January 18, 2011
Leave it to Gustav Mahler
The man saved my life!
HE IS ONE OF SEVERAL DEAD MEN
I am in love with. Dead men are so much less demanding than the live ones, and in your dreams, they do anything you want them to and never challenge you with reality.
The man in question
I HAVE BEEN
in a major depressive episode since about September 2009. Really. If it feels like I’m coming out of it, I relegate the progress to “manic mode” and I know, that too shall pass. I actually went around the world to get myself out of the house.
when I’m traveling. It’s what I live for. It frees me from myself to engage with the world, to observe, marvel, record. All I want to do in life, like Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction,” is “walk the earth,” photograph it and write about it. And then come home to my cats. This summer, after a half-year’s hiatus from The Ax Files, I figured adventuring in Asia and Europe would give me something to write about. As it did. You will see the results in my book The Misfit Café. But when I got back—on a manic high during which I continued to spend like the world runs on printable Monopoly money I can churn out any time I need more—I, as Dr. S. predicted, jumped down the rabbit hole. He knows me too well, but no better than I know myself. Sure. High, high, high, low, low, low. It’s to be expected.
A part of the earth they call Chartres St., New Orleans,
I AM STRUGGLING
right now with the annual post-family-Christmas battle to regain my will to live. I was tired of traveling and didn’t really want to go, but I did so, for my mother. I combined the trip to Philadelphia with a flight to New Orleans and Sunset Limited train trip from there to Los Angeles, had lunch with my buddy George, then flew home to SF. That part was for me. It takes a lot of distancing to survive the holidays.
I SWORE TO MYSELF,
getting in around 11:00 p.m. January 5th, I would unpack the next day. Today is, what, the 18th? Eleven days later, the luggage is still on the entry hall floor where I dumped it. When I am not engaging with the world, I am forced to engage with myself, and I am most often not up to the task. I’d rather lounge on my memory foam bed and watch Netflix instant downloads, or edit pictures on Flickr, or practice knitting, than go down three flights of stairs and pretend I have anything to do with the world.
I AM HAPPY
to play music, massage my cats, read a book, listen to the silence. I almost resent it when something comes up that makes me leave the house, like the other night when I went to the opening ($20 for movies, vodka, caviar served on your hand and claustrophobic milling on the second floor of the Castro) of the “German Gems” film festival.
The author massaging her cat, Zahra
I COULDN’T STAND
my high school German teacher, the stoic white-haired square-jawed Herr Nichtseinwirklichername. This man and his impenetrable bearing repulsed me. He was stiff as an ironing board and displayed no emotion. I made my mother do my homework under the guise of helping me. What could he have thought of Mahler, I wonder? His lack of affect and my feeling there was something going on behind it gave me the creeps. I couldn’t stand his eyes on me; I shudder to remember him. I would marvel how someone could live life without feeling, without demonstrating feeling, without living for feeling. What was life about if not feeling?
LIFE IS ABOUT
many other things. It is about science, discovery, invention, innovation, advancement, civilization, achievement, helping people, learning and teaching. But what would they be without beauty, art, music, passion alongside them? It’s a level scale. The practical and the transcendent. We, as a race, need them in equal measure.
it happened to me again. Back in the 70’s, a friend of mine was murdered, her throat slit, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. I was thrown for a loop. The whole thing was surreal. I went to the memorial service and thought, it must be true, all these diverse folks are gathered here for one reason, Julie is dead. Her boyfriend later, not too much later, came on to me, but I was having none of that.
I WAS PARALYZED
for a good while. I couldn’t comprehend such a thing nor move past it until I went to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra perform Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony. I came out of there reminded that Julie was dead, not I. I was alive and had the rest of my life to live. That was all there was to it, really. I was still possessed of, and ensconced in, life. Death had happened to her, not me.
SAME THING TONIGHT
I dragged myself off my memory foam bed at 6:00 (p.m.) to make the 7:00 showing of “Mahler on the Couch,” the opening night feature of the festival. I was reminded that life = passion, passion = life, and that I am nothing if I am not passionate. I have a right to be curious and investigative about, awed and humbled by life, by the world and its people and places. Anyone who tries to squelch that in me, blood bond or not, has no right. NO. RIGHT. I will not live my life succumbing to someone else’s failure to live.
YES, LIFE IS A BEACH, LIFE IS A BITCH.
I’m pretty sure that most of the time it’s one or the other, and otherwise shuttling between the two. Deal with it!
