Steppenwolf part two

[to recap just a little: Harry Haller insists that music is more than just the immediate sensual experience]

“Very good, Herr Pablo.  But there is not only sensual music. There is spiritual also.  Beside the music that is actually played at the moment, there is the immortal music that lives on even when it is not actually being played.  It can happen to a man to lie alone in bed and to call to mind a melody from the Magic Flute or the Matthew Passion, and then there is music without anybody blowing into a flute or passing a bow across a fiddle.”

“Certainly, Herr Haller.  ‘Yearning’ and ‘Valencia’ are recalled every night by many a lonely dreamer.  Even the poorest typist in her office has the latest one step in her head and taps her keys in time to it.  You are right.  I don’t grudge those lonely persons their mute music, whether it’s ‘Yearning’ or the Magic Flute or ‘Valencia’.  But where do they get their lonely and mute music from?  They get it from us, the musicians.  It must first have been played and heard, it must have got into the blood, before any one at home in his room can think of it and dream of it.”

“Granted,” I said coolly, “all the same it won’t do to put Mozart and the latest fox trot on the same level.  And it is not one and the same thing whether yu play people divine and eternal music or cheap stuff of the day that is forgotten tomorrow.” 

When Pablo observed from my tone that I was getting excited, he at once put on his most amiable expression and touching my arm caressingly he gave an unbelievable softness to his voice. 

“Ah, my dear sir, you may be perfectly right with your levels.  I have nothing t say to your putting Mozart and Haydn and ‘Valencia’ on what levels you please.  It is all one to me.  It is not for me to decide about levels.  I shall never be asked about them.  Mozart, perhaps, will still be played in a hundred years and ‘Valencia’ in two will be played no more – we can well leave that, I think, in God’s hands.  God is good and has the span of all our days in his hands and that of every waltz and fox trot too.  His is sure to do what is right.  We musicians, however, we must play our parts according to our duties and our gifts.  We have to play what is actually in demand, and we have to play it as well and as beautifully and expressively as ever we can.”

With a sigh I gave it up.  There was no getting past the fellow. 

While I see both points of view (and agree with both, at least a little), I admit that I lean more towards the perspective of Pablo, and so have remembered this passage over the years, and revisited the novel for that purpose.  Although I have done my time as a professor of music, my greatest impulse it to play music, to create music, without worrying overmuch if that music achieves any sort of immortality.  And over time, I have come to believe that this is very much a zen attitude; to embrace the ‘suchness’ of a thing, without attaching anything more to it.  I don’t know if I would go so far as to call this a manifesto or predominating philosophy, but it has certainly been an influence in how I approach my music and life in general. 



I was 12 years old when my parents decided they would take each of us kids separately on a sort of bonding trip to Chicago.  Being the oldest, I went first.  What I still remember vividly from that trip is going to Marshall Fields department store, where I bought a copy of Don McLean’s “American Pie” album and a paperback copy of Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”  I understand there is (or at least has been) a Steppenwolf theater in Chicago, so there may be others who make an association between the Windy City and that novel, but I may be one of the very few (perhaps the only one) who groups Chicago, Steppenwolf and American Pie into one little unit of memory.

There is a passage in that novel that causes me to come back to it from time to time.  Pony bought me a copy on my kindle for Christmas, and that passage (according to my kindle) is at the 60% point in the book.  It is an exchange between Harry Haller (the Steppenwolf and narrator of the story) and a jazz musician named Pablo.  This is the passage:

“Herr Pablo,” I said to him as he played with his slender ebony walking stick, “you are a friend of Hermine’s and that is why I take an interest in you.  But I can’t say you make it easy to get on with you. Several times I have attempted to talk about music with you.  It would have interested me to know your thoughts and opinions, whether they contradicted mine or not, but you have disdained to make me even the barest reply.”

He gave me a most amiable smile and this time a replay was accorded me.

“Well,” he said with equanimity, “you see, in my opinion there is no point at all in talking about music.  I never talk about music.  What reply, then, was I to make to your very able and just remarks?  You were perfectly right in all you said.  But, you see, I am a musician, not a professor, and I don’t believe that, as regards music, there is the least point in being right.  Music does not depend on being right, on having good taste and education and all that.”

“Indeed. Then what does it depend on?”

