Saturday, November 19, 2005

beta in tx pt. 3

Granny is crestfallen that I don't regularly attend church. I gingerly avoid such discussion and divulging of my life details when I go to visit her on these occasions, as my life as critic of secular music in "that awful New York City" that she recalls from her visit here in the fifties certainly doesn't help her sleep any better at night. One reason I avoid talking to her about music has to do with my uncle, who has recently returned to live in her attic once again, after a scant six months away from the nest in Austin.

It's 1997, my last year in San Antonio, and every Tuesday morning, at that most unholy hour of 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., I have a DJ slot at KSYM. I spin records into the void, with nary a call light or other DJ in sight. Imagining no audience (sort of like now), I loose peculiar, amorphous mixes to drift into the ether. Yes, I am into long pieces and dronescapes anyhow, but I also play such twenty-minute pieces so as to have ample time to plow through and plunder the unused stacks hidden throughout the station, looking for hip-hop twelves and other unmentionables. Scores include everything from Eric B. and Rakim's Follow the Leader to an effervescent Sonia Pottinger rocksteady comp to the Robert Johnson LP box set.

Hoping to reach back into a remote corner of my brain that still retains my piano lessons (and perhaps my recital of "Blue Danube Waltz") from so long ago, I have asked my Granny to start giving me piano lessons once again, perhaps getting a free dinner in the process. It's a weekly affair, and somewhat grueling as my fingers haplessly try to evoke the past patterns and melodic structures that have since crumbled away. Try as I might, they are never to be retrieved, and that guilt of failing both her and my self weighs heavier with each passing week, as practice at home falls away for other, more miscreant activities, which unfortunately take precedence.

So as I sit at her kitchen table one day, awaiting that inevitable piano session, my uncle walks in, and says that he wants to "play me something." He punches in a cassette and a woozy drone fills the air. "Do you know what this is?" he inquires. Of course I do, it's Charlemagne Palestine and his weightless electronic dreampiece, "Three-Fifths," a piece I played on my show earlier that week. Realizing that he taped my show, a sense of dread crawls over me, as I know what's coming next.

"Listen, you're a good kid, but there are forces out there that you may not know about. Have you ever heard of the New Age?"
"You mean that thing that Face from the A-Team now preaches?" I reply, hoping to diffuse the situation.
"Listen, they preach such things as dream control and crystals and whatnot, and it's all a guise for Lucifer. You know his name means light, right?"
I nod with dread.
"Now this music may not affect you, but do you realize that by playing this hypnotic, droning music over the airwaves, you may be imperiling peoples' lives? If someone were on LSD and they heard this, they might go into a trance state, during which a demon could take possession of their body and damn their soul."

And so now I keep my mouth shut about such things, so as to not stir up conversations I'd rather not fall into. My uncle is back around, and I'm curious as to why he didn't make it in Austin. This leads to a lecture about the traffic patterns of Austin, how fast everyone drives and how everyone is a snob in their fancy cars. It's almost the exact same complaint I always hear from my father, despite the fact that they are in two different countries. It's then I realize that my family make for terrible conversationalists, bogging down in the pettiest of gripes and details. His story quickly digresses into talk about a certain hill at 2222 and how fast he had to drive up or down it. Now I don't care what his point is.

What I'm here for is my Granny, to spend some precious time with her. How many more moments we will have together, I am never certain. Since I never go to church, much less the church that she plays organ at every Sunday, I ask her if she will give me a personal recital this Saturday afternoon. The striking news she told me upon my arrival is that she has partial paralysis in her hands, making her unable to perform on the piano any longer, as her pinky can't reach for the higher octaves. Meaning she can only play the more plodding organ. It's strange to think that I haven't heard her play in ages, and yet it's what I recall of her best.

She demurs, but I finally convince her, and so I spend an afternoon in her front parlor, listening to how her swollen, stockinged feet depress the foot pedals to loose the shuddering bass tones, to how her fingers tremble as she carefully traces out the patterns of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," the resulting music so fragile, hesitant, fissuring, and most incredible.


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