Left to my own devices I am a hermit. I could go weeks on end not breathing fresh air and I'd never think twice about it. I wouldn't make any connection between my foul mood, darkened view of humanity, overall malaise, etc., and the fact that I'd hidden away. Thankfully, I have family and friends who draw me out of my shell enough to keep me from making their lives too miserable!
On one of these occasions, my girlfriend forced a vacation on me. We lived in Brooklyn at the time and she came up with the crazy idea of driving up I95 to the Berkshires. In my state of mind, it was as if she suggested a manned space flight. It was like getting hit on the head with a frying pan in a cartoon. Time off? Wha???
I resisted the idea...we were broke, I was tired, we were broke, we were broke, did I mention we were broke? But Melody is relentless when she has a good idea. Before I knew it we were in the rental car headed out of the city.
Melody had planned many excursions for us. We were going to get massages at a spa, see the Norman Rockwell Museum, visit Mass MOCA (Massachusetts Musem of Contemporary Art), see a dance performance at Jacob's Pillow, and hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra outside at Tanglewood.
Now, as I've mentioned before, I am something of an obsessive when it comes to music. I pride myself on having a wide scope of general knowledge about just about any kind of music. So I am always mildly taken aback when someone knows about something I don't. I ought to be used to it by now, but there is always that little part of me that thinks I'm THE expert. Happily, I'm constantly being shown up in this regard.
This weekend in the Berkshires was one of those times. I'd lived in New England my entire life (save the 10 months in France) and I'd never even heard of half the places that my Southern beauty was exposing me to. She was like my own personal Jacques Cousteau of culture, showing me things that I'd never imagined existed.
We saw an exhibit at Mass MOCA that was set up in a huge exhibit room. Giant swaths of fabric sewn into balloon shapes hung connected by gentle tubing. It was a giant bellows. You'd walk under this THING hung from the ceiling and occasionally a fart would issue forth from the folds next to your head. It was hilarious and humbling somehow. This cross between a bagpipe and the intestines of some huge giant made a bizarre sort of music, interspersed by the high notes of human laughter. We left in a trance.
The dance at Jacob's Pillow was that kind of modern dance that leaves you in wonder at what the human body can accomplish. I vaguely remember a theme, some sort of anti-authoritarian vibe, but for the most part the aesthetic seemed geared towards using interesting movement to keep your eye mezmerized. We dressed up, drank wine before the show, soaked up the atmosphere of a top-flight dance troupe in what felt like the middle of the woods of Massachusetts.
To top everything off came the concert at Tanglewood. In another example of Melody introducing me to something I was previously ignorant of, the program was to include Aaron Copland's 'Appalachian Spring'. Melody knew this music because of her childhood spent in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. She was familiar with Copland. I'd never heard of him. This tickled me and made me feel like the luckiest guy in the crowd.
Like everyone, we brought a picnic. We laughed at our little spread compared to some of the monstrosities other classical fans were constructing. Fold out mahogany tables with Persian slip covers, scented candles and silverware, damn if some of 'em didn't have butlers hovering. Melody had one of those Mia Farrow in Great Gatsby hats curving from here to eternity around her beautiful face and we sat and sipped wine and generally fulfilled all those romantic cliches that are the only acceptable cliches going.
And then Copland's 'Appalachian Spring' started. Conducted by Andre Previn (hello! My Dinner with Andre!!!!) with Van Cliburn soloing on piano, the Boston Orchestra brought this piece to life. Now, with a punk band in a club, I can watch the members and see who is pulling their weight, who is dragging the group down, etc. But with an orchestra? The listening experience becomes pure because I have no critical backlog of knowledge. Some classical Aaron Copland fanatic might have thought this was the worst performance of the piece EVER. All I know is it seemed beautiful to me.
Here it was, early 21st century, and thousands of people sat under the stars and let themselves be transported back to a time when amplification could only be achieved by building a curved shell of rock behind the orchestra.
Connecting this beautiful sound to me was the girl who brought me out of my cave to see it, the girl whose home country inspired the very music we were experiencing.