Oh, Newt! … and, Why Classical Music Is So Boring, Episode 3,423

[PARENTAL WARNING: this post is extremely unreadable until paragraph 5 or so. It may be occasionally unreadable after that. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.]

So, Newt Gingrich has written a novel:

images-21.jpgJames nodded his thanks, opened the wax paper and looked a bit suspiciously at the offering, it looked to be a day or two old and suddenly he had a real longing for the faculty dining room on campus, always a good selection of Western and Asian food to choose from, darn good conversations to be found, and here he now sat with a disheveled captain who, with the added realization, due to the direction of the wind, was in serious need of a good shower.

—Gingrich/Forstchen, Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8

Bravissimo. As I struggled to swallow this sentence, which felt suspiciously like a day-old dish, swerving through clausular inanities towards my unshowered cortex, I realized, due to the direction of the piano bench, oblique, while pointing my disheveled eyes at my bookshelves, with the added realization, but darn good piles of cookbooks to be found, squeezed next to Ulysses in company with Kafka, it was not too far a stretch to leap from Newt’s sentence to this one:

Then as she is on her behaviorite job of quainance bandy, fruting for firstlings and taking her tithe, we may take our review of the two mounds to see nothing of the himJames Joyce, guitaristples here as at elsewhere, by sixes and sevens, like so many heegills and collines, sitton aroont, scentbreeched and somepotreek, in their swishawish satins and their taffetaffe tights, playing Wharton’s Folly, at a treepurty on the planko in the purk.

Wow! I rejoyced to see the simil-Eire-ities.

But I think Finnegans Wake still makes more sense. Which should be exciting for Newt; he is more avant-garde, more pomo, more staggeringly innovative than he ever imagined.

Moving on. I had some family in Houston for my concerts, and relative X apparently asked after the concert, “Why is everything so long?” Oh, lovable family. Broadsided by the question, sprayed like Diesel jeans in the acid wash of the real, of the ungeeky, coming to grips with my irrelevance, I lay awake, fingering Pringles and other morsels from the minibar at 2 am in the humid darkness, asking myself, indeed, why IS Sibelius 2nd Symphony so long? C-SPAN was no comfort; even HBO, solace of so many hotel hours, left me high and dry.

The so-called silly query hung in the air, cheekily profound. One after the other, the plain Pringles crunched into their new forms of existence, seeking reincarnation as a sPringlesCantomach ache in the morning. The piece is as long as it is, I thought. Would you ask why Spiderman 3 is so long? Yes, actually, you might. In fact, the length of movies (the true genre of our times, along with the pop song, the advertisement, the billboard, the reality TV show, the Starbucks paper cup) is always up for debate, and the editing room is much valued, even fetishized. But no! … in the classical world, things are as long as they are, dammit, and that’s just that. Sit back and take it.

Theoretically, the classical music “demographic,” being somewhat elderly, has less time on its hands, and yet is drawn mysteriously to the long-breathed, time-sucking works of our great canon. While youths in full flower, with the decades of their lives spread out before them like Cheez Product on Movie Nachos, or like Hijinks in a Sitcom SubPlot, mainly confine themselves to the 4 minute musical experience: they will not waste their bounty.

Relative X rephrased her question, something like, “why do they play for a long time, and then just everybody sits quietly for a little bit, and then they play again?”

Again, the questions, the obvious questions. I adopted a reasonable tone of voice, sipped heavily on my martini, began to explain: “well the parts of the piece are called movements, and they’re sort of like chapters of a book, you see …” and as I found myself giving this tedious little lecture, a little mocking voice in my head said bowel movements, bowel movements and I was unable to continue … I looked around the table uneasily; I had slipped and fallen on a ellipsis, as so often on Think Denk (how self-referential!); where was the entree?; why was everyone staring at me? It seemed to me the very words I had to use to describe classical music were against me. A mountain of jargon loomed in a booth across the bar, laughing.

Well, I’ve had it with this state of affairs. I’m done mourning over chips and other snack foods.

