Planet (remembering the zoo). It is how they think it might look." I am struck by their wisdom. Moved.
The elevator is not too crowded. We are all silent and perfectly behaved, except a little girl who is whispering something to her mother. Her mother holds her hand and bends down to listen. The little girl giggles. Hunching her shoulders and screwing up her face. She has told her mother something outrageous.
In the lobby are people who are really doing it, not like us, just looking around. They wear the current costume and read the office directories beside the banks and banks of
elevators. I realize there are offices in the Empire State Building! It is not just a tower to look from!
It all starts coming in, on the street. Each one is going somewhere, thinking. Many are moving their lips, talking to themselves. In 2 blocks I am walking as fast as they are. We all agree to wait when the light turns red.
In the subway it is more intense. Something about being under the ground? It is horrifying to let it all come in, in the subway.
A gust of dirty air hits me as I rise out of it at the 7th Ave. subway exit. I am relieved, perhaps because the buildings are lower, the street wider, the intersection a jumble of crazy angles?
Years ago, somewhere inconceivably else, I could have been given a strange assignment.
He was a short man, gray haired but mostly bald. He explained the thing to me in a homey kind of office.
"I can fix you up to be, actually be, a Native of a World," he said. "You won't be like them, you will be one of them. Think the way they do, see as they see etc with exactly their physical and mental equipment. You can see, of course, what this means! It means your data, for the first time, will be absolutely accurate. You will, in every sense, know what it is to be one."
I have forgotten all he said about the reports I'd have to make on my return, but I can almost remember the taste of the potion I got. Brassy, but not too bad.
And what is happening during moments like that on the Empire State building is simply that the potion's effect is flickering out. There are moments of wakefulness, and it all starts coming in.
You see it on the faces of the others. They are all more or less drugged. Many are as straight or straighter than you are, but are pretending not to be. As you are pretending
not to be.
It is then, while watching the ones who are actually doing it (not like us, just looking around), that you realize there are only people more or less drugged into this vast, insane, assignment.
There are no natives!
The word is the way something floats which cannot be seen
The word is the call of the tribe from down under the water
The word is the thing the wind says to the dead
The word is the saying
The word is the echo of our dreaming
The word is the web we take from the womb
The word is the way a child thinks
The word is a green face in a marble thicket
The word is an acrobat in the land of cripples
The word is a house where all may find shelter
The word is the answer to the darkness
The word is the only enemy of murder
The word is the way the world was made
The word is the way all of us will die
The word is the soul's willing deed
And the world must realize where all these deaths are going
It must choose the proper cloth for every burial
It must see that the flirting boys are laid low to die
On my planet—which is not a planet, or even a place—while there are no words, there is certainly music.
Because music is all and everywhere. The essence.
The universe itself, sings ceaselessly, in a note of B flat. The sun, she too does sing. The brain waves of human beings, they are of music.
Cobble them all together, and you approach something like this, earnest attempt, from evolving human spaceman, Ron Garan:
And so it re-begins . . . .
In the early 1970s, Polish composer Henryk Gorecki was still beloved by the practitioners and devotees of avant-garde classical music, as his early works had hit all the right notes: modern, experimental, atonal, dissonant, serialist. Gorecki was “a fiery figure, fashionable only among a small circle of modern-music aficionados.”
True, a couple of Gorecki’s more recent choral pieces had made some folks in that world nervous, wary, as the composer seemed therein to be distancing himself from noise, nonsense, chaos.
But none of these people were prepared for his Third Symphony, which debuted at Royan in France on April 4, 1977.
For Gorecki, like such classical composers as Beethoven, Debussy, and Dvorak before him, had been drawn into the traditional folk music and stories of his people. And from these, and from plumbing the depths of what it means to be human, Gorecki with his Third Symphony fashioned a work transcendent—mournful, aching, beautiful.
The symphony was savaged. All six critics who reviewed the Royal premiere condemned it.
Heniz Koch complained that it “drags through three old folk melodies (and nothing else) for an endless 55 minutes,” while Dietmar Polaczek dismissed it as “simply adding to the decadent trash that encircle[s] the true pinnacles of avant-gardism.” The Third Symphony was pronounced an embarrassing failure, Gorecki scorned as a man who had unaccountably gone off the rails.
