Happy Birthday Wolfgang

On this date in history, January 27th, my favorite composer of all time was born in Salzburg, Austria. If he were alive today, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be 258 years old. Mozart, who began playing musical instruments when he was just 6 years old, is said to have composed his first symphony at age 8. From then onward, until his death from a mysterious fever at age 35, the Great One churned out more than 600 musical compositions. By my calculation, that averages out to roughly 22 compositions per year, or 2 per month for each month of his life — prolific composing to say the least.

That said,  in addition to recognizing the birthday of Johannes Chrisostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (the name on Mozart’s certificate of birth), I think that this is as good of a time as any to mention the firestorm of controversy that has erupted in the blogosphere, in the wake of free-lance writer, Mark Vanhoenacker’s piece in Slate magazine announcing the death of classical music.  (Click here to read.)  To quote Mr. Vanhoenacker:

“When it comes to classical music and American culture, the fat lady hasn’t just sung. Brunnhilde has packed her bags and moved to Boca Raton.”

 While I can say that so far, I have not spotted Brunnhilde on the streets here in Boca Raton, Vahhoenacker does present some interesting data regarding the current state of, and the future of, classical music. For those of you who do not like to click links, one very telling example he cites is that “Symphony Hall”, one of the only two remaining Classical channels offered by Sirius XM radio, has 3500 Facebook likes, while the All-Pearl-Jam channel has 11000.  He also points to the fact that in 1937, the average age of Los Angeles orchestra concert attendees was a baby faced, 28. Suffice to say that the average age of today’s concert going audience is significantly older. He goes on to present further evidence of classical music’s death, which I shall not detail here. Simply stated, however, the reasons for classical music’s demise are many and varied, ranging from its becoming lost amid the plethora of popular music available to today’s youth who find it boorish and uninteresting, as well the lack of government funding for the arts in general, and perhaps an all around perception that classical music is the province of the overly educated elite, or formally schooled musicians, and without a degree from Julliard one has little chance of understanding its complicated compositions.

In any case, the reaction to Mr. Vanhoenacker’s piece has been especially heated, with classical music lovers going on the attack. In response to his detractors, Vanhoenacker granted an interview, which was published on New York’s classical station WQXR’s website. (Click here to read.) In this interview, Vanhoenacker defends himself by saying that much of the vitriol sent his way by angered classical music lovers is misdirected, and that he is, in fact, a classical music fan. He goes on to explain that the title of the article “Classical music in America is dead” was composed not by him, but by an editor. So in a sense, Mr. Vanhoenacker seems to be saying that he’s only the messenger, so please don’t shoot.

Personally, I enjoy classical music for the simple reason I can work to it. When I am writing, I can’t work in total silence, but I can’t work to the right-wing talkers that dominate the airwaves either,  or to rock, country, R&B, hip-hop, bluegrass, or jazz. I found out years ago that playing classical music when I work improves my focus and helps me to ignore background distractions. And understand that I have little in the way of  musical education, so I am far from being an elitist music snob. I simply find the strains of Mozart, Brahms and Haydn uplifting, and when I find myself in need of inspiration I turn to some of the selections I keep on my iPod, or I stream one of the (few) classical radio stations that remain on the air.

In the end, I imagine that Vanhoenacker’s dire predictions shall prove true, as few radio stations, even public radio stations, can afford to play classical. Government support of any substance is unlikely to rescue them from their fate, and their once hardcore benefactors are aging and fading from the scene.

I hope that I am wrong.

Happy Birthday Wolfgang.

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Cold night in South Florida

I had only been up for about an hour today when I heard the news. I was sitting on my couch at about half past five, lights low, laptop humming on the coffee table, our golden retriever Bailey resting his head on my knee. I had both hands wrapped around my first mug of coffee, trying to steel myself for a day that would not see temperatures climb out of the  high 60s.  I had just turned the TV on to NBC 6 Miami, and I was waiting anxiously for local weather guy, Ryan Phillips,  to give me the ‘down low’ on the Polar Vortex. I always trust Ryan. He’s a native Midwesterner (Ohio) and he did three years as a weatherman in Nebraska. Those qualifications are enough for me.  If anybody can tell me when the Polar Vortex is going shift north of the Georgia border, it’s Ryan. (And to all of you reading in frigid northern climates, I know what you want to say to me. You want to tell me that it is 49 degrees below zero outside your house in Ice Slide Minnesota, and we whimpering Florida pansies don’t know what real cold is!!  Ha… to you I say, you don’t live in houses with heating systems that consist of two Yankee Candles and a wool scarf.)

So there I was…Bailey and I in front of the tube…when I heard that Justin Bieber had been arrested in Miami. The nineteen year old Biebs was arrested at about 4:09 AM (roughly the time I get up), drag racing down Pine Tree Drive in a yellow Lamborghini (great color choice when you’re trying to stay low key). By now it is old news that the inebriated Bieber was on an all day bender, smoking weed, drinking, taking prescription meds, and it is a testament to his age that he was still functioning at that late  hour, as I doubt that I should be in any condition to drag race at 4AM after a day like that, but that’s another matter.

