Today’s Think Music guest is Broc Rossell, author of the chapbook Unpublished Poems, forthcoming with Brooklyn Arts Press in 2011.
I rarely listen to music when I write, but I often write after I’ve listened. Several years ago I recorded this scientifically improbable moment, too odd for a poem:
Tonight on the radio I heard the Ninth and it made me flop around the apartment like I was manic: hopping from one foot to the other, doing some chorus line leg kicks in the empty apartment. The fact it’s Beethoven makes me feel like the Clockwork Orange sociopath, and only renders me more far gone, more frighteningly geeky, ecstatic, and desperate.
I fall into the chair, a pint glass of water resting on my pubic bone as the song goes into my still body, into the glass of water. I’m outside of myself, out the theater’s window, his back to the audience, when the glass cracks in an asymmetrical ring, the bottom half falls on the carpet, some water down my legs. I stack the two pieces on a coaster, they fit perfectly. I’m dancing without pants and typing with horns, the crescendo swells and slowly falls, and an unreformed jock yells OH YEAH! as around him breasts are silently swelling with the seeds of applause.
Music colors my thinking – I tend to conceive of music and sound in synesthetic terms – a chord change invokes a visual memory or a physical memory (once so strong I had my only panic attack), when a movement begins I feel my pants more luxuriantly, or the organ solo in The Beatles’ “In My Life,” for instance, conjures a faint phantasmagoria. To write as those things are happening in the theater of my skull is a complication that usually obfuscates what is already (to borrow a phrase of my friend Ben Gocker’s) an acute case of hyperconsciousness.
There are exceptions. My wife and I regularly have pajama parties that involve scrolls of butcher paper and open bottles of ink on the hardwood floor. We draw and write what is happening around us, including each other:
And we usually listen to occasional music. I can’t take vocals while I write. I prefer instrumental music, jazz or classical, or noise/drone rock, (Magic Lantern, a band from Long Beach, is great for this); or, if there are lyrics, they need to be sung in a foreign language, such as the Swedish psychedelic band, Dungen (who I listened to when I drew the picture of my wife, above.)
I have a decades-long obsession with Beethoven. He is an exception to these tendencies; I’ve spent enough time studying his life and listening to specific pieces that they have grown into subjects too great for objective thought, and have become objects of meditation. Thinking about the days leading to the Heiligenstadt Testament, for instance, when Ludwig wandered the forests near an Austrian health spa and began to admit, for the first time, that he had already been bereft of hearing for several years, I wrote,
BEETHOVEN IN 1814
It’s not willingly that the little land left
Gives up music
Here we have the joy of swallows
The little black one burst out the pried-open rain gutter
In terror down slope its tunnel
Into the above white stalks of corn
Clefs hung from staffs
And sounds broken from their halves
The disassembled orchard
I will very rarely write to music if I am alone: only if I have a surplus of energy and I need it to concentrate. The only distillation of a specific piece, the only poem I have ever written about a piece of music as I listened to it, is the poem that follows (I guess Beethoven would use the pejorative and call this program music.)
Originally titled “Sinfonia Buonaparte,” Beethoven took a dry pen and hacked away Napoleon’s name from the top of score when he heard France had a new Emperor, renaming it the generic “Eroica,” or “Hero’s Symphony.” The irony that Beethoven, a man with an insufferable ego and illusions of grandeur (surreptitiously renaming himself von Beethoven and allowing a false rumor that he was a bastard son of Frederick the Great to spread through Vienna), would take such offense at Napoleon’s ambition, runs almost deep as the pathos of the song itself.
THE EROICA, or,
EVEN HE WHO SOUGHT REFUGE IN NOBILITY MUST NEEDS RECOGNIZED IN A TORN SCORE THAT THE ENEMY MUST BE PURGED FROM HIS VERY SWORD
Spinning in a drum
Sun low in the old window glass
Furtwängler defeating Hitler in Vienna 1952
What is the poetic context
Spinning in a drum
It is darker
The spider rising on legs long as bridges’ spans
I always seem to be able to keep a desk
Or a plank for a desk
Or forage in the alley for fruit
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