Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tears For Souvenirs

Music moves self-admitted big wuss Paul Stump - but how much dare he show in public?

Phobics of metrosexuality, stop reading now.

I realised at the age of six. For reasons which now escape me, my Bexleyheath primary school played classical music when we filed in for assembly every morning. Just some old LPs from a loft. I couldn't have cared less, until one day Swan Lake's main theme came on. I actually stopped, stock-still, and didn't breathe another word for three hours. It's possible someone asked if I was unwell. For the first time in my life I desperately wanted to cry without feeling particularly unhappy. It was maybe the first time in my life that I didn't know what to feel.

It happened again a few years later, the first time I heard Pomp and Circumstance No.1. Neither bother my tear-ducts any more, and haven't for decades. Then, at 18, my grandfather died and I inherited a large record collection. Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto #2 - inevitably did it again, as did all the big kitschy tunes - the Liebestod also. But my grandmother told me that she had caught her husband - a big, craggy, self-taught working-class Cockney from Borough - weeping uncontrollably at the Rachmaninov, which is maybe why he so rarely let anyone join him in his study when the gramophone was on. It was an extraordinary thing for her to say, and probably shaped my tastes irreversibly; for I judge almost all music - emotionally - on how close to tears it brings me. Even if it's tears of laughter or elation, as per The Damned's 'Burglar' or Irwin Chusid's great Songs In The Key Of Z chronicles of Outsider Music or the magnificently frenzied chorus announcing the arrival of the knight ('ein Wunder!') in Act 1 of Lohengrin.

This sounds, I know, quite shabbily shaming. Remember Elvis's mum used to cry whenever he played her 'Old Shep'? In fact there's an oblique reference to that in the 1982 Only Fools and Horses Christmas special.


Yes. I am a sentimentalist - a depressive - emotionally raw - and I probably drink too much. I admire architecture, audacity, cleverness and originality in musical thought. But a good cry is right now probably too important an aspect of my musical desires. Steve Hackett, the former Genesis guitarist, described to one journalist that, as a small boy, when a particularly poignant track came on the family gramophone, he could not look at anyone in the room, so naked did the music make him feel. This, of course, was austerity London, when emotions went under the carpet, quick.

I'm there.

Rachmaninov concertos, natch (but also a couple of Pantcho Vladigerov's also - come on, Hough, record the buggers, soon); some of Pat Metheny's schmaltzier work; late Reger, particularly the scandalously little-known Die Nonnen for voices and orchestra; Gurrelieder; Bax's setting of The Morning Watch; most Delius; the middle section of 'Firth of Fifth' by Genesis (the live 1977 version anyway); 'Kalimankou Denkou' from Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares; Khachaturian's bigger climaxes; the slow movement of Enescu 1; Scriabin; Franz Schreker's operatic tales of agonisingly lost and irretrievable love don't help, not least Carlotta's fabulous aria in Act 1 of Die Gezeichneten; and in June I really lost it listening in a pub (to which I had lent the CD) to Julie London's 1963 unremittingly bleak and beautiful album Love On The Rocks. Boo-hoo-hoo. Out it all comes. It's usually diminished sevenths, octaves, ninths, elevenths, or odd modulations, or combinations of all or any of the above. I think. I must check.

This is one of the reasons I attend few concerts, and why I will be in the ordure at Bayreuth if I ever get there. My m.o. is to avoid Tristan at all costs, and also Götterdämmerung and Walküre and... which may not leave me much choice.

André Previn wrote famously in his sleevenote to his milestone EMI recording of Rach 2 with the LSO in 1972 that he had seen Russian audiences 'openly weeping' during the slow movement (which doesn't actually turn my waterworks even half on). When is it OK to cry in a concert?

I'd certainly feel a bit browned off if someone next to me started blubbing during a particularly delicate passage (Fauré chamber works, for example). I know metrosexuality says it's OK... but is it, with all those heaving shoulders and snuffles? At home, yes. Outside? Hmmm...

Or maybe us natural born blubbers should bloody well pull ourselves together?

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