Dear Euterpe

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Ebb and Flow

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Dear Euterpe:

I had intended to send you a series of snarky letters regarding the awful songs you tend to jam into my head all the time… but lucky for me, sometimes you send me something lovely.  Today is one of those days… so I’ll open this whole epistolary blog with a thank you.

Thank you for Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

I first heard this piece (like most, I’d imagine) while watching the movie Platoon.  You know the scene I’m talking about – the one where Elias is running all slo-mo and crooked away from scores of VC… Charlie Sheen and that goddamn Barnes flying away in their chopper.  He gets hit again and again, but continues to run, until finally defeated, he falls to his knees.  His face an anguished knot, Elias, in an ultimate horrible gesture, throws his hands into the air, as if to implore the universe itself to take him home – to get him out of there – to explain why, and justify his torment… and I suppose, in the end, just let him go.  I’ve seen a lot of movies, Euterpe – perhaps never have I witnessed a finer pairing of music and image.  The scene is just perfect.  Beautiful and horrible and tragic.

(I suppose we could just CC this to Melpomène as well.  You know her better than I do… so if you wouldn’t mind, that would be great – I don’t want to seem too forward)

Sometimes I listen to Barber’s Adagio just so I can cry.  It’s hard for me to cry about real things – in fact, I don’t think I ever cry about real things.  I usually go to music or movies or literature to get my tears out – and funnily enough, they come easily.  I’m sure a therapist would have something to say about this… but I don’t need to pay $140 an hour to know that I’m fucked up.  Sometimes it pays to be neurotic.  Neuroticism: The frugal madness.

It’s hard for me to explain why this piece so readily disintegrates me.  It’s not as simple as the piece being sad.  It’s bigger than that – more complicated.  Or maybe it’s more abstract.  Barber’s Adagio is the sound of sorrow, to me.  The way it pulses so slowly toward its climax… only to fade silently away – the way it both screams and whispers, as though it were at war with itself.

Barber’s Adagio must be what it sounds like to die.  To cleave to each breath – to savor it – knowing with each rise and fall of your chest, that you’re one breath closer to no breath at all.  I suppose that’s what the piece brings to my mind – death.  But not death as an idea… more death as an action, or a series of moments.  The opening surge of the low strings… they’re like the unconscious realizaition of it… the instinct maybe… the little voice that whispers the truths we want to ignore.  The high strings I suppose are the conscious, then… the mind that refuses to go.  The will.  The part that fights back.  The part that makes us get out of bed, invent, love, fight, kill.  It’s the part of us that tells us to carve the world into whatever we want.  It’s the immortal part of us – the conscious mind – it’s the shard of ourselves that insists we create something, anything, in order to remain.

The whole piece seems to be a battle between the high strings and the low – the way they fold over one another like oragami – each end, each flap all crossing and condradicting… only to create something larger than themselves.

How like sorrow, then.  Something we both need to feel, and yearn to escape.  Something that both hurts and heals.  I’ve fealt real sorrow before.  I hated it.  But, if I’m being totally honest here… I have to admit that I loved it as well.  How lucky I am to be so fragile – so finite.  Something that can be… something that will be taken away one day.

I feel like I’m dying when I listen to it.  It never ceases to quiet my mind (which is admittedly very loud most of the time).  It pulls the breath out of me – makes my breathing deliberate.  It burns my eyes.  It hurts me.  That final stab – the climax of the piece – that evilly dissonant, overwhelming stab of the violins – the piece’s final white-knuckled grasp.  It just ends me.  The cellos have fallen away – all I have are violins and violas.  High strings.  The mind, the self realizing that it’s gone (if you’ll accept my admittedly overwrought and impromptu metaphorical interpretation of the piece).

Oh it just reduces me to pieces… breaks me down into the wet, spinning bits.  And then: silence.  Louder than anything that came before.  That black, yawning nothing… oh god.

And then, once I’m ruined and shaking – trying not to cry too hard out of embarassment and self-loathing, my mouth all twisted and ugly, my eyes all hot and wet… the low strings come back and carry what’s left of me away on the ebb and flow.

And strangely… when the piece is over, the encounter gone, the whole of me a vivisected, runny-nosed pile… I feel whole again.

Thank you, Euterpe.  Thank you Samuel Barber.

Oh… and happy birthday.

– a.


Written by wordsthatarent

March 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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