Writing Samples: Short Fiction
A Musical Mind
from The Toucan Literary Magazine. Winter 2010.
Gould debuts at Town Hall and immediately thereafter signs a recording contract with Columbia.
Refusing to shake hands with anyone, Gould sits back from the piano—his left leg crossed over his right—and plays from far below the keys humming as Gould goes. Pale as a sheet and thin, constantly tugging his pants up, Gould plays without shoes on, in socks, with a Band-Aid on his finger. Gould conducts himself with one hand while Gould plays with the other: the second movement of Bach’s Italian concerto. Gould is billed as a small town boy coming out of the Canadian provinces. Everyone knows Gould is from Toronto and listens to the New York Philharmonic broadcasts on Sunday afternoons just as any civilized person is wont to do.
When Gould is at home, he conducts and bobs around no different that when Gould is on stage. The incredible fluidity of the hands of Gould: the hand is boneless. Audiences can’t imagine how it moves. Even so Gould has clinkers. Gould calls them clinkers, one note in each of the recordings. If Gould keeps making the same mistake at the piano, Gould’s Mother closes the lid and will not let him keep going. The day ends for Gould.
Gould insists on the music as Gould feels it and rages at Gould’s mother who prefers Gould to do what is standard. Gould’s mother constantly worries him about hats and coats and colds and catching sick, until in the end, Gould develops a hypochondriac condition. On stage, Gould does not affect the same mannerism every time. When hand and arm pain become a problem, Gould shoots a jigger of booze to loosen up.
Before his performances Gould takes diazepam as well as other tranquilizers. The pharmaceutical bottles often remain at hand on a stool of their own close beside him. At home Gould has a medicine closet from which to choose: Trifluopel, Allopurm, Reserpine, Clonidine, Tempazepam, Fiorinal, Neocortef, Sulfatrim, Propinol, Tetracyclaline, Chloroprom, and Phenylcutezone. Gould keeps several doctors going simultaneously.
Gould is a compulsive lister. The person of Gould is ill, highly neurotic about the exact times at which things happen. False significances haunt Gould late at night at the diner counter. Without music's ameliorative, the trillion details of life would swamp his defenseless brain.
The most difficult place to perform, says Gould, is one’s hometown. Who would want to live in such a place? Where one has to fight for a musical living. Most nights, Gould is all over the television. Afterward Gould speaks to the interviewers. Gould finds this amusing. It’s the American Grande Dame, Gould says, who comes back stage and tells him, oh my dear you did play enchantingly tonight, you positively must come to my party and play for my guests. Gould finds this very amusing.
When Gould composes, it is only in the standard idiom of the early Modern/late Romantic period. What a shame for Gould that he cannot write post-modernistically! Eggheads say the role of tonality in music is finished. Yet, there is Gould re-writing the classics.
Gould makes Bach come alive by bringing Modern thoughts to neoclassical expressions within the constrained geometry of his neuroses. Gould plays the Viennese composers without difficulty. A few of his favorite are: Berg, Webern, Schöenberg, and some Czech or other. Gould is consistently articulating notes in groups of 2, 3, or 4 within larger phrases that stretch the normal length of measures or bars. These miniature figures eddy, bloom, cast about, follow lives and threads of consequence and then dissipate back into the depths of the piece. Later elements resurface as motifs in other pieces. Nuances persist with such lacy articulation that the effect is oceanic. How could a mind track, process, relate and differentiate that volume of information throughout the uninterrupted flow of time? The feats of Gould assure us that he is a polyphonic being and that we are not. Still, the Canadian government is not hip to the idea of cultural ambassadors. They want to know: who is Gould and why should they stake their international reputation on his performance? But Gould has an agent, very persistent.
Of Gould the Russian Pravda reports: A pale young man walks on stage. His face immediately overwhelms us. He sits on a chair so low that we are astonished.
The Russian people in the front rows dress in uniforms, like generals or prison guards. They are the young Communist League informants who are watching the reactions of the audience. They take note of individuals who respond with fervor when Gould plays. these men make a show of allowing Gould to walk around freely in their ancient city, as beautiful and committed to beauty as any city can be. Moved, Gould tells the camera, I no longer have any fear of Communism. I have seen its incredible architectures, its sculptures of city-wide proportion, massive and colorful. Can such a people possibly be responsible for rubbing out beauty from the face of the earth, after at all they have done to create it. Back in his hotel Gould takes four seconol and writes a postcard to his dog. It is full of news of the dogs in Moscow. Is this a publicity stunt? No. Glenn Gould loves his dog.