Bieber has been cruising for trouble since he arrived in Florida. His controversial unauthorized escort from Opa-loka airport after his plane landed their earlier this week is being investigated, with local law enforcement officers likely to face disciplinary action. Then he shows up at a local strip joint, tossing around (allegedly) 75 grand in cash. Partying all night in South Beach clubs. Then, finally blocking off the streets for a drag race.

“What the f*** did I do? Why did you stop me?” he asked the first officer on the scene.

The profanity continues, no doubt exacerbated by the alcohol and drugs that the young man consumed in the hours leading up to his arrest. Alcohol and drugs do that to you. And you will be seeing more of Justin Bieber as time goes on. Already, local television has preempted late morning shows to provide live coverage of his arrival at the county courthouse. A mugshot of a smiling Bieber was released to the press and has certainly made its way around the world a dozen times by now. Not to be fooled by smiling celeb mugshots. Most of them are aware that their photos are going to live in infamy so they often make an extra attempt to look nonchalant, even happy. It is often not a sign of raw, finger in the air, arrogance.  In Justin Bieber’s case, however, it may actually be raw, finger in the air, arrogance.

But it will go on ad nauseum.  The tabloids are undoubtedly scandalizing the story further with possibly “Biebs Miami Meltdown” headlines to soon appear.  The requisite analysis, interviews, speculation and condemnation will begin.

Bieber’s bond has already been set at $2500. He should have little trouble raising it (the Lamborghini rented for about $1800/day), and already fabled super-lawyer Roy Black is on the case. Black, who has defended William Kennedy Smith, Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Rodman, Marv Alpert and Carmen Electra, to  name only a few, is a legal magician extraordinaire, so I am guessing that Bieber’s Dade County charges are well on the way to the legal dustbin — after all, what can they do to him? He’s unlikely to receive jail time, any financial implications are paltry to say the most, and even though he will likely face suspension of his driving privileges, it’s not like he’s going to lose his job at Radio Shack or WalMart because they aren’t on the bus line.

Still…this isn’t L.A. The mighty have come here and gone, some never to return. Britney and Lindsey and Paris partied here, and the list of celebrity DUIs, car crashes and arrests would fill a phone directory (if anyone remembers what one of those is).  And don’t forget that The Juice came here – and left. And now sits in a Nevada prison waiting for the end. Justice can be slow coming, and it comes much slower for the powerful than for the rest of us. Yet it does come.

Tonight though, Justin Bieber is scheduled to attend the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat game at American Airlines Arena.

Lisa paints

Lisa paints

like I want to write

passionately

colorfully

in imaginative detail

with soul bearing confidence

with bittersweet honesty

and when she stands

before the canvas

with Haydn playing

in the background

it is then you know

that there’s no turning back

she takes no prisoners

or so I think, as I watch her

on this particular day

when it is raining outside

and we are stuck

in that tiny apartment in Miami

the one we rented out of desperation

after the foreclosure

and she’s wearing the smock

that I bought for her at Target

for Christmas

the powder blue one

with the four big pockets

for her artist stuff

but it is smattered now

with misplaced paint:

Titanium White

Burt Rose

Radiant Violet

Tree Sap Green

Bee sting Yellow

“don’t move” she says coldly

as she adjusts the blinds

I’m drinking bourbon in the nude

tired and tortured in an ugly little room

in a miserable part of town

Prussian Green

Cobalt Tourquoise

Winsor Emerald

Vandyke Brown

she snaps on a light

I soak in its radiance

I’m grateful for the heat

the minutes crawl by

while

Lisa paints.

Working night security

the foot soldiers of the packing plant

march with heads bowed

destined for the graveyard shift

and I watch them file by

through the west gate

of the plant in South St. Paul

as I sit accompanied by my badge

and other accouterments of my position

dressed in my finely pressed

ShurFire Security uniform

wearing my best black patent leather

Red Wing steel toed shoes

and I watch them carefully

all of them

the reluctant executioners

some carrying vegetarian fare

in coal black lunch pails

as they crush out

half smoked cigarettes

in the sand buckets that stand

outside of the guard shack

directly beneath the sign that reads

ABSOLUTELY NO SMOKING BEYOND THIS POINT

and in some cases they aggressively

but seldom carelessly

punch time cards into

the unforgiving grey metal clock

11:58PM … clackity clack it goes one time

11:59PM … clackity clack it  goes another

a girl in a denim jacket

blue jeans and knee high gum-rubber boots

pushes her black horned rim glasses

higher on her nose and looks straight ahead

looking frail and out of place

in the pale green light

doomed time card in hand

12:01AM … clackity clack

she’s docked in what could have been

a simple twist of fate

brought on perhaps by

a crying baby – unsavory husband

overheated car

an unforgiving day

“Hey,” yells the foreman

“you playin’ with yourself out there?”

tardy girl shuffles in like

she didn’t hear it

So you call yourself a writer

“The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.”

