Thursday, February 28, 2008

What Music Evokes

I just finished reading one of my favorite short stories, "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin. Besides the detailed descriptions of life in Harlem and drugs, Baldwin creates a beautiful narrative about the power of music.

Music provides a lot of different modes for people, be it coping, happiness, or an escape. Different kinds of music even offer different feelings or ways of dealing with the world--I find it interesting to see which kinds of music, bands, or songs act for various modes for people.

I want to paste various excerpts from the story that stick out to me. When I read them, the lines moves slower. I read them over and over again. They have a different tone--they're deeper, about life. About music. See if any speak to you, or effect you, and comment, perhaps, on one or more.

"All I know about music is that not many people really ever hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and is triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours."

"I had never thought before of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. He has to fill it, this instrument, with the breath of life, his own. He has to make it do what he wants it to do. And a piano is just a piano. It's made out of so much wood and wires and little hammers and big ones, and ivory. While there's only so much you can do with it, the only way to find out is to try; to try to make it do everything."

"Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about. They were not about anything very new. He and his boys were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen. For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness."

"My trouble made his real."

"As the singing filled the air the watching, listening faces underwent a change, the eyes focusing on something within; the music seemed to soothe a poison out of them; and time seemed, nearly, to fall away from the sullen, belligerent, battered faces, as though they were fleeing back to their first condition, while dreaming of their last."

"No, there's no way not to suffer. But you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it, to keep on top of it, and to make it seem--well, like you. Like you did something, all right, and now you're suffering for it. Why do people suffer? Maybe it's better to give it a reason, any reason."

"The silence, the darkness coming, and the darkness in the faces frightens the child obscurely. He hopes that the hand which strokes his forehead will never stop--will never die. He hopes there will never come a time when the old folks won't be sitting around the living room, talking about where they've come from, and what they've seen, and what's happened to them and their kinfolk. But something deep and watchful in the child knows that this is bound to end, is already ending. In a moment someone will get up and turn on the light. Then the old folks will remember the children and they won't talk any more that day. And when the light fills the room, the child is filled with darkness. He knows that every time this happens, he moves a little closer to the darkness outside. The darkness outside is what the old folks have been talking about. It's what they come from. It's what they endure. The child knows that they won't talk any more because if he knows too much about what's happened to them, he'll know too much too soon, about what's going to happen to him."

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