2000 Notebook: Transition XXXIV
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8 October 2000
Spirit Examiners
Señor Wiles runs the wackiest compound I’ve ever seen. It looks like a picked-over junk yard with pieces of broken machinery everywhere, kilometers of wires running from nowhere to nowhere and back again, shattered neon glass tubes in unlikely places, and moldy paper elsewhere. The spread, however, is not without aesthetic merit. Take, for example, the spirit examiners.

“Señor Wiles,” I asked, “why did you plant all these glass bulbs against the south wall of your compound?”

“It’s the damned spirits,” he replied. “They were always drifting around and annoying the hell out of me, so I had to do something about it.”

“Spirits?” I wondered aloud.

“Yeah, I guess a bunch of people must have died around here or something,” Señor Wiles explained. “Anyway, they keep coming out and really pissing me off, so I put all the glass bulbs back there to catch them when they come out of the ground.”

“Do the glass bulbs work?” I inquired.

“I guess so,” Señor Wiles responded. “They haven’t bothered me in months.”

“One more question,” I continued, “Why do you have the mirror between the bulbs and the compound wall?”

“That’s so that the damned spirits can see how ridiculous they look,” he explained. “I think that’s really what did the trick.”

“I can’t look at your field of glass bulbs without being reminded of Marcel Duchamp’s piece, Air de Paris,” I concluded.

“Duchamp played tenor saxophone in Glenn Miller’s orchestra, didn’t he?” queried Señor Wiles. “I had no idea he had spirit problems too, although I suppose almost everyone did during the war. I bet that’s why they never found the missing plane.”

I think it is safe to conclude that Monsieur Duchamp and Señor Wiles arrived at their glass bulb pieces independently of each other.

9 October 2000
Debatable Musical Progress
I was surprised to see Bruce with a guitar around his neck tonight when I snuck backstage for another free dinner.

“Wow!,” I exclaimed, “I haven’t heard you play in twenty-five years!”

“I hope I’m playing better now,” Bruce replied serenely. (Serene is the only language Bruce speaks.)

I thought about that brief exchange all night and all morning. There was something wrong with Bruce’s remark, but I couldn’t figure what it was until I came across a relevant observation by Man Ray.

    “There is no progress in art. The artist may develop a more firm conviction as he goes along, but we are not doing anything better than was done in previous centuries. We are doing something different. And that is our only justification. If there need be a justification.”

I hypothesized that Bruce couldn’t be playing better than he was a quarter century ago unless he was playing the same music he played in high school. To test my conjecture, I looked at my own work. Are my mind-numbingly boring conceptual pieces “better” than the lovely (if I do say so myself) portraits of my high school girlfriends? The pieces are unmistakably different, but I certainly wouldn’t declare one set of prints to be better than another.

I also have no idea whether Bruce plays better than he did a quarter century ago. Who cares? He does good work; debates on aesthetic relativity are irrelevant.

10 October 2000
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Marc Copland’s Impromptu Poetry
Marc Copland ran out of words at his solo piano performance tonight when he was describing a piece he was about to play. He concluded his remarks by saying, “You’ll see it when you hear it.”

I usually dislike poetry, but I’ll make a rare exception for Marc.

11 October 2000
Bongos à Go-go!
Right now, David is driving from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. In a freezing deluge. On a motorcycle. With a set of bongo drums strapped to his back. In the year 2000.

How can this be?

In spite of all the empirical evidence, I still have great difficulty believing that someone even older than I am is driving from Santa Fe to Albuquerque in a freezing deluge on a motorcycle with a set of bongo drums strapped to his back in the year 2000.

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12 October 2000
Brilliant Advice, Unrecognized
I played my last concert with the percussionist Peter Erskine in 1971. It turns out that the advice I gave him at one of our rehearsals was the catalyst for his subsequent musical successes.

Even as teenagers, I recognized his musical brilliance (and my lack of same), but there was something missing. And, when I finally figured out what it was, I told him.

“Peter, man, let me lay some heavy advice on you,” I said. (People really did talk that way three decades ago.) “You’re great on the drums, but you’re playing like you’re taking tickets on this train, like you’re fryin’ up eggs in the caboose of this train, like you’re shovelin’ coal into this train’s boiler. Man, you ain’t takin’ tickets, you ain’t fryin’ eggs, you ain’t even stokin’ the boiler. You’re drivin’ this train, and that’s the way you gotta play it. Drive this train hard, man, and get us where we wanna be.”

