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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Words and Music. By John von Daler

                     It was the orderliness of the whole thing that got to me every once and a while. I sat in the same chair in the library or at my desk in my room and read precisely sixty pages an hour, that is, four novels from world literature week after week for four or five semesters. I ate dinner at six o'clock mostly with the same students, got to bed around twelve every night, went regularly to most of my lectures and precept classes and partied every weekend. Every once in a while something had to give.

                I would be on my way to the library after dinner, some novel under my arm, let's say Tom Jones. Actually I would be looking forward to reading. Tom Jones is a great book. Still, some little voice nagged at my inner ear maybe six or seven times a year:
                On the spur of the moment I would take the bus from #Princeton to New York. With Tom popped deeply into the pocket of my jacket I would hop on for the trip of about one and a half hours. Traveling through the flatlands of New Jersey towards New York can be like slowly unfolding a kind of catalogue of smells. For some reason every factory, town or piece of nature opens out like a thick page of fragrances: melted rubber, boiling soap, baked pizza, molten metal, salt sea breeze, burning wood, all lined up in this guide book of what is happening between Princeton and New York. I could close my eyes in the bus amd count off the changes in thick slabs.
                When the bus reached the Port Authority I would wander up Broadway. The weird and the wonderful flowed past: war veterans cut off at the middle and shouting profanities as they rolled on small wheels up the sidewalks; men dressed as extravagant women with busts, bangs and bows all bathed lavishly in the scent of night orchids; vendors selling what you did not need at prices you could not resist; restaurants from the whole world slapping you with the scents of garlic, cinnamon, caraway, cumin and ginger.
                Just after time square on my way to fifty-second street I would pass a long, thin jazz club with a glass window. Inside at the back you could see on a platform the renowned drummer whose music I hardly could stand, Gene Krupa, pounding and slamming his drums around like so many punch bags. This was not music; it was violence packaged as art.
                Up the street my destination usually was Birdland. I could get in fairly cheaply by standing at the bar and sipping at a beer. I never really cared what they were playing; just to be in this immortal place listening to anyone was enough. I heard Chris Connor, Olatunji (and his drums of passion!) Sonny Rollins, and Don Cherry before he moved to Sweden.
                I think what excited me then, and what so greatly interests me now, was the bridge I kept trying to cross between Tom-in-my-pocket, words, and the sound-in-my-ears, jazz. I think Sonny and Don came closest to closing the gap. They stood there one at a time, bowed over, and with no accompaniment wailed strings of notes that I heard like sentences in paragraphs. And I stood by the bar reading their sounds, seeing their phrases, almost touching their meanings. In that sense these small, too short trips to New York were not a break at all, but just another slant on some of my life's topics.




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