Eight years later, in 1985, French filmmaker Maurice Pialat used a five-minute snippet of the third movement of Gorecki’s Third Symphony over the end credits to his film Police. A soundtrack album sold well, though buyers found little information there about the work or the composer. Meanwhile, the British industrial-music outfit Test Dept began using the symphony as a backdrop for concert video-collages.
Unaware that the Third Symphony had been pronounced anathema, people in Britain and France increasingly tried to get their hands on the work. BBC Radio 3 started playing it regularly in the late 1980s, as interest in all things Polish increased in the West, in those final days of the Soviet empire. Finally, in 1992, a 1991 performance of the complete work by the London Sinfonietta, conducted by David Zinman and featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw, was released in Britain and the United States by Elektra Nonesuch. And in 1993 director Peter Weir employed more than 10 minutes of the first movement of the Third Symphony for the climactic scene and end credits of his finest film, Fearless.
By the end of that year, the Elektra release of Gorecki’s Third Symphony had crossed over from the classical to the pop charts, where it outperformed people like Michael Jackson and Madonna. Those were the days referenced in that introductory paragraph to this piece, when drivers, confronted with the Third Symphony streaming from their car radios, pulled off the road, to settle on the shoulder. Because, from that music, water from the moon had clouded their eyes, and, for a time, they could see nothing but what it means to be in this world, and human.
In the Third Symphony, “the orchestra,” John Rockwell once wrote, “breathes and pulses like a wounded organism.”
Observes this reviewer:
[T]his is still the most commercially successful classical recording to date, such that it crossed over from the classical charts into the standard top 40. [T]he success of this recording is to be celebrated with the knowledge that it is not only difficult and uncommercial but it was released with neither any obvious simplification of its message nor with any obvious star appeal to promote it. Instead, this is evidence that, occasionally, record buyers do get it right[.]The Third Symphony is modal and medieval, and has been described as a work of “holy simplicity.” Which I believe is also a term apt for my two other favorite 20th Century classical pieces: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, based on a 16th-Century Phrygian melody; and Williams’ The Lark Ascending, which, upon its first public performance, was accurately described as “show[ing] supreme disregard for the ways of today or yesterday,” and which came to Williams as he watched troop ships cross the English Channel at the dawn of WWI. As he stood scribbling notes for the piece, Williams was arrested by a British policeman, who believed he was jotting down secret code. Which he absolutely was. Just not of the type the policeman suspected.
The Third Symphony began with four Silesian folk songs presented, at Gorecki’s request, to the composer in 1973 by Polish folklorist Adolf Dygacz. Gorecki had become possessed of a desire to explore the traditional music from the area where he was born.
Of the pieces he received from Dygacz, Gorecki was most intrigued by a 19th Century melody involving a woman searching for the body of a son lost in war.
“I do not know if a ‘professional’ poet would create such a powerful entity out of such terse, simple words,” Gorecki has said of this melody, known in Polish as Kajze mi sie podziol moj synocek mily. “It is not sorrow, despair or resignation, or the wringing of hands: it is just the great grief and lamenting of a mother who has lost her son.” This melody was eventually transformed into the third movement of the Third Symphony.
Later that same year, Gorecki became aware of an inscription left on the wall of a Gestapo prison in the southern Polish town of Zakopane.
“There was a man living in Zakopane who wrote a book on the villa where the Nazis had a prison. The book wasn’t very good, and the man who wrote it was an informer, but he collected everything that concerns the region. I haven’t seen the inscription because somebody probably painted over it. The only trace is in the photos in the book.”
There were lots of fairly ordinary inscriptions in the book, he says, but this one stood out from all the others because of its poetry and the youthfulness of its author. The words in Polish read: “No, Mother, do not weep. Most chaste Queen of Heaven, Support me always. Hail Mary.” The signature read: “Helena Wanda Blazusiakowna, aged 18, detained since 25 September, 1944.”
