Swinging Modern Sounds #57: Going Long, in Four Parts


 1. A Narrative About Going Long

Generally speaking, the Connecticut suburb where I grew up in the late 60s and 70s was pretty barren musically. Our radios were tuned to the A.M. dial, with its ceaseless advertisements, its Cousin Brucies and Harry Harrisons, and the LPs in the living room mostly consisted of show tunes. If you were lucky, you got to watch a bit of a symphony on television, or whichever pop singer was performing that week on Ed Sullivan.

But there was a difference at my particular address. My mom, a mild-mannered, stay-at-home housewife of the postwar variety, a three-kids-by-the-age-of-24 mom, had really good taste in music. In part, this extended to the classics. She could play a little Debussy on the piano, and worked at the first movement of the “Moonlight” Sonata for years.

And she liked a pop song, too. The Beatles, certainly, because everybody liked The Beatles, but also Simon and Garfunkel, and more wistful things like Petula Clark, or The Association. She also had a fanciful experimental side that included Switched-On Bach, Wendy Carlos’s rescoring of J.S. Bach for Moog synthesizer, and the Environments series of proto-ambient field recordings, lots of Leonard Bernstein, and, in 1971, the Fragile album by the British symphonic prog band Yes. I believe that the reason we had this Yes LP, in fact, was because she had heard the single, “Roundabout,” on the A.M. dial.

“Roundabout,” as anyone familiar with it from those days will recall, is a monster of a song. It starts with that ubiquitous classical guitar part, moves into a sort of jazzy verse (featuring some inscrutable lyrics that are next door over to word salad), a long organ and guitar solo section in the middle, followed by a third part (“Along the drifting cloud,/The eagle searching down on the land,” for those following at home), in a totally abstruse time signature, finishing with a vocal coda in sevens, before a refrain of the classical guitar.

Not pop song material! You would hardly know the song from the edit they played on the radio. Whose idea was that? My mom, however, purchased the LP, and for me, this little masterpiece was the first bit of education in the virtue of going long—that is, taking the time, having the patience, the fortitude, to delight in the more capacious musical composition, instead of the shorter one. The single of “Roundabout” was a blunt little collage of nonsense, in which no idea was allowed to be expressed fully, and the relationship between the parts was obscure, especially since the 14/4 bridge was completely eliminated. The unedited album track had no such problems.

TubularBellsIn my development, Fragile was followed by Tubular Bells, by Mike Oldfield (used to spooky effect in The Exorcist film of 1973), a few rock operas of minor note, and then, in the late 70s and early 80s, by Music for Airports, by Brian Eno; No Pussyfooting, by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno; Metal Machine Music, by Lou Reed; Music for Eighteen Musicians, by Steve Reich; Einstein on the Beach, by Philip Glass; Dolmen Music, by Meredith Monk; Symphony No. 3, by Glenn Branca. These were all albums noteworthy for long, challenging pieces of music, pieces where you had to bring something of yourself to the recording, instead of waiting passively for the work to deliver a little premasticated morsel of pop affect.

Brian Eno’s liner notes for Music for Airports, for this listener, presented a completely new approach to what it mean to listen: “Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular.” That is, the listener herself makes the meaning of the piece, depending on context and circumstance, and over the course of time. There’s no psychological crisis to project yourself into (as in the love song)—there’s often no narrator at all. There’s no identification. You move through the piece patiently, slowly, methodically, taking it bit by bit, without any direction from the piece itself. The music meets you wherever you are at that instant.

Ambient music of the Brian Eno variety makes great use of silence, too. Silence is part of it’s sonic spectrum, and because of this aspect of Eno’s practice, it’s just a hop and a skip from him to the work of John Cage, and some of the other great experimental composers of the generation who preceded Eno. For this school of experimental music, which would feature, for example, some of Morton Feldman’s late work—i.e., the String Quartet II, which takes six hours to play—silence and scale are essential elements of the experience. I have known listeners who napped for brief periods during Feldman performances, or who went out for food, without feeling that they had compromised the integrity of their listening experience. Each episode of listening is its own novelty and adventure. Sometimes it can take a decade to understand a piece, so no rush.