Some mornings, I have to tell you, I wake up and I really don’t even like the word “Sonata,” it looks at me across the piano keys like a stranger. Why on earth, I ask myself, am I playing a “Sonata”? Don’t get me wrong, I love the sonatas themselves, just not the titles. (I also can become very uncharitable towards the sort of hip names that composers these days give their pieces, like “Fractalization Doping,” or “Nascar Deconstruction,” etc. etc.) But here, why not replace so many of the words we normally use with other words, start fresh with an uncorrupted, unknown vocabulary … ?

I have, just for a starting experiment, taken a passage from Charles Rosen’s The Classical Style, replacing fuddyduddy terms with fresh, deck chatter. See if you don’t feel it is improved:

This snarky E is, of course, the pre of the pre: its very nature implies the traditional first dressingroom almost by definition. Accordingly in cop 18, E is established as the deck of a crossfire using (a); and then in cop 23, after decorated forms of (a), it is established as the coaster. It is interesting to note the ‘is-enough trannies, and to see at how many levels the E is made prominent. The zing now has such force that it no longer demands rubdown, but can itself be used to rub. To bring out this force, an F-natural is set up against it with a shoutout repeated four times under (a) in cops 26-29, an F-natural that also serves to prepare the splendid surprise chipper on an F-jor rowr postjaws at cop 38. This F is now earlgreyin for six cops (cops 39-44) with all the penguins’ power Haydn’s Imhotep can manage, using the opening meme (a): cops 38 to 47 are essentially an inner expansion—a withholding of the chipper at cop 37. A new whatev’, square and decisive, is finally introduced in cop 48 to renovate the real estate. To appreciate the full mastery of this pose, we must rock it with the trackback. When the opening meme returns it has an entirely different sense: it is now a dressingroom from the pre back to the post.

Whoever can reconstruct the original (without recourse, of course, to the Rosen text) gets some sort of dubious award. The sentence in bold translates as “To appreciate the full mastery of the exposition, we must play the repeat.”

By the way, yes, I’m (trying to) read Finnegans Wake. Sigh. How could you tell? Yes, that’s pretentious. But is it, I ask you, as pretentious as invoking hipster terminology to vanquish the haunting Pringles of my lost adolescence?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Anonymous
    Posted May 27, 2007 at 6:04 pm | Permalink


    I know it’s the hip thing to be all “Finnegans Wake sucks”, but actually I feel that it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. It took me 6 tries to get through it, and on the successful read, it lasted two months or so, but I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s one of the only true-feeling but yet hopeful books about death, and is an unparalleled, crazy grab for showing the unknowable. My tip (Tip.) on how to read it is that you need to be satisfied with understanding about 60% of the material on the page; Joyce controls the density of the prose slowly over time- for example, there is a gradual clarification over the first 100 pages or so (focusing the lens), leading up to the “you thought you was lost in the bush, boy?” and the explanation-on-how-to-read-Finnegans-Wake section (heated resistance in the heart of the orange-flavored mudmound had partly obliterated the negative to start with, so that some things most close to your pecker are swollen up most grossy…)- anyway, if you get bogged down in the sections you’re not supposed to understand as well, you never get through it. That was the difference between my successful and unsuccessful tries. Good luck.


  2. Anonymous
    Posted May 27, 2007 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    I tried to read ‘The Emperor’s New Mind’ by Roger Penrose, the brilliant mathematical physicist at Oxford, and quickly found myself at the outer limits of my ability to understand. Yet in the same book he shared a story of having exchanged some scientific theories with a collegue years before. He said that neither one of them really understood the other’s ideas at the time, yet apparently some understanding had taken place because at a later date they both realized they had a good grasp of the other’s ideas. He must have anticipated problems with understanding his book because when he finished his anecdote he wrote that people struggling with his book should just keep forging ahead and at least some understanding would come,hopefully enough to justify finishing the book. Maybe some of the same will happen with you, Jeremy.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted May 28, 2007 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I have not read FW, but the selection you quoted about the “behaviorite job” recalls to mind the nonsense poetry of Lewis Caroll, as in, “‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe”, etc. from Jabberwocky. A celebration of language… however, comparatively: Shakespeare preferred 🙂

  4. Emily
    Posted May 28, 2007 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Holy run-on sentence Newtman! There should be a law against such flagrant abuse of the comma (or at least a little more editorial involvement). James Joyce got away with his disregard for punctuation because stream of consciousness writing style was his shtick. That technique doesn’t work so well in the historical fiction genre. The scary thing (well…..one of the scary things) is that this isn’t Newt’s first book-writing attempt. That’s okay. Perhaps his vain attempt to be the next James Michener will distract from his backwards political strategery.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted May 28, 2007 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    In response to Emily I must defend the abuse of the comma, which in all instances must be considered an art form passed down to this generation of authors by the “greats” of the past: Jane Austen, Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, The whole Bronte family, Dickens, etc. The abuse of the comma is a tradition, though currently few know how to wield it well enough to have their writings considered valid.