Gorecki explained the importance of these words to him, to members of the USC Symphony Orchestra, preparing in October 1997 a performance of the Third Symphony:
I would like to add something here about the inscription. In prison, the whole wall was covered with inscriptions screaming out loud: “I’m innocent,” “Murderers,” “Executioners,” “Free me,” “You have to save me”—it was all so loud, so banal. Adults were writing this, while here is an eighteen-year-old girl, almost a child. And she is so different. She does not despair, does not cry, does not scream for revenge. She does not think about herself; whether she deserves her fate or not. Instead, she only thinks about her mother: because it is her mother who will experience true despair. This inscription was something extraordinary. And it really fascinated me: “Mother, do not cry, no. The purest Queen of Heaven, you always support me. Hail Mary.” Here the inscription ended and I added: “You are full of grace.” Not “Full of grace” as it is in the prayer, but “You are full of . . . “It is around the words and the heart of Helena Wanda Blazusiakowna that the second movement of the Third Symphony was formed.
For the first movement Gorecki employed a mid-15th Century folk song from the southern Polish city of Opole, in which the Mother of God, speaking to her son on the cross, implores him to “share your wounds with your mother.”
Gorecki, correctly, always resisted easy interpretations of the Third Symphony. But because each of the three movements revolves lyrically around the loss of a child by a mother, he was unable to stop the incrustation of a critical consensus that the Third Symphony was “meant” to invoke the sorrow of a mother whose child has been sacrificed to cruelty, ignorance, violence.
Those who settled on this consensus ignored the facts of Gorecki’s own life. For Gorecki’s mother, a pianist, died at the age of 26, on December 6, 1935—her son Henryk’s second birthday.
Upon the belated success of the Third Symphony, Gorecki was informed that he had successfully tapped into “New Age music.” Gorecki replied that he didn’t know what “New Age music” was; neither, he said, did he know what a “New Age” is.
He likewise dismissed suggestions that the symphony is cabined to Christian spirituality.
Particularly because of the second movement, he was informed that he had composed a work in memory of the Holocaust. He replied that in the 1960s he sought to produce a work in response to Auschwitz, but was unable to do so; the Third Symphony, he said, was not that work.
He also said this:
Many of my family died in concentration camps. I had a grandfather who was in Dachau, an aunt in Auschwitz. You know how it is between Poles and Germans. But Bach was a German too—and Schubert, and Strauss. Everyone has his place on this little earth. That’s all behind me. So the Third Symphony is not about war; it’s not a Dies Irae; it’s a normal Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.Gorecki also requested that people not get too obsessed with the words, as the meat of the piece is in the music—in, as Rockwell expressed it, ”the orchestra breath[ing] and puls[ing] like a wounded organism.”
What makes the Third Symphony great art is that Gorecki fashioned from his own pain a work that inflicts and transcends pain in everybody. One that, as Chia Han-Leon put it truly, ”radiates within its darkness a powerful and universal light.”
Han-Leon’s appreciation of the Third Symphony is very nice; I’ll quote here only the close of it, which addresses the final minutes of the third movement:
The story from The Kalevala depicts the mother looking for the body of her murdered son. Fortunately for Lemminkainen, through his mother’s unrelenting faith and love, she eventually recovers his shattered body, re-assembles it and brings him back to life.Gorecki died a couple years ago at age 76; it was a triumph of the spirit that he lived as long as he did.
But here, in the reality of the Holocaust, the mother cannot find her boy. She traverses great distances, as portrayed in the music with its insistent ostinato. Resigned, she asks the songbirds of God to sing for him, and beseeches the flowers to make for him a bed of peace for which he may sleep forever. By her love, the music surges into the radiant luminosity of A major—transcending all cultures, all peoples, all places, all time.
Shortly after his mother’s death, he was afflicted with tuberculosis; he’d been regularly visited by various assorted ailments and plagues ever since. His condition was not improved by the fact that his home in southern Poland became one of the most polluted places on the planet:
These days the composer works in a small house he bought 10 years ago, about a mile and a half outside Katowice. With a daughter, Anna, a pianist who recently made her London debut at Wigmore Hall, and a son, Mikolaj, who is a composer and student at the music academy, and his wife, Jadwiga, who is a piano teacher, there is not a lot of room for Gorecki in the family’s city apartment. “I couldn’t work with all that music,” he laughed.Gorecki wrote three string quartets for the Kronos Quartet—the only such quartets he ever completed. Kronos mainstay David Harrington, correctly, wrote:
At his house—a small garden, a few spruces and a hedge—he has a piano, some other instruments and some peace, increasingly interrupted by the telephone. But the industrial pollution that impregnated Katowice during the 40 years of Communism is overwhelming, even there. “The water is terrible and the air is foul—the whole area is the most heavily polluted place on earth. Changes take place in babies after they are born,” he says. He reveres the earth, displaying his big hands and remarking that his grandfather was a farmer. But he wouldn’t dream of growing vegetables in the garden. “It’s too polluted, but some people do grow them.”
