The Good, the Bad, and the Waldstein

Our horses were tired and as we urged them up the last scrabbly bit of the mesa we could feel them quivering and straining … we could hear the gravel they kicked up skittering down the inhospitable hillsides, the desert’s bitter laughter. I don’t know about you, a man like me really needs a good bedding-down after a day’s ride. But I figured on no featherbed, no downy sweet lady in a distant saloon; I had chosen the hard path. Purple sun-remnants rode out from the horizon, seeming to stop just short of our weary lookout, and dwindled gradually like the hopes of the villagers we had left behind.

My companion drank deeply from his dusty canteen. His hair was wild: not from wind, I knew, but from desire.

“Ride on,” he said. “C major’s somewhere out there, I just know it.”

“Lud, you been sayin’ that for days …”

Below us and around us an alien landscape, with motivic fragments blowing meaningfully in the dry breeze. I pulled some well-worn, coded papers out of my knapsack—ancient maps—and wished, for a whispering sad moment, that I could eat them. A silver band in the distance caught my eye, not for the first time; the shine of the road left behind; antlike figures crawled on it; I thought: those lucky devils are going home.

“Look,” I said, “C major’s right over there, on that road. We were just on it, Lud, and you made us leave, it just don’t make no sense…”

He simply shone on me his hard manly gaze, “The way I figure, a man who knows where he’s goin can afford to get lost.”

“Don’t give me that Zen crap, Ludwig baby, you are one Western teleological bastard and you know it.”

He smiled barely. “What I know is, you don’t know C major from your horse’s behind.”

Ah, the banter of composer and performer, two lonely partners on the road to nowhere. My horse neighed, in agreement or dissent? Its hindquarters twitched. Chastened, I looked once again at my ridiculous papers, which curiously didn’t show much but our present location: they faded out in the direction we were headed. What kind of map was that? I at least thought I knew where C major was, I thought I remembered …

We heard light, dancing footsteps.

“Oh no, not him again.” We’d just ditched him in the last town, when we modulated to the mediant … he just couldn’t get over it (“E major! E major! I love it!” he was screaming over his schnapps) but here we were like a whole movement plus an Introduzione later (we skipped right past the ranch belonging to Ann “Dante” Favori) and he was there again, like a stray mongrel waiting for scraps. B muttered to me under his breath “I told him to come back when he could think less melody and more motive… I mean, how’s a man supposed to keep a narrative moving with that kind of discursive &*()?… When’s he gonna leave us alone?”

I kept my mouth shut. “How are you guys?” our visitor said, shyly scraping the gravel with his spurs. He didn’t seem to wear his riding gear normal, if you know what I’m sayin. “I love this place, too … it’s so, so beautiful…”

Lud rolled his eyes, looked up at the sky disdainfully (yes, I thought, only HE could give attitude to the very heavens themselves.) I could guess what he was thinking: of COURSE it’s beautiful, you idiot, now tell me something I don’t know. Our visitor (his name began with F I seemed to remember) just kept staring at him, adoringly, with tears like waltzes leaking out of the edges of his eyes; uncomfortable moments passed, what was there to say?

Gunfire… ominous rumblings … the call of distant voices, growing closer, shouting, screaming. I took cowardly cover with Frank (?) under an outcrop; Lud stood his ground, staring off, eyes narrowed… A man came running across the top of the mesa, breathless, straight into Lud; he was dressed more casually than I might have expected for this sort of thing, but no matter, it was refreshing! He had a nice, friendly look.

“Oh man, I’m so happy I ran into you!” he said…

“I don’t know you,” Lud said quietly. Being friendly didn’t necessarily ingratiate you with B.

“Oh I’m Greg.” Ah yes!, I thought in my hiding-place, I know this guy, Greg Sandow … he’s everywhere, you hear tell of him in every little town. Some call him villain, some call him hero, a renegade, a Lone Ranger …

“Greg, what can I do for you?”

“No, it’s what I can do for you! I want to save you!”

“Save me?” Lud paused, amused. “Thanks, but I really don’t need to be saved.”

“But they’re all coming after you!” Bullets whizzed around the bend.

“Who?” Lud asked.

“I don’t know … “ Greg foundered for a moment … “All sorts of people! Market forces! Shifts of sensibility! The inevitable drift of civilization! Television! Media!” He glanced about warily.

