Friday, February 12, 2010

The Grandma Slice

I like to distinguish between enjoyable music and effective music. Between the music you actually like and the music that moves or excites you despite your better judgment. Say you're standing at the counter of a pizzeria. Not the good pizzeria, but the decent one you went to because you couldn't take the time to walk the extra three blocks to the really good one. And while you're waiting for your two grandma slices to heat up, you leaf through the professional sound-engineering magazine that is lying on the glass case above the garlic knots. There you read an obituary about a fiftysomething salesman for Sennheiser or one of those high-end microphone manufacturers. He devoted his life to the industry and was widely loved for his affable, easy manner and everyman charm, until one day his personality got weird. He was no longer affable. He was no longer everyman, or even some man. The company fired him for acting weird, only to discover two years later that the man had been suffering from an incurable disease that attacks the personality and language centers of the brain. The pretty white snow outside the pizzeria has turned overnight to black ice. You can clearly see, on the sidewalk just outside, a brassiere frozen in a drift of existentially gray snow. You reach into your pocket to find that the six dollars you've been hoarding for lunch are moist from proximity to a baggie of diaper wipes. The pizza is taking a long, long time. You are hungry and...something else. Then from that space beyond taste, from that unmediated knickknack shelf of the mind where the emotions are engaged despite ourselves, you hear a plaintive guitar and the voice of a man whose personality seems to have gone the way of the Sennheiser salesman. It is James Taylor, and the song is "Fire and Rain," and you wish you had a sword handy so that you might drive it through your head.

(See also: "Leader of the Band")

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