Every three days his house shakes from tremors in the coal mines. “All the glasses shake and I think the house is going to fall,” he says. “If it hadn’t been for all this pollution it would be wonderful because there are a lot of pine forests, no humidity, no bogs, no marshes.”
There is no one who can replace Henryk Górecki in the world of music. Many others have created beautiful, passionate, even exalted music. But Henryk found a way forward and beyond, through thickets of styles and fashions, that resonates of the single human being in communion with the power of the Universe.“When you think about the great composers, you have to be humble,” Gorecki told the Washington Post in 1995. “I will die without learning the secrets of Chopin, Bach, Mahler.
“What is it? You hear very simple sounds; you look at the notes in a Schubert song and there is nothing special, but it is a masterpiece. Why? A mystery.”
Not long ago Gorecki said: “Before I die, I would like to learn what music is all about.”
Oh, I think you got it, Henryk.
I want to close with some remarks pulled from a transcript of an audio recording of Gorecki rehearsing the Third Symphony with the USC Symphony Orchestra in October 1997. I think they show what kind of man he was.
And I want to say first that I first encountered Gorecki through Peter Weir's film Fearless. Where the protagonist at the dawn of the film has survived a horrific plane crash. But has not returned to the world. “I’m not dead,” he says—but that is a very different thing from “I’m alive.” Caught between worlds, believing he is impervious to death, he challenges it: early in the film, and although highly allergic to them, he consumes, without ill effect, a plate of strawberries. As the scene offered below opens, the scene that closes the film, he is weary, and wants to settle in one place or the other—life, or death. This time, when he consumes strawberries, they have the old effect. And he must then choose. And is brought, into life, as are we all, by the love of another human being. And, this time, he says not “I’m not dead.” But “I’m alive.”
Let’s have a little break here, so that we don’t get too tired. Do you have any questions or problems? First issue: very often after the fourth beat there is a feeling of waiting for something. We wait for the fourth note . . . and the flow of the music stops . . . Or maybe my heart stops.
I have stage fright when I face you. I do not do this every day. Instead I listen to music and I’m more interested in playing myself than conducting. But I will improve before tomorrow if I live that long.
The most important problem for me at the end of the twentieth century is the continual lack of time. We are always in an awful hurry and still we waste an incredible amount of time, for instance in front of the TV or in a car. While I do like some aspects of our “fast” civilization—I love to fly in airplanes, I am fascinated with cosmic adventures, trips to the moon or Mars—and we do live in astounding times, still, here, in this music, we have to surrender ourselves to this other dimension of time. We have to slow down. Only then the sonority will be fantastic: the higher the music will go, the more distinctly it will sound. I dream of writing such tranquil music. I do not want to compose anything that echoes the modern “rush”—the cell phones, the telephones and faxes. It has to be calm. Life is too beautiful to be wasted in this way, by rushing things so much.
How should I explain it to you? Perhaps you should think about an elevator: you leave behind the basement of everyday life, filled with noises, distractions and anxieties, and you take the elevator up to the tenth floor, or even into the sky of timelessness. When you are in this music, time slows down, it is as if you were in heaven, it is like eternity. Do you understand what I want to achieve there? Total calm.
Let us play it again.
This is a mother’s song. This song has to be expressed both by the orchestra and the soloist. It has to be contemplative in mood, but still maintain the tempo. It approximates the speed of slow walking, when one walks alone, lost in thought. We have to enter into this mood. It is as if we were walking, or even slowly dancing. You have to think about walking here.
For me it is a very difficult movement because I do not usually engage in conducting and I do not know how to enchant you with my hand movements, but music carries me away and I may at some spots—and please forgive me if I do—make a wrong movement at a certain time, but you know the score and could play on. So then do not look at me, at what I am doing, but listen to each other, listen to what happens around you.
I am sorry for these mistakes. But I think that we will be able to communicate soon.