Jazz is part and parcel of going long, as well, because analogous innovations were happening among the free jazz players of the 60s, who had arrived at their own route into long-form composition (I’m thinking about Miles Davis citing Karlheinz Stockhausen when talking about Bitches Brew, or John Coltrane listening to Indian music at the time that he was working on longer works like “Om” and “Ascension”). Sun Ra, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Zorn, even Duke Ellington, all worked on album-length pieces or suites of compositions from the 60s and 70s onward. Of these, A Love Supreme occupies a special place for me, and, I assume, for many others. But it is by no means unique in making its four movements into a whole, borrowing and modernizing some of what is good about symphonic structure, while also thinking about poetic sequence and scripture. You could say that same about Ellington’s later suites (the Afro-Eurasian Eclipse, for example, the Far East Suite, his sacred music concerts, and so on), or Miles Davis’s concerts from the early 70s. If the early jazz pieces were the length of a player piano roll, jazz after the avant-garde period had no reason, any longer, to hew to that length. It could go on as it liked.

A decisive break for me with the three-minute pop song occurred at a Ben Neill performance (at Merkin Concert Hall) of La Monte Young’s piece for brass, whose title is nearly as long as the composition: “The Second Dream of The High Tension Line Stepdown Transformer From The Four Dreams of China.” The work consists of simple drones (according to the alternate tuning system of just intonation) on wind instruments separated by silences of a particularly long and musical variety.The Second Dream (So important are the silences in La Monte Young’s work, in fact, that the composer has observed that the silences between performances of his works are part of the composition—making the piece, theoretically, continuous.) In hearing this piece, during a New Sounds Concert Series performance in 1993, feeling its simple, austere, emotional impact, in waves of overtones cascading around the concert hall, I was changed as a listener. It should have been tiring or forgettable, but instead its patience was overpowering. Afterward, I could still find a quaint old-fashioned charm in a perfect three-minute pop song, but not without wondering where the rest of the song was. Where was the restatement? Where was the reconsideration of the melodic vocabulary? Where was the slow revealing? Where were the implied ideas about music itself?

The world selects for brevity these days. (There’s even a new radio format, called QuickHitz, the idea of which is to edit everyone’s songs down to two minutes or less.) The idea of album is in disrepute. This is an obvious truth. Everywhere around us there are those who think that length is a problem, and not only in music. Length, the story goes, makes too many demands, is not convenient. (This very piece, about going long, was originally commissioned by an editor at a certain daily paper in our region, which paper recently ran a piece on the op ed page about how shorter is better, and when I told the editor that there was no way that I could describe in full the idea of going long in brief, as requested by him, the editor told me I should feel free to go elsewhere. I was happy to take him up on his offer.) Don’t bore us, get us to the chorus, as the Nashville commonplace goes. But experientially I feel precisely the opposite, that the further I go in long-form listening, the further I want to go, as if the music could, in some ideal world, become a feature of the world happening around me, in some performance of silence and music and daily life that partially erases the boundaries between all of these things. What you put into music listening is what you get out, in this view, and if you put in nothing, only listen at the gym, then you will require nothing more than 120 beats per minute of four on the floor, and a few daubs of a synthesizer. But if you want more, the music can meet you where you are. It can instruct on the meaning of music itself, on its history, on its cross-cultural possibilities. As in, for example, Open, the new album-long piece by Australian minimalist jazz combo The Necks. Or the music can investigate the very idea of rhythm, as in Dysnomia, the jazz/world/dance epic by Dawn of Midi. Or what about the exploration of improvisation and abstraction apparent on Live at Poisson Rouge album by J. Spaceman and Kid Millions? (And please find more suggestions, and excerpts from each, below.) Each of these recordings will challenge you to go long, too, and in the process to listen more carefully and more decisively, and in the process of listening to go back into the world and hear the music of the world, its wild eruptions, and sonorities, and dissonances.


