Living life as an anachronism

On being a sick man, a spiteful man, an unpleasant man

Most of the people I know personally have no idea what that subtitle is referencing. This is not a character flaw on their part, nor is it a value judgment on mine. It just is.

I’ve spent most of my adult life out of step with the world around me, too intellectual for friends and colleagues to really care enough try to get to know, not refined enough for the folks who allegedly share some of my interests. This is not to suggest that I have no friends or that I’ve never met a single person with whom I have an intellectual connection, but it is to say that I am reminded every single day, in ways almost entirely innocuous, that I don’t fit in.

When I was in college, majoring in music, I truly believed that my interest in famed soprano Christa Ludwig (may she rest in peace) was somehow superior to the interest of the people watching famed HBO series The Sopranos. I then grew up and realized how stupid that is. We like what we like and if you like the Real Housewives franchise and I like listening to Requiem for a Young Poet on purpose then good for us. The problem, of course, is that there are a great many people who like Real Housewives. I could be wrong, but it seems that there are significantly fewer who like seventy minutes of aggressive (and amazing!) music coupled with audio clips of Hitler and Mao shouting.

One of the most frustrating experiences I have with these interests of mine is what I would call The Admiration Conundrum. This is when someone tells me they admire me for actively enjoying classical music or art or old books or whatever and then convey absolutely zero subsequent curiosity in exploring with me why I may like them or if perhaps they would like them, too. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve explained that “you don’t have to know anything about any of this, you can listen or look and feel something or nothing or in between just like anything else you do,” I could buy .0001 Bitcoin. The Admiration Conundrum, a simple case of well-intentioned positive feedback gone slightly awry, at least allows me to pretend like I have some semi-legitimate gripe about no one wanting to venture into my world out of a sense of a wholly imagined if unfortunately convincing intellectual barrier.

Where I really feel like an ass is in my reaction to people saying that they or their children or whoever like classical music. “We took our son to the opera to see Aida and he really liked it.” “I love to listen to Mozart Piano Concertos on a lazy Sunday morning.” My instinctual response to this is to internally groan with a wretched cocktail made of equal parts contempt and defensive annoyance. I’m reasonably ashamed of these feelings, but probably not as much as I ought to be. Underneath my childishness lies a truth that likely warrants those feelings, however tasteless they seem.

I don’t like classical music. I am utterly devoted to it. It is one of if not the most important things in my life. And the classical music to which I devote so much of my heart and my soul and my strength and my mind is often not even the same classical music to which the people from the previous paragraph are referring. I like Aida and Mozart Piano Concertos as much as they do, but I also like Bruckner Symphonies and Varese’s experiments with electronic music and the music of Stravinsky’s Swiss period and critically comparing all five of Rafael Kubelik’s commercial recordings of Ma Vlast. This passion has cost me a lot in money, time, and energy. In exchange I have been given a gift, a monumental ocean of beauty into which I can submerge myself at any time. But I’ve also been given a profound sense of loneliness at my inability to get my friends and family to join me in experiencing any of the wonders that this gift has to offer.

My dad and stepmom are really into NASCAR. I’m, uh, not so much. But I’ll tell you, when I watch a race with them, I find myself being sucked in by their knowledge and passion. The last time I visited, my dad took me to a Truck Series race out at the Las Vegas Speedway. I had a good time, but that’s not really the point. What really sticks out in my memory was the sound that thirty trucks driving past at 150 miles per hour make, an absolutely ferocious and guttural roar that you feel in your chest. It was exhilarating, and it was only possible to experience with a true and abiding sense of openness and curiosity.

I once played the end of the first movement of Bruckner’s Symphony no. 9 for a friend (who had asked me about what I was listening to and wanted to hear some of it) and he responded by saying “that’s loud.” I mean, yes, it is loud considering it sounds like the Armies of Satan announcing themselves for the Apocalypse. Another time, with a different friend, the unbridled ecstasy of the “Swan Theme” in the finale of Sibelius Symphony no. 5 merited a polite “that’s pretty,” which is the reaction you have when you’re not actually making any attempt to give yourself over to what you’re experiencing. At some point it’s probably fair to place the blame on me for being a bad messenger or, more likely, not important enough in someone’s life for them to make the effort.

There are a great many artists of the past who express deep feelings of alienation, both in their work and in their words. The first composer I ever loved was Wagner - if the reference in the subtitle is lost on the people I know, the title of this blog, part of a quote by Rossini about Wagner, may as well be taken from Martian runes handed down in a secret 1486 pact with the Aztecs - but the first composer I ever developed a sort of obsessive mania for was Gustav Mahler, quite possibly the undisputed champion of artistic alienation. Perhaps I identified in him a kindred spirit of sorts, even at that relatively early age, someone aware of not belonging in their place and time. Now then, the simple matter of becoming the greatest symphonist of my age and perhaps of all time.

So what is this, aside from a masturbatory exercise in self-pity? My hope is that it becomes something resembling a manifesto. I know there are folks out there in the Great Wide World who have the same feelings I do, and I would love to create an outlet for them as much as I would for myself. Many years ago I had a classical music blog called “Everything but the Music” (a title cribbed from the Lexicon of Musical Invective just like the title of this website) which ran its course after a while, but I still look back on it with some fondness. I’d love to recover the spirit of that blog a bit here and mix it with the pseudo-wisdom of a man in his forties to create a place where I can try to convey my unyielding passion about this music in such a way that a few folks may care enough to discover for themselves what a miracle it is to experience.