Life is a beach/life is a bitch
DO NOT LET
someone else’s distorted view of the world distort yours. Is some python squeezing the life out of you? Be flexible. Relax your being and slither on outta there. If you fell into a swamp and came out covered with leeches, would you leave them there to suck your blood for the rest of your life? Of course not; even if they depend on you to feed them, you come first.
YOU ARE MY GOD
Alma Mahler says to her husband in the film. “I can’t breathe in your heights.” Would you suppress your own merely mortal creativity to support your husband’s godly genius? Alma, though a “bride of the wind” free spirit, apparently neglected her own music for ten years to serve him, not without its consequences. The film is about Mahler’s real-life encounter with Freud to discuss his anguish over Alma’s cheating on him with the architect Walter Gropius (whom she later married—and then left for Frederick Werfel). As I related in Want Some Free Love?, she remarked that nothing tastes better than the sperm of a genius.
What a life she had, that Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel.
PERHAPS THE MOST DELICIOUS
scene in recent film history, an acting triumph by Barbara Romaner, is the scrumptious close-up of Alma reacting to the Adagietto (on sheet music only, not in performance) of the Fifth Symphony, one of the triumphs of humankind. She leaves this world, sliding between pain and pleasure, eyelids fluttering, tears falling. The festival also presented, after the movie and caviar and vodka break, a documentary of Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra’s recording of the movie’s score. Lucky for you, because this film has as yet no American distribution, I had, as I nearly always do, my Canon camera hanging around my neck and when I saw this scene coming quickly snuck a recording.
This fourth movement of Mahler’s Fifth was paid exquisite tribute to by Luchino Visconti in “Death in Venice” (and was played at Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s funeral).
I don’t know what kind of icicle you’d have to be to not respond to this music, Mr. Nichtsein! If you don’t, I’d like to know what you do respond to. Justin Bieber?
BUT I’M NOT HERE
to be elitist. I’m a writer; I’d also like to think I’m a photographer, but to me the be-all and end-all of human sublimity is music. Though in high school I forced myself to learn piano so I could play Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat M and achieved a certain level of skill, I am not gifted. I can play only that which I am marginally able to play, but I have played hardly at all for years and would have to relearn my entire limited repertoire. It’s your fingers that have to remember, and if they don’t, looking at the music doesn’t help, in fact it confuses the matter. I was forced to give up my funky and sonorous Hoffman upright when I sold my Page St. flat and had to scale back; I donated it to Eric Bergquist’s Page St. Center next door. I do have a digital Yamaha YPG-625, which I bought mostly for John to play when he’s in town.
MY POINT IS
and, as Ellen Degeneris put it, I do have one, is that you cannot let anything or anyone squelch your passion for life which is your birthright. No one has the right to rob you of your passion to live. To thine own self be true! You must honor yourself. You cannot sacrifice yourself to someone who wants to rob you of your essence, whatever the price. Do not hurt yourself trying not to hurt someone who is hurting you. Because they are abusing you, they are trespassing on who you are. No one has the right to do that.
LIFE IS A BACH
I traveled the Baltics with my friend, pianist and composer John Beck. We are both Bach freaks who went to Eisenach and Leipzig in 1985 to celebrate his 300th birthday. What a party! We drove on the Autobahn to the East German border in a silver Mercedes Benz, a most pleasant recollection. I had a cold and kept nodding off in the heated car while snow fell on Heidelberg Castle.
I WANTED TO MARK
the occasion of my ancestral pilgrimage to the Baltics with a tattoo of the seal of JS Bach and spring it on John when he met me in Helsinki. I tried without success to get one in Moscow, in St. Petersburg and Helsinki. It was not ’til we got to Vilnius, Lithuania, and I asked the hotel clerk, where do we park, when is breakfast, and are there any tattoo parlors nearby, that we found one right around the corner, no shit, that could “do” me then and there.
The author and JSB, united forever.
Bach’s seal is formed by his initials combined
Music, if I may, is next to godliness.
SO DANKE DIR, MEIN GOTT GUSTAV MAHLER
for reminding me, for shoving in my face, how awesome, transcendent, soaring, triumphant is human passion. You can use it to do anything at all you aspire to. Write a novel, darn a sock, love someone, bake bread, live well. 2010 was the 150th anniversary of Mahler’s birth. 2011 is the 100th anniversary of his death. Rest in peace, blessed one, for the blessings your passion bestowed on us.
(I swear I found this article only minutes before posting this!)
The author can’t believe she was ever without a Bach pineapple.
Passion is not a way of life
Your cellar is filled with golden wine! Now take the wine! Now is the time--enjoy! Empty the golden goblet to the bottom!
copyright Alexandra Jones 2011