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Maybe. Heroes and word association.

November 25, 2012

Maybe. Maybe I’m wrong. To go on thinking. To sing my song.

Those are the opening lyrics to a song from Blue Jays – a self-indulgent album by Justin Hayward and John Lodge, mainstays of prog-rockers The Moody Blues. And the song is entitled – yep, that’s right – Maybe.

I’ve described it as self-indulgent, but don’t take that as a negative thing. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on about artistic self-absorption – in my view art in all forms is one of the most generous expressions of humanity.) It’s just that the words seem to want to give the impression of poetry, without actually being poetic. I love the song anyway.

It comes instantly to mind if anyone (me included) says ‘maybe’ with anything that looks like pensiveness. Ear-worms feed off this reflex, which crops up in the most unexpected places. So I am similarly conditioned with a musical response to the words ‘together’ (Together in Electric Dreams*), ‘why’ (Tell me Why**), and ‘original’ (Original Sin***). The list is endless (Endless Love).

*  Phil Oakey and Georgio Moroder.
** Alvin Stardust, but how many other possibilities are there for that one?
*** Theatre of Hate, from my darker days.

We had a “moment” at Chez simonsometimessays last weekend, a sort of musico-verbal version of the Rohrschach test featuring the word ‘mirror’. Mrs sss straightaway thought of Stevie Wonder – “Lately I’ve been looking in the mirror”; Caroline responded with Michael Jackson The Man in the Mirror; I had the Human League’s Mirror Man in my head, where it stayed for an hour or so.

Awkwardly, names can have the same effect. It’s my good fortune to count Nigel as a friend; it’s his misfortune that in my head, with the help of XTC, I’m always Making Plans for him. On a similar note, in the office a couple of days ago I began a sentence “Tell Laura…”; it was not just me for whom that triggered a musical recognition. Possibly it was for the best that nobody burst into song, and that the message in that song by Ricky Valence was not, in fact, delivered to Laura. That could have been complicated.

I don’t necessarily like any of those songs above others. In fact more than one of them bore me utterly. You can work out which. But they all seem to be hardwired in my head,with the inconvenient consequence that I am likely to launch into them without warning.

Speaking of Nigel (the friend, not the poor boy whose “whole future is as good as sealed”) he is a gifted musician who three or four years ago gave me a tour backstage at the Royal Opera House. A treat indeed for an opera lover. (Not, please note, an opera buff: to merit that moniker you need (1) to know a vast amount more than I know,  (2) to go to more operas than I do, and (3) to want to sit through hours of Wagner. I’m prepared at least to try and improve my score on items (1) and (2),  but (3) will be an insurmountable obstacle. Someone should have taken Wagner to one side: “Life’s too short, old chap. So knock an hour or so off Die Walküre – you can leave in the Ride bit – and frankly, the whole of Die Meistersinger after the overture can go”.)

I realise that the thing with Wagner is my problem, not his, but it does seem to me that the sheer length of his works is a potential barrier to more popular appreciation of opera. That, and the tendency of Verdi’s and Puccini’s heroes and heroines to suffer deaths which drain the strength from their bodies but implausibly leave their voices intact.

The labyrinth behind the stage at the Opera House is vast. The auditorium is grand and majestic. And the space between the two has been the focus of some of the finest music played and sung by some of the greatest artists. People who died or retired long before I was born, but who are nevertheless among my musical icons, walked and sang there. Ezio Pinza and Rosa Ponselle, for example. I can’t discover that they shared that stage, but they certainly shared a rare gift for Verdi, evident in their recording of La Forza del Destino from 1928. This short extract – La vergine degli angeli – always thrills me, and brushes aside the objection that opera is neither true to life nor plausible: it feels like soul singing to soul, which is as true to humanity as you can get.

If Fiona occasionally looks envious that I got to see Queen live on stage, it can be no greater than the jealousy that I have of the singers that Mum and Dad have seen. I wish I had seen them – thank goodness for vinyl and the internet. We all have heroes – which in our musical association game might lead you to Enrique Iglesias (Hero), David Bowie (Heroes) or Beethoven (Eroica). But not – sorry – Bonnie Tyler.


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  1. Serious issues with this one, Bruv! Why am I sitting through many hours of Wagner, if it all to no avail?

  2. That’s a question you should be asking yourself…

  3. @papizilla – thank you for following and liking!

  4. Nigel Bates permalink

    As the Nigel referred to above who has wandered through many Wagner miles, you might enjoy my favourite Wagner quote – “I went to the opera last night – it was Wagner. It started at 6 o’clock. At ten past eleven I looked at my watch. It said ten to seven.” Do bear in mind that it would be Meyebeer and Berlioz providing the Long Operatic Evenings if Herr W had not existed…..

  5. I see your point – “always keep tight hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse”. But had you considered the possibility of shorter operatic evenings?

  6. This is brilliant. Oh, Wagner…
    It must have been amazing to see the Royal Opera House. (:

    • Thank you!
      I’ve been fortunate to be a visitor to the ROH several times, as well as those occasions when attending performances. I have even entered the hallowed halls of the conductor’s dressing room, after a performance, when the conductor was still in it. But I have not travelled widely, so have not seen La Scala, the Met, Sydney Opera House…

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