He may have said, “You got it man,” or he may have merely nodded in assent. I really can’t remember exactly; that was a very long time ago.

After that exchange, Peter was never the same again. He drove the band, and we got where we were going harder, faster, and, somewhat paradoxically, we got there exactly on time.

Peter gave me a quizzical look when I reminded him about that exchange after his performance tonight. It was as if he didn’t recognize me or consciously remember my brilliant advice! How very curious.

13 October 2000
Schrödinger’s Last Night
I heard Kate softly playing her viola at two this morning. That seemed odd, as well as bothersome, since I was trying to go to sleep.

After I gently tapped on her door, she whispered, “Come in, but please be quiet.” I silently closed the door behind me, then surveyed the scene.

There really wasn’t much to see, especially since the room was only illuminated by a single candle. Kate was wrapped in a blanket, sitting on the floor in front of the wood-burning stove. She was holding her viola in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Her old cat was curled up on a blanket in front of the stove.

“It’s Schrödinger,” she murmured, nodding at the thin cat by her feet. “He’s dying.”

The elderly cat certainly didn’t look well. His fur was matted and oily, and he was breathing heavily, even though he was immobile. Old Schrödinger stared out into space with his mouth half open; I could barely see the tip of his dry tongue occasionally move, as if he was trying to taste or lick something.

“Poor Schrödinger’s been ill for a long time, but now he’s about to leave,” she said in an almost inaudible voice.

“How can you tell?” I asked.

“Schrödinger was sitting in a drafty corner of the bathroom on a wet towel,” she explained. “Cats always turn away from warmth and seek the cold when they’re ready to die. When that happens, there’s nothing we can do except to make their last hours as pleasant as possible.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I poured myself a large glass of wine and gently stroked the cat as Kate went back to playing a pianissimo dirge. Schrödinger seemed oblivious to everything except whatever it was he saw outside the room. After what seemed like an hour or two, I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so I silently went back to my bed in the greenhouse.

I didn’t awake until after ten, then wandered into the kitchen for some coffee. Kate was sitting at the table in her pajamas, drinking tea.

“Schrödinger died not long after you left,” she announced matter-of-factly.

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14 October 2000
Deutschland über Albuquerque
I got up at four in the morning last Saturday and drove to Albuquerque with crazy Alphonso to see hundreds of hot air balloons take part in the annual mass launch. I know that’s what happened because I took photographs; that’s the only practical way of remembering anything that happens that early in the morning.

It was amazing to walk among hundreds of balloons preparing to launch, but the atmosphere also had nauseating wafts of saccharine America. There were lots of huge macho trucks, although I suppose anything smaller couldn’t carry a heavy balloon. (I was again reminded of an old Earth First! bumpersticker: “You’d drive a big muscle truck too if your penis was as small as mine.”) The event organizers broadcast wretched jingoistic songs from loudspeakers, with insipid lyrics like, “I love to be free because I’m an American, I’m an American because I’m free,” and similar trite dreck.

Oh, the humanity!

The Germans redeemed the event for me when I looked up and saw a giant floating elephant the size of a blue whale! (It wasn’t as large as the Hindenburg, but then it wasn’t filled with hydrogen, either.) Within minutes, the forellenhof was followed by a mammoth pitcher of Frankfurter apfelwein.

Yummy nums!

For me, the mass balloon launch was a once-in-a-lifetime experience: I’m glad I was there, but I’ll never do it again. And I am most grateful that the Germans came to my aesthetic rescue, or else I think I would have regretted being immersed in an airborne sea of American commercial pap.

15 October 2000
An Embarrassing Unnoticed Prejudice Exposed
Misha told me that he didn’t particularly enjoy the years he lived in Japan. He said ninety-nine percent of the people there play “the Japanese game.” They know the rules of being Japanese and they assiduously obey them. Misha described it as “the Japanese tribal mindset,” which dictates that everything Japanese is great and everything foreign is, at best, second rate.

“That sounds like Japan to me,” I agreed, even though I’ve only spent a couple hours there going from one plane to another at Narita airport.

“I don’t think it’s a particularly a particularly Japanese phenomenon,” Misha replied. “You could say the same thing about the Unites States, China, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, or just about any other country you care to mention.”

Misha was correct in gently pointing out that I—and perhaps most of my friends—are as blindly nationalistic as the Japanese. Or the Americans, the Chinese, the British, the French, the Germans, the Italians, or about any other country. I am all the more embarrassed since I failed to see such obvious prejudices.

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©2000 David Glenn Rinehart