More than meets the ear
It was a sight for sore ears. I know: the saying doesn't go like that. But then, you don't know the decibel level I'm used to, and the usual range of her records: loud hard rock, to louder ''punk'' and ''acid.'' So, at first, I didn't recognize the regular thumping coming from her room, especially with the bass exaggerated. Then, when I knew for sure, I peered in, cautiously, in disbelief.Skip to next paragraph
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There she was, splayed out among the record jackets, engaged in antic semaphore. Arms flailing, keeping time, conducting the music. Only it wasn't the Rolling Stones she was listening to, but Mozart's Symphony No. 41m . And near the speakers, next in line, ''Eine Kleine Nachtmusik'' and Liszt's ''Hungarian Rhapsody.'' I would have fallen through the door in total astonishment had it not been for the clump of underwear that prevented me from entering. The pause allowed me to collect myself. I gave a nonchalant hello.
She got embarrassed then, defensive: ''I'm not listening to classical music, '' she sassed, ''so don't go getting any weird ideas, like getting tickets to a concert or something. I'm just listening to this stuff for a while. I heard Mozart on the radio.''
A poster photo of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger caught my eye -- and almost closed it with its arrogant posturing. I hummed another noncommittal response (while my heart was going wildly) and waited for her next remark. It came in two significant parts.
''I like Mozart. Close the door.''
That, I gathered, was my clue to leave, and I did. Soon, I knew, the sounds of violence would again assail my ears: raspings from miked-up maniacs with names like The Ants, The Good Rats, The Doors, The Kinks. And their lowdown, mean screaming would remind me that there was life after Amadeus, if not for me.
Downstairs, alone, the sounds of The Jupiterm faintly in the background, I recalled an odd coincidence of the morning. I had been riding through an unfamiliar rundown neighborhood and was stopped at a traffic light. It was then that I heard the ''music'' coming from a nearby apartment, but I wasn't sure. My first thought was that it was a Bach chaconne; my second, a ''rocker'' screeching; my third, someone moving furniture. Then prejudice took over: could gorgeous Baroque intricacy come out of a dirty second-story window? My seventeen-year old daughter may have sensed a similar judgment. After all, I don't go peering into her room to say hello when ''The Animals'' are on. Their sound had now replaced the Mozart, but a few hours from now she and her friends would be watching them ''in concert.''
It was then that I remembered the review on the record jacket I had read to her one week earlier. It was quiet in her room now; she had gone out to get her concert tickets. I made a second, more successful, entry into her room, got the record jacket, and read it.
''They shrieked in ecstasy,'' it began, ''and sometimes fainted. Those who remained mobile made a mad rush to the stage to gaze upon the features of the divine man. . . .'' There was mayhem, hysteria. Fans fought over private effects purposely left on stage; one admirer ''fished out the stub of a cigar that (he) had smoked,'' and carried it off, forever. He didn't give ''mere concerts,'' I read on, but ''saturnalia.'' And so it went, about the magnetic force of this arrogant, exploitative, theatrical personality. A Rolling Stone? A Beatle? Frank Sinatra? No. Liszt, courtesy of music critic Harold Schonberg in The Great Pianistsm .
The trash of heavy rocking can be frightening and suggest associations between violent music and violent behavior. But Wagner can elicit meanness as well as Mick Jagger; classical musicians invite fringe response of a different kind to rock stars. If great art can be made by outrageous people, and culture not be all sweetness and light, then we may be too quick to condemn the sub-culture. The debut of Stravinsky's The Rite of Springm , we are still reminded, compares with a midnight ''rock'' at Madison Square Garden and ''morality'' is a matter of more profundity than superficial show. Yes, the antics of some of the rockers are disturbing, but so are the not-too personal lives of some of the great literary and performing artists. We strive to find in cultural display the moral underpinnings of humanity and civilization. But we may be -- I may have been -- too ready to arrogate appreciation to class and age. I had just had my come-uppance. But there was more to come.
My daughter had returned and would honor me with her presence for an hour in the supermarket, where we'd do the weekend shopping. And since we would be taking the car, she packed her usual equipment: cassette recorder and tapes, with headphones so she wouldn't ''offend'' me. The Animals were going along, I saw, and The Cars, The Airplane, The Who, and a group called ''Devo.''
''You'd think the supermarket was miles away,'' I smirked.
''You'd think they would play something besides elevator music,'' she shot back.
Score again. But there was to be a special denouementm .
We were on our way, I starting the accelerator, she, her tape. But as the car moved out, she passed the tape-case in front of me so I could see ''what disgusting stuff'' I ''would be missing.''
It was Don Giovannim .