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Mahler: wouldn’t you simply DIE without Mahler?

April 22, 2015

“Wouldn’t you simply die without Mahler?” – a line from Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, and the line runs through my head every time I hear Mahler’s name.

Russell is a gifted writer, and a good storyteller, but I have to confess I find him a little light on nuance. He paints his characters with broad strokes: their circumstances are real, their issues are those of everyone, and the words they speak could have been spoken by anyone – and therein lies my problem. A mark of a truly great writer is the ability to have their characters speak words which they alone could have spoken, and yet be utterly convincing and realistic.

Russell’s three best stories – and let me assure you I come back to them again and again – are Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine and Blood Brothers. They all have that same tendency to, well, not to surprise. The third of those, the musical Blood Brothers, has music also written by Russell, and he’s a talented composer. His tunes are good and sometimes very catchy, his arrangements strong and his lyrics stand comparison with the rest of the field. And yet, still, they travel well-trodden paths. Try this one (my favourite) – Easy Terms – and see if I’m right.

I began this digression before I even started, and since I promised myself that I only had 20 minutes before I go on to writing another post in another place, I had better stop. But now I’ve got another tune in my head now, suggested by the rhythm of the phrase another post in another place. So here is Abba’s Another Town, Another Train. An early song, from the time when the men in the group shared more vocal duties – before they hit their stride and left it to the people who really knew what they were doing. Abba didn’t really quite catch capture the persona of the loner who loves the girls and then, ruefully, moves on. But it’s a sweet song anyway.

Now, off I go. And since I really shouldn’t mention Mahler without linking to something by him, here’s Von der Jugend from Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). A sprightly bit of romantic inspiration for you, in case you need it to survive.

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