“Oh, them.” Lud took a breath. Just then, two other strangely dressed people wandered onto the scene, implausibly; they weren’t quite city or country folk, but somewhere in between … (it was like Grand Central Station up here on this lonely mesa–was this convergence the subtle machination of some strange authorial force?) They were talking in academic, tired tones. “Why did he write that ugly pedaling?” one wondered, her voice acidic, laser-clear, and the other, as if reciting some informed rosary for the nth plus one time, “Oh it didn’t really blur that much on the old piano, you have to take the pedaling of the Rondo with a grain of salt…”

I faintly recognized these two from a former life. Lud’s eyes flamed. Flinty, difficult things gathered in his face, and his cheeks swelled like he wanted to spit them out. “Ugly pedaling? UGLY PEDALING? If you want to know, Greg, can I call you Greg?, what I need to be saved from … Could it really be clearer? I wrote the pedaling exactly PRECISELY as I wanted it and … “ I’m a decent tonic-fearing man and I refuse to transcribe the rest of Lud’s diatribe. F was blushing. Greg understandably looked fearful… but I knew that despite a ferocious temper Lud knew exactly how to control it, where to draw the line. HIs anger was not peevish, not short or abrupt; it edged masterfully along tightropes, a beautiful, dangerous fire.

“Come on,” I said to Lud, “We need to find C major.”

Lud looked at me.

“Greg,” I said, feigning regret, “we’ve got stuff to do.” And with that our party began to disintegrate; ugly-pedaling woman went off with her friend, chatting; Greg, happy to escape from Lud’s temper, ran off to the audible, nearing battle; and F had some “new projects” he was working on, some sort of quintet about a fish which didn’t make much sense to me … Lud and I began to climb down the mesa we had just ascended, into terra incognita. He looked pensive, now; his storm had passed. We walked in silence, for a while.

“What amazes me,” I said, “is the variety of perception. How could anyone possibly call that an ugly pedaling … it seems so obviously to me one of the most beautiful inspirations, a miracle even… the most important possible thing…”

“You know,” said Lud, cutting me off, “maybe that Sandow fellow is right, what do I know about kids these days? Will anyone listen to my music in 2100, will I become obsolete?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe he is right, but it makes my head hurt to think about it.”

He was silent, he didn’t like my copout. I was a master of avoidance, but Lud was not one to give up on a difficult issue. “Tell the truth, it makes my head hurt too,” he said after a while (there was empathy, after all, in that formidable brain) and the mesa then was shrouded in an ominous cloud of dust and we walked uneasily through blurring winds. “What I chose to write at that moment, would I write it again in the present moment? That’s the question that keeps bugging me. What’s possible to write now? After me, is it possible to write further into the future?”

Dust and questions. And then, somehow, when the question began to seem inescapable, murkily impossible, the air cleared … We were back in the light and I was seized by much more than a smile. It was C major, alright, but again I didn’t recognize it. Lud had tricked me, we had snuck up on it, it washed upon us all of a sudden, a wave of white-key now. How many times had I been there, over the same tired keys? But the blackboard was clear, and we were writing in tones, as if there were no other way to write. It was like the play or awakening of pleasure. Its appearance, simply: I am. I was surprised by the ease of the dream, my ability to float in it. And from the loud wash of this joy then there emerged a softer echo which was, if possible, even more wonderful, even more beautiful.

Lud was snickering at me. “I told you,” he said, “you didn’t have a clue about C major. Not a damn clue.”

Remembrances of scales, fingerings, Hanon: all strange skeletons compared to this living, surging C major. (Yet somehow the skeleton lay beneath.) I didn’t mind he was poking fun at me; I was happier than I remembered was possible.

“Lud,” I said, “I wish I could quit you.”

“Me too,” he gruffly replied, “you have no idea.”

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    Posted March 28, 2007 at 12:20 am | Permalink

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  2. Kris
    Posted March 28, 2007 at 10:11 am | Permalink


  3. hari
    Posted March 28, 2007 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    terrific! you’ve managed to turn brokeback mountain into a classical western saga.

  4. southern gal
    Posted March 28, 2007 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    incredibly brillant

  5. Samantha G.
    Posted March 29, 2007 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Ah, I can see it now… “A Fistful of Scores”.

  6. rb
    Posted March 30, 2007 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    haha! there’s a book in this blog (and a screenplay)

  7. eusebius
    Posted March 31, 2007 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    As The Dude said in The Big Lebowski:
    “Is that some kinda Eastern thing?”
    And The Stranger replied:
    “Far from it.”

  8. Chris
    Posted March 31, 2007 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for that one, J.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted April 13, 2007 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m gonna hitch my horse to your fantastic post.

    Having just heard the Waldstein in concert two weeks ago, I am laughing even louder.

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