2. A Recent Example of Going Long, In Interview Format

Qasim Naqvi, drummer in Dawn of Midi, mentioned above, recently completed an excellent long-form choral composition, entitled Fjoloy, which is itself an example of some of the principles in the article above. It’s beautiful, slow-moving, very abstract, and yet moving and rewarding. It has silence built into it. It is conceptually fascinating (as you will see in a second). And it fuses and electronic music impulse to the oldest musical instrument of all, the human voice. It seemed like a good moment to try to talk to Naqvi about the work, in the context of the going long idea, and his thoughts about Fjoloy, and longer work in general follow herewith.


The Rumpus: The glissando patch in the “Ha” section of Fjoloy reminds me of those South Pacific choral pieces where pitch bending is built in. It’s a beautiful passage. The whole piece is beautiful, in fact. I’m interested in how you composed it.

Qasim Naqvi: It was kind of a crazy approach with this piece. It was composed for a video installation and I was basically paired with a pretty young group of singers, both in age and exposure to more abstract stuff. They were more comfortable with hymns and music of a more idiomatic bent. When we rehearsed the actual written music, it was proving to be too difficult for them, so I changed the procedure a little. I recorded each and every vocal part on a monophonic synthesizer and gave each singer their designated part in the form of a MP3 recording; a sort of synthesized reflection of themselves. Each person sang along to their part in the recording, all of them together with headphones, live. It was kind of a crazy form of damage control but the end result turned out to be quite beautiful. It also eliminated the need for any written music. They just listened along and followed their parts. By composing everything on a synthesizer, I was able to do some other cool things like add filters, delays and different microtunings to the synth parts. I then taught the singers how to embody all these weird electrical colorations with their voice, to mimic as best as possible all of the effects that were coating the tone. What you hear in the recording is all live—no processing, no effects, and no loops. It’s electronic music passing through the mirror of human interpretation and the exciting part is seeing how the music changes when it goes from a machine, which is capable of the impossible, to a human voice, which is quite possibly the most delicate and restricted musical instrument we have.

Rumpus: So you bypassed Sibelius entirely? Is that a new technique for you, compositionally, or part of an ongoing movement away from more traditional ways of writing music?

FjoloyNaqvi: This was definitely a new approach, and it came more from a place of damage control and necessity. In the beginning I started writing the music in a more conventionality-notated manner but when the first rehearsal happened, it was practically impossible for the singers to stay in tune as a group. It’s actually no fault of theirs. The harmonic content of this music is quite unusual and like anything that’s hard, it would have required a year’s worth of rehearsing. With this piece we had four rehearsals, but I didn’t want the musical complexity to be compromised in any way. After the first rehearsal, I was sort of freaking out and scrambling for ideas on how to make this happen and then the concept of playback came to mind. So, I basically went home and scrapped the pieces that were written and I started over with this new concept. In thinking about it more, I realized how limitless the music could be in terms of harmony and timbre because the singers would have a sonic reference at all times. So I sort of took it as far as I could, while keeping in mind the limits of the human vocal range. The main stretching points were timbre, harmonic density/movement, creating a feeling of digital delay and microtonal tuning. I wanted to see if I could generate other frequencies within a group of 40 voices as a result of the beating or phasing that occurs when things are not exactly in perfect pitch or time.

You really hear it take effect in some of the pieces. In the “Fjoloy” section, for instance, in certain parts within the Soprano 1 line there are these super high clusters that vibrate and it almost sounds like a trumpet or weird string instrument that’s in the mix. With timbre I looked into this idea of FM synthesis. When I wrote a particular vocal line, I would add a modulating frequency to the original, to dirty up the sound a little bit. Also, with the high soprano parts I would sometimes double their pitch but waaaaaaay down, like 4 or 5 octaves down so when they were singing back they had these weird sub rumblings to use as inspiration alongside their actual pitch. In the end, I didn’t want them to exactly recreate the sound of these synthesizers. I wanted them to interpret and rejoice in the difference.