  6. rednepentha
    Posted May 28, 2007 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    i’m so happy to settle into a long playing concert when it’s great; just like a long play or movie.

    considering what they charge to see or hear a performance, it’s good when they are long.

  7. Posted May 28, 2007 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Ah, the “tradition” argument of the comma. Yes, many in the past have wholly overused it but it’s been a few years since 1775 and Jane Austen, et. al; things have changed. Besides, in my reading experience, it’d be a groundbreaking practice indeed to use the English language properly.

    As for classical music being long, I suppose it’s how one’s tastes run. For me, some pop songs are the longest four minutes of my life. And Jeremy, I feel your pain in trying to explain anything music-related to non-musical counterparts (relatives or otherwise). Any tips on how to get a three-year-old to understand Beethoven?

  8. e
    Posted May 29, 2007 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Unrelated to this post, but Yay! for moving to WordPress!

  9. Posted May 29, 2007 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Nothing pretensious about FW.
    A guy falls asleep, dreams about his two sons, decides they can’t do without him, and wakes.
    Simplest thing in the worlamen.
    (Sorry for any insult to your intelligence here, but worlamen is a rebus for “world without end, amen”)

  10. Christina
    Posted May 29, 2007 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    I think most “literature” isn’t enjoyable until you’ve already read it.
    If you read a random book that is both makes logical sense and is enjoyable the first time through, you know it’s a gem.

  11. Posted May 30, 2007 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    I’m glad you’ve accepted that film is the One True Genre. You’d have enjoyed FW a lot more reading it aloud with us when you had the chance… It’s my desert island book – it always offers up something new.

    Next time someone asks about piece length, try this: “There’s an easy way to shorten it for yourself – just take a nap.”

    Nice trans on the Rosen, though I think a few dashes of “sick” are called for.

  12. Posted May 31, 2007 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Oh, my goodness! Your caricature of Newt’s work, like so much of your writing, is a masterpiece. I’m reminded of some buddies of mine who decided to go to a Philip Glass concert based solely on their appreciation for the South Park spoof of his music, and were sorely disappointed. I’ll take Denk over Gingrich any day.

  13. Posted May 31, 2007 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Congratulatons on this nice-looking new site.

    After a recital here recently someone asked a pianist: “You have to play so many notes. Don’t your fingers hurt?”

  14. Emily
    Posted May 31, 2007 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Huh. For a moment there, I thought Newt was giving me the bird. Nice shiny new website. Very slick.

  15. william o. jones
    Posted June 2, 2007 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I look forward to new offerings @think denk.your new web site is awsome The complaint was not your mother was it I think she could listen all day and night. I have worn out your Bach.

  16. Posted June 5, 2007 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Actually, you might think of the Joyce passage as several complex storylines crossing each other.

    Like Ives

  17. Posted June 6, 2007 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    the Moebius strip, is Finnegan’s Wake, of time like but the river, surly, nobhob ends where it begins, and over and under round aboot the way, the world, spins, knickers down and oop……. the weigh (oafish churling) they twists them, back, and then again to, lads in armcrossed, shadows so we comecame back and ride the Moebius strip

    just kidding

    love your ramblings, jeremy

  18. Posted July 22, 2007 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    As I struggled to swallow this sentence, which felt suspiciously like a day-old dish, swerving through clausular inanities towards my unshowered cortex, I realized, due to the direction of the piano bench, oblique, while pointing my disheveled eyes at my bookshelves, with the added realization, but darn good piles of cookbooks to be found, squeezed next to Ulysses in company with Kafka, it was not too far a stretch to leap from Newt’s sentence to this one:

    …. that was absolutely beautiful. 🙂

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>