Romantic Music and Wes Anderson

Yesterday, V. told us an amusing incident concerning his father, a certain young lady who appeared in The Darjeeling Limited, and no doubt fairly expensive underwear.

Fortunately, as V. related this to us, I realized my Ipod was at hand, and the anecdote had its natural end while Peter Sarstedt’s extremely obscure 1969 hit (only in Britain and Australia) Where Do You Go To (My Lovely) was played. Unfortunately, Vernon has not seen The Darjeeling Limited, so he didn’t realize the full felicity of this moment, but my husband, at least, was on hand to appreciate and applaud. The movie’s been on our minds since it came out, and it was all too Wes-Anderson-esque to have life imitate art in this way.But the reason I was reminded of this story, as you might wonder, was because the soundtrack continued to play, and I woke up with Debussy in my head, which does not happen often, I can tell you. I mainly have a sort of temperamental contempt for the very very Romantic, so I have avoided it ever since I realized it was all right not to like it. (In high school, I sang all sorts of Debussy and Faure and so forth for my voice teacher, and it was a relief beyond telling when I first heard the Dorian mode in college.)

It’s so… imposingly intimate? It’s like when someone you don’t know very well tells you all of their problems, in terrible detail. You have to be drawn to it, like your eyes are drawn to a car wreck, but there’s relief when you finally drive past it.

As the lady in T.S. Eliot’s “Portrait of a Lady” says,

‘So intimate, this Chopin, that I think his soul
Should be resurrected only among friends
Some two or three, who will not touch the bloom
That is rubbed and questioned in the concert-room.’

Fair enough. We accept Romanticism from our friends, appropriately, that would not do for strangers, and it is sort of a sad absurdity of history and people’s taste that this music is so very publicly popular, and that to like this music passes for a sort of sign of high appreciative culture.

But this morning ‘Claire de Lune,’ of all things, seemed appropriate. Why?

It is a double pleasure to listen to a soundtrack from one of Mr. Anderson’s movies, both because the individual pieces are so odd and interesting and generally representative, though unexpectedly, of some vital human character or thought, but also because I can never hear them without seeing images from the scenes they formed a part of. When I hear the songs, I re-tell the story to myself as they go along. The Kinks singing “Nothing in the World,” etc. in Rushmore puts me in mind of Bill Murray’s despair when he jumps into the pool. “Hey Jude” isn’t just a particularly pleasing rock song anymore, it’s about a family hurt by twenty years of betrayal, failure, and disaster.

When the youngest brother sets his Ipod to play Debussy in the middle of the wilderness of India, in front of a bonfire, after he and his brothers have been kicked off a train, and they are feeling pretty low and imagine that their spiritual journey has failed, although it has not, and they talk about their brotherly love and hate without reserve, and they hear the educated regret and sadness of the music, and its promise of grandeur and impossible achievement–there is some kind of deep imbalance which the unadorned music has that is put back into harmony, is set right by Story. What Debussy has no right to say to me on his own is now perfectly legitimate and full of meaning. Instead of being intrusive, it’s telling me about my friends, whose story I am full of, and it gives me a far richer picture of their character and the character of the moment. I could listen to that story for ever.

Of course those Greek men did not consider music apart from story. It’s frustrating to hear song after song, without connection, without muthos to pull it together. This is the strongest argument against rock music I’ve come up with, that it hasn’t really achieved plot. (Perhaps one day I’ll write about Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.) To praise the man, W.A. is using movies to give music a larger life, and we now have a larger life because of his poetry. What a powerful art, if he can make questionable music part of habits of excellence.

This morning, I woke up with Debussy, and let him be profound for me a little while, and help along what reflection I could make about the time of year and the end of semester. Pretty shocking, all told. I grow forgiving in my relative old age. Hell, at this rate, I might lose my 20-year bet with Trent and Aaron, recorded in my copy ofParadise Lost, to pay them a great deal of money as well as dinner if I essentially change my opinion of Montaigne which I related to them after seminar in 2002. Shit.


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