The music was written for a video piece in Norway and it deals quite a lot with the presence of nature and how nature moves throughout the course of time. With the voices, I wanted to capture that feeling of time passing. In terms of time, I worked with some different kinds of delays and feedback loops. So when the singers executed their parts, they were at times recreating an echo effect or a doubling back of their parts but purely with their own voice; again a kind of interpretation-of-a-machine effect. Most of the pieces have that feeling. They really did a great job, given the limitations of time and getting comfortable with a piece! If these pieces are performed in a concert setting I would definitely love to retain this idea of listening and singing along to a synthesized reflection of your part. Who knows, I may use this idea again for some other projects.

Rumpus: The electro-acoustic aspect here (it’s electronic/it’s entirely acoustic) has something in common with how people talk about the most recent Dawn of Midi album—it’s a jazz album, but it’s structured like electronica, it grooves like electronica. Is there any relationship, for you, between that project and this project? Or is the compositional work, for you, entirely separate from what you’re doing in the band context?

Naqvi: This project has more of a connection to the work I do in film as a composer. For a while now, I’ve been involved is scoring, and for the past six or seven years I’ve been writing all of my music for film inside the computer. I guess it’s sort of an industry standard at this point, and with the shriveling budgets that are left for film composers at the end of the day, it’s become a necessity to do most everything inside the box. For the choral piece I turned to those sounds that I’ve amassed over the years, sounds and sonic “presets” that I’ve saved and re-imagined for this piece.

It’s funny: with Dysnomia. I think in the beginning “electronic music” was the only category that we could tangibly associate that music with, a word that the industry needed as a descriptive mechanism to latch onto, but at the end of the day its true roots come from the ancient rhythmic traditions of West and Northern Africa. Also, Dysnomia is definitely the brilliant brainchild of Amino and Aakaash. Those guys had to do quite a bit of surgery on my mind to get me to move from a spontaneous and improvised mode of thinking to something very precise and crystalline. This new choral work definitely doesn’t have that same degree of ‘precision,’ for lack of a better word. I sort of encouraged more rough and unpredictable crayon marks, outside the line. Fjoloy is more about the beauty of something that changes when it’s soaked through the lens of human interpretation.Dysnomia

Rumpus: Both this choral piece and Dysnomia amount to long-form multi-part compositions. Suites, if you will. What is the virtue of this construct for you? As opposed to, let’s say, the three-minute composition. Does it strike you that you are working against that model?

Naqvi: When you say three-minute composition, I guess you’re asking about things like singles? I would say that in the case of this choral work, I’m most definitely working against the model of the hit single. I admire singles and the strength of the catchy hook; it’s not as easy as one thinks. I also believe in listening to an entire album or even one piece of music from beginning to end. I think iTunes has devastated the process of listening in a lot of ways. It’s no longer necessary to hear an album from beginning to end or even a whole track. I’ve been in so many situations where someone listens to something for about 20 to 30 seconds before moving onto the next thing in their iTunes playlist of 50,000. The tangible and mechanical dependence on the listener that is so true to CDs and vinyl is the quiet ritual that makes one listen to things from top to bottom, I think. I love the model of the concept album or the multi-movement work that has a long narrative through-line. It draws one into a whole experience. I guess part of me has always been into music like that, where you are sort of required to give it your entire attention for a decent stretch of time. If you soak something in like that, it really does something to your perception that’s special. Dysnomia also has that virtue. The longer you listen to it, the more trance-inducing it is. I guess with any type of music, from The Ring Cycle to In Rainbows to Gagaku music from Japan to anything for that matter which has that special something throughout, if you listen to it from start to finish, you’ll look at the world through a different set of eyes.


