Brilliant Songs #17: Gabriel Fauré’s “Pavane, Opus 50”

Some music just grabs us as soon as the first sound waves they generate waft through the air on a remarkable (and nearly instantaneous) journey through our ear and nervous system. As those waves turn into electrical impulses that reach our brain, they have been known to cause visceral reactions that often include a primitive language response along the lines of “Mmmhhh” or “OhOhOh…”

The 17th selection in this semi-regular series of “Brilliant Songs” fits into that category like few other musical pieces.

‘Pavane’ continues to thrive as a standard part of the concert repertoire some 133 years after its debut for the most excellent reason that it engages human emotion from first notes to last.

“Pavane, Opus 50,” by French composer Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), launches from its first violin pluckings (called “pizzicato,” a word I have always loved to say), soon joined by flutes into a dreamy melancholy so lush ...

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Love 101: Carson McCullers’s “A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud”

A 12-year-old newspaper boy of a bygone era nears the end of his route and walks into a small cafe in the dark cold and rain of early morning to snag a cup of coffee. A few soldiers and factory workers are hunched at the counter while a man sits in a corner with his nose hovering over a beer. As the boy heads for the door, the man calls out to him, “Hey Son!”

The boy approaches tentatively, then recoils in confusion as the man lays one hand on his shoulder and uses the other to place it under the boy’s chin, the better to get a full look at him.

The boy snarls, “Say! What’s the big idea?”

Whereupon the man responds, “I love you.” 

Ah yes, the engineer, all acute observation and precision, gone all to mush in romantic love—probably human existence’s most inherently destabilizing, irrational experience, psychedelia X 10.

The scene sounds improbable in this age, in which the cafe proprietor and customers w...

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George Orwell and the Perils of a Post-Truth Society

Celebrating Biden victory

I’ve been struggling with the question of whether to allow Donald Trump to take up any more mental space in my head (and yours, if you’ve read at least this far). After all, Joe Biden is the president-elect!

This is a fact and has been for some time now, one that was acknowledged even this morning in a tweet by the current (for 65 days and counting…) president, who sounded every bit the first-grade schoolboy muttering barely out of hearing to his bigger, more muscular opponent who just vanquished him in a game of tetherball: “Yeah, but you CHEATED!”

If that were so, what does it say about him, the most powerful man in the world, whose government apparently couldn’t even oversee a free election on his behalf in a country with a 240-year record of standing as a worldwide beacon of freedom?

Whether to ponder Trump yet again is a dilemma he has visited upon everyone concerned about the hard and sustained veeri...

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Elation and Exhaustion

What a week. I went to bed (very) late Tuesday night feeling disconsolate, woke a couple times to take a peek at my phone, put my head back under the pillow wondering whether it was possible to keep it squeezed hard enough to succeed in self-suffocation, awoke just a bit later having not tried to find out, then felt even bluer in cranking up my laptop and observing the yawning vote gaps separating frontrunning Donald Trump from Joe Biden in key battleground states, including my own here in North Carolina.

“Is this really happening?” I asked myself and the fates themselves. “Could it be?” 

Already, my mind was projecting darkly ahead, wondering how the country would survive four more years of this horror show, and what I would do with the despair already wrapping itself around my insides, like a snake set to slowly squeeze the life out of me.

“Big hill to climb for Biden...

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Farewell, Rascal

Life, death, suffering, grief, loss, love—it is always more affecting and close-at-heart than we like to let on in our mostly defended moments against the too-muchness of life, its power to overwhelm the barriers we erect to tamp down the great roiling emotions that drive so much of our inner experience.

So we leave it to therapists, or spouses, or late night drinking companions, or the ceiling above our mid-of-night tossings in bed, or the sky gods beyond that, to receive our wails, our ponderings, our miseries and questions—and sometimes even our wholly undefended joys.

Deep in the pit of our stomachs, we know we are engaged in an epic crusade, at least to ourselves and our intimates, to drink as deeply as possible of every last opportunity for love and wonder that the world affords us.

And as it happens, dammit, a good deal of that wonder blows in the door when we’ve opened it—or had it opened for u...

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