—Pico Iyer

In thumbing through my writer’s notebook, I came across the above quote by the British essayist and novelist of Indian descent, Pico Iyer. The quote has been hanging out in the coffee stained margins of my writer’s notebook for months now. Then as now, I am not sure what to make of it. At first the quote did not resonate with me. Were these words the overindulgent musings of a man who is already a successful writer? Or was it perhaps some form of backhanded condescension to the obscure and struggling writers of the world (of whom I count myself a member).   After all, what would a writer be if not a writer?  Would he or she be a plumber – a dietician – NSA analyst?

“What did you do all day dear?” asks my wife.

“Well sweetheart, I completed the final chapter of that novel I have labored over for the past fourteen months.”

“That’s wonderful,” she says.

“No biggie,” I reply. “That’s what a good electrician does – write novels.”

Of course I am being facetious here, but I have to ask myself if I could work on a piece of fiction, non-fiction, poem, or even a technical document and not think of myself as a writer? In fact such thinking flies in the face of everything that I’ve heard about how we should view ourselves in order to achieve success. Remember the “so you think, so you shall be” philosophy, popularized in self-help books, tapes, DVDs and infomercials? Whatever happened to visualization? We all remember that, right? Close your eyes and imagine yourself wealthy, a non-smoker, twenty pounds slimmer, a confident speaker, the life of the party. Whatever you want to be, just make it happen by believing it so much it happens.

A number of months ago, I attended a lecture by a moderately successful writer, not a writer in Mr. Iyer’s league, but certainly a writer who has achieved a modicum of literary success. This writer suggested that to achieve success we should begin to think of ourselves as ‘writers’. He suggested that writer wannabes have business cards printed, websites published, and at all times think of themselves as ‘writers’ no matter what their profession. He said that writers not writing but are working at non-writing jobs, are simply miscast, and like starving actors waiting tables, they are simply waiting for the world to realize their talent.

And so, Mr. Iyer’s words rang hollow with me and I did push them aside for awhile, until I happened across them again recently. Then it occurred to me that perhaps Iyer is referring to the writer’s ego, and not the actual writing profession. Perhaps by putting aside the ego, a writer can more fully concentrate upon the writing. In any case, that is where I am with this now…if you have any thoughts, please feel free to comment here.

Thoughts on: 2014

W.B. Yeats“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric;
out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”

–W.B. Yeats

My readers who notice such things will know that I have been (largely) absent from this blog for a couple of weeks.  During this time, I traveled to the Northeastern part of the United States to spend the holidays with family and friends. In so doing,  I found myself far too busy with holiday revelry to compose a coherent blog post. The rigors of air travel, climatological changes (freezing cold), combined with the festive, and sometimes not so festive, interaction with family members, proved too much for me, and I had to put off blogging for another day, and consequently another year. But now it is suddenly 2014, and apart from the poem “White curtains” that I posted on January 3rd (but wrote months ago), I have been very silent here. But that shan’t last long.

Before I went away, I intended to compose a carefully crafted end of the year blog post, to thank everyone who took the time to stop by EEOTPB in 2013, to read and to comment. I also intended to say in that post that I have enjoyed reading your work too. I even had a great quote and a paragraph or two composed in my head about the great quote but it is all gone now, and even the post it note with the great quote is gone.  So learn from this fellow bloggers – when you find a great quote, put it in your writer’s notebook, or where ever you store your ideas for future reference, but never, ever, leave it scrawled on a sticky note attached to your computer monitor at work, lest an overly zealous corporate cleaning crew descend upon your not-so-sacred workspace and sweep it into the trash. Ah well…

Fortunately, I am not so careless with other quotes and I found the one above scrawled in the coffee stained margins of my notebook. No matter what one thinks of Yeats, any man rejected by the same woman four times (as was Yeats) must know something of quarrelling and its resultant impact upon the writing of poetry.  In any case, it seems to resonate with how I feel today.

Again, thanks to all who have read this blog. I hope to see many of you back in the coming year.

Tight lines,

-Ed

White curtains

I remember white curtains —

they hang without motion

in the open window

of The Hotel Caribe

as the heat roils up from the concrete

3 floors below

and I think of you —

naked and motionless

and the freedom

that comes from a day

of complete abandon, spent

…you…

AWOL from the MIA gift shop

…and me…

a half dozen hours

before my bar shift begins

at the Fontainebleau

it’s late summer

in Little Haiti

and the housekeeper

is shouting at us

in English (somewhat)

as she bangs on our door

with a mop handle

like she always does

and she says that it’s 1 o’clock

in the AFTERNOON

and we have to leave this place

RIGHT NOW

or she will call lapolis

and I remember how you

laugh at  her

like always

and you say –

30 minutes more

granmoun fanm

and we hear the mop wagon

amid curses

rattle off to the elevator

and we reengage

and  reassess

and point

your lavender painted toes

skyward

and in the end

I press my face

into the pillows that are slightly

scented with a detergent

that remind me

vaguely

of the Rodeway Inn

on the east side of Denver.