3. For Further Listening on the Subject

The Well-Tuned Piano, La Monte Young:

Violin and String QuartetMorton Feldman:

NovemberDennis Johnson:

Metal Machine Music, Lou Reed:

Discreet Music, Brian Eno:

Music for 18 Musicians, Steve Reich:

Poppy Nogood and the Phantom BandTerry Riley:

SexThe Necks:

The Sinking of the Titanic, Gavin Bryars:

A Crimson GrailRhys Chatham:

Presque RienLuc Ferrari:

Deep ListeningPauline Oliveros:

Trilogie de la MortEliane Radigue:

Frolic ArchitectureDavid Grubbs and Susan Howe:

And here’s a twelve-hour loop made from the room tone of Deckard’s apartment in Blade Runner:


4. A Poet Speaks

The other day I was reading the newest issue of the Denver Quarterly—it’s one of my very favorite literary magazines—when I happened on the work of a poet called Jessica Baran. (This was among many other things of great interest in the Denver Quarterly.) I responded with enthusiasm to her poems, which led me to try to learn more about the poet herself, which led me to her bio (in the back of the magazine), which led to the realization that she lives and works in the St. Louis area, a political hot spot like few others in recent days. Like many people, in the last two weeks, I have been riveted by the horror of Ferguson, MO, the intense sadness of all that has happened there, and I have especially felt a gap between what I’m reading in the press, and what I imagine is really happening on the ground. The problems of media coverage, representation, race, politics, are never more apparent than during these moments of crisis. And: since it is an important aspect of long musical works, the alleged subject of my column, that they sometimes don’t totalize, in terms of subject and effect, that sometimes they can head off in completely unpredictable directions, I thought it might perhaps be worth talking to Jessica Baran about life in Missouri this week, and about creativity and language and music in the difficult political times.


The Rumpus: What has been your experience watching Ferguson this week from where you are?

Jessica Baran: Confusing. Ferguson—and the site of Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent riots—is about a 20-minute drive north of where I live, on Cherokee Street in south St. Louis. This is both near and far—Ferguson is in St. Louis County, I live in St. Louis City; a 15 minute drive from one point to another anywhere in the St. Louis metro area will lands you in a radically different neighborhood—historically, architecturally, demographically, etc. That said, Ferguson is not truly physically nor ideologically far away. My neighborhood has a similar profile as Ferguson in that it’s also composed of a predominantly African American population. Where I live, in fact, has a higher crime and poverty rate. These are facts and figures, yes—but, I’m trying to provide context.

Anyone who has been more or less present for a significant event with national (and now, increasingly, international) media coverage has probably felt the friction between a place that is known and a place that is being told. Not only has the week disclosed new information and public responses on a nearly hourly basis, I feel I’ve seen my place of residence reflected—in language, photographs, and moving images—in a million conflicting ways, none of them accurate.

Having been—and still being, to an extent—a member of the press (I was the art critic for St. Louis’s alt weekly, The Riverfront Times, for 5 years and continue to freelance), I’m very aware of how something witnessed gets translated and further edited into a public story. I’m also well-aware of St. Louis’s crippled news media—we really have none, and I’ve found myself reading about the events in Ferguson mostly in the New York Times. This is a major problem.

So, the confusion is mountainous. My sympathies are expected: I’m outraged by Mike Brown’s shooting. I’m outraged by the local and national police force—what Darren Wilson did to Mike Brown (as I currently know of it), and what the police have continued to do to the protesters and rioters in Ferguson. I’m outraged by the fact that this situation occurred—now, here, again. I’m really disappointed that Obama hasn’t taken a stronger leadership role—let alone any other local or national politician. And I’m fearful of the long-term outcome—for Mike Brown and his family at the trial (given that Trayvon Martin’s, and even Rodney King’s, assailants weren’t convicted, among others); for race relations in St. Louis; for the town of Ferguson itself and its ability to financially and spiritually recover; for the state of suburban America, which is increasingly the proof of America’s myriad social ailments.

And I have no idea how to properly respond. My husband and I are active in the community—he’s literally an activist who works exclusively with St. Louis’s “underbanked” at a nonprofit microlender and once ran for alderman in our ward; I run a nonprofit art space that considers itself fundamentally socially conscious. But the protests in Ferguson have felt problematic. Perhaps because we are white, perhaps because we’re not Ferguson residents, perhaps because they’ve often erupted in violence, perhaps because they’ve felt too soon and too potentially self-serving for those not in the immediate community.

That said, we’re hugely restless. What do we do in a country who’s system of public critique is basically impotent (i.e. the high regulation of protests and the enfeebled media) and who’s also never quite learned how to publicly mourn? I’d love a ritual of some sort—something like the thumbing of a rosary or building of a shrine—with equal focus, silence and choreography but devoid of religious connotation. Maybe then, after an appropriate amount of time and contemplation, a more active solution could be arrived at. ‘Til then I’m frankly lost.

This, at least, is where I’m starting from—there’s so much to say. I did go to Ferguson one morning this week, to pay my respects at the site of Michael Brown’s shooting and to see the city for myself. I’ve also been involved in several public actions here in St. Louis—such as the national moment of silence and a meeting for artists at the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis. I’m also a fellow in a program called the Community Arts Training Institute —run by the Regional Arts Commission—and our class discussions have largely focused on Ferguson.

Rumpus: Can you just talk a little bit more about your trip to Ferguson? What motivated that? Was that at the endpoint of a certain set of feelings about what’s going on, the decision to drive up there? What did you see exactly? Is there anything to see? Is witnessing at all a useful concept? Does one feel the danger of tourism under those circumstances (I remember similar questions orbiting around in my own thinking in NYC after the events of 9/11, e.g.)? Is there any way that a neighbor can feel a sense of contributing to resolution in a moment like this?

Baran: After talking over my and my husband’s conflicted feelings about visiting Ferguson with two colleagues of mine from the Community Arts Training Institute, I decided to visit the city on my own this past Tuesday morning, just after the National Guard had been summoned. Kris, one of the people I’d spoken with, is from an adjacent Northside suburb and black; he also had issues with participating in the various public actions as he, too, didn’t know what his role or purpose would be for doing so, and additionally felt fearful of being arrested himself, as he’s long been aware of the racial discrimination in the area’s police force. He ended up capitulating, though, and had driven up Monday morning to witness the situation himself, and in the end he felt glad that he did, as it gave him the opportunity to come to his own conclusions. Similarly, I wanted to have my own image of Ferguson, so I went the day after this discussion.

I drove down West Florissant Road, which has been the main artery for the protests and riots, and is also the central commercial thoroughfare for Ferguson. I passed the demolished QuikTrip with its sagging roof—the circumference of its gas pumps and building remains swaddled in orange netting. A massive camo-painted military vehicle incongruously pulled out of a nearby Schnuck’s (our local grocery chain), and small groups of cops gathered idly in the parking lots of McDonald’s, the Ferguson Market, and other small businesses in a two-block radius.

Beyond this, though, there was nothing outstanding about the town’s appearance. No one at the time was demonstrating; pedestrians were casually walking the streets. If anything, there was a noticeable number of white tents with media professionals composed underneath, relaying live news coverage and fussing over their equipment. Ferguson itself did not seem especially damaged, from a physical standpoint. Rather, just beyond the two blocks where most of the news coverage had been focused, a large strip mall with a Target was in full operation, commuting cars filled the streets, and businesses were in active operation, and announced as much, in large spray-painted signs.

I, too, was living in NYC when 9/11 occurred—and I’ve subsequently lived in communities that I feel are often incorrectly depicted or weirdly mythologized by both the public and media (such as Gary, Indiana, where my parents live). Beyond the events that have taken place in Ferguson, the town itself has been put under scrutiny as nebulously anomalous—as a lower-income community, largely black; as one district in a notoriously failing school system; as part of a city (St. Louis) overlooked by the civil rights movement and the US in general, as fly-over country. So, what is Ferguson really like? I don’t know that I have any more of a right to say now, after my brief visit—but, at least I have an image in my head that is mine, and one that I can relate to other familiar places.

Ferguson is less like Gary—which is more physically and economically blighted—than other post-industrial Northwest Indiana towns, like Hammond or East Chicago. The key is that these places are NOT blighted—they’re actually working and middle-class—a whole demographic that has become increasingly invisible in our massively stratified society. Like the Midwest, it’s a kind of zero-zone that is impossible to sensationalize and therefore imagine.

What had the most impact for me was visiting the actual site Mike Brown’s shooting. Several makeshift shrines have been assembled in the area, composed of strewn roses, stuffed animals, hand-painted signs, bottles of liquor, candles, and other dropped memorial tokens. On the street pavement just below the shrine assembled at the actual site of his shooting, “I Am Legend” is spray-painted in swirling script. Leaning against a tree nearby, a handmade wooden cross reads: “Love your neighbor as you would love yourself.” Under it, a white paper sign reads: “Beware, Killer Cop on the Loose Watch Out Children.”

It may be that I’m a visual person who’s also fundamentally shy, but something about these silent, impromptu sculptures really struck me—put together, as they were, by so many hands and maintained over days. They’re beautiful. The quietness of the surrounding neighborhood also felt intimate, and I was moved. Though not a practicing Catholic, I was raised one and still am inclined to pray at such times, which I did then—even though I’m wasn’t necessarily communing with anything beyond a pile of stuffed bears.

Neighbors and family were gathered there, and the place felt reverent—without media, without the National Guard, state troopers, or local police force. My parent’s house looks not unlike those around the Canfield Apartments, so the impression of a neighbor boy being unjustly executed in the night had fresh salience. Again, I’m terribly shy, so I didn’t approach anyone—which would have surely given me an even better sense of the situation, but so it goes. After spending some quiet time at the site, I returned home.

Rumpus: Do you have a recent poem that we can run with the column?


None the Wiser

Pigeons fly and a little girl runs. A family walks its family. Suitcases carry what you are worth, and everyone has a smart handbag. This is the logic of overcoats. Look at all the overcoats. Look at the commuter bus. This place sells mirrors, shelves, tabletops and more. Nothing is quite like a station wagon. Nothing keeps this wig in place like a hat. No one passes by at this time. It is a no-person’s stretch. It is several-dozen-wheels-times-four. The clock looms high. It takes the place of weather. It depends on what you mean by the word is. While you read its message, someone’s gaze trespasses your body. You see them gazing through the shop window. You see a smart pair of glasses and a blurry face. Splash-backs are something else the shop sells. It is a one-stop shop. It is a mixed-income building. It is no longer fashionable to wear such wide-legged pants. It is never wise to read while you walk. You can continue berating yourself, but a bigot is a bigot. The kids still run off the crosswalk. Checker-patterned clothing is a false guide. See their hands waving. See the camera pan to the side. There is a long line waiting to enter the theatre. Not the dramatic kind, but the filmic kind. Return to your point of origin, realize it is somewhere else. You will never see the photograph; you will only recall how the alarm sounds. It is revelatory when you step into a quiet field. It is astonishing to see pedestrians in the 70s. It is amazing how time flies. Little changes between then and now over the course of ten minutes. That said, you still remember ten minutes better than you remember last year. What happened when you were hypnotized is questionably real but superiorly poignant. The man stands alone. A single tree stands in a field. Telephone wires connect two places and more. This is the way you see it. This is what you know. Like a film, like the end of a film that you love. That is why you stand in line. That is why you love this face.

Rick Moody is the author of six novels, three collections of stories, a memoir, and a volume of essays, On Celestial Music. His most recent publication is Hotels of North America, a novel. With Kid Millions of Oneida, he recently released the album The Unspeakable Practices (Joyful Noise recordings). More from this author →