“On making music, Herr Haller, on making music as well and as much as possible and with all the intensity of which one is capable.  That is the point, Monsieur.  Though I carried the complete works of Bach and Haydn in my head and could say the cleverest things about them, not a soul would be the better for it.  But when I take hold of my mouthpiece and play a lively shimmy, whether the shimmy be good or bad, it will give people pleasure.  It gets into their legs and into their blood.  That the point, and that alone.  Look at the faces in a dance hall at the moment when the music strikes up after a longish pause, how eyes sparkle, legs twitch and faces begin to laugh.  That is why one makes music.”

“Very good, Herr Pablo.  But there is not only sensual music.  There is spiritual also.  Besides the music that is actually played at the moment, there is the immortal music that lives on even when it is not actually being played.  It can happen to a man to lie alone in bed and to call to mind a melody from the Magic Flute or the Matthew Passion, and then there is music without anybody blowing into a flute or passing a bow across a fiddle.”  [to be continued]


It took us a couple of trips from town to Sam’s place on the top of Casper Mountain, and then two trips with the truck down to the cabin.  The cats were in carriers, and Pony held Rufus in her lap while I navigated the truck down the winding road to the cabin.  By about 5:30 on Tuesday, we had everything loaded into the cabin, Gypsy Rose parked up at the head of the path (next to the main mountain road), and Sam’s truck returned to him.  Now we could start to unpack, get settled, and look forward to meeting Trey, our new roommate for the next 7 or 8 weeks. 

The cabin was originally built by Warren Weaver (Rebecca’s father).  He started off modestly enough with a couple of rooms, then sort of built up and out over the years.  As consequence, it has something of a patchwork look to it.  Moreover, Warren worked for several years as an electrician, and he would install various lights that he scrounged here and there.  The result is an eclectic collection of lighting fixtures throughout the structure, and sometimes a bit of a guessing game as to where the switch may be to turn this or that one on. 

But it is a comfortable place, with two pot-belly stoves to provide warmth for the central portion of the cabin, a couple of wood bins and a coal bin, and all manner of additional rooms that surround the center of the structure. 
Trey is the “official” caretaker.  We are somewhere between guests and house-sitters providing additional support.  Our intention is to stay in the cabin as much as we can manage (keeping trips to town at a minimum).  In so doing, it becomes our charge to keep the pot-belly stoves stoked with fuel, thus reducing the need for the electric heat. 

Trey works at a museum in Casper.  Among other things, this requires him to get up at about 6 am to shower, dress, and trudge the half mile or so up the cabin’s modest road to the main road, where he parks his vehicle alongside our own.  Since installing ourselves in the cabin, I have made that same trek at least once each day (at the very least to check on the status of our parked car).  Let’s just say that this provides some good cardio exercise. 

Trey decided to welcome us proper by buying a ready-to-bake pizza in town for our first night in the cabin.  The cats were glad to be released from their carriers, and Rufus is ecstatic about the snow.  However, there was a small incident, early on, where he jumped on top of a drift, only to fall through and nearly bury himself.  I had to crawl through snow up to my waist to retrieve him and help get him back onto more solid ground.  At the very least, it was a lesson learned for both of us.  He still loves the snow, but he may just respect it a little more. 


The Grog and Tankard is located in Stafford, Virginia, on the Jefferson Davis Highway.  I start with this because I originally had the Grog and Tankard listed as being in nearby Fredericksburg, which was driving my poor Tom Tom GPS (and, by consequence, me) crazy.  Fortunately, I had given myself plenty of time to navigate the Friday afternoon, rush-hour traffic, and managed to arrive with still plenty of time to get set up and good to go. 

I had a very welcoming audience, thanks in no small part to the King Street Bluegrass band (billed as “Alexandria’s Hometown Band”) .  I was given to understand that they were a little more compact than usual, as a couple of their members (a fiddler and mandolin player) had other commitments that evening.  Still, John on guitar, Robert on banjo and Nancy providing a solid foundation on stand-up bass put out a good, tight sound.  They showed no pretense,  but displayed themselves as the good friends and musical companions that they were.  They had a good mix of bluegrass and country standards and did them all justice with some tight vocals and lovely picking. 

They had a good bunch of fans that had come out to see them, so, as it turns out, I was the opening act.  Still, as I already mentioned, I was made to feel very welcome.  I managed to sell a CD or two, as well, and hope that I gained a few new fans in my own right. 

The Grog and Tankard itself is a pub in every best sense of that term.  Not too big, but absolutely comfortable for an acoustic act, with a fine sound system that could more than cover the room, and a comfortable stage with good lighting as well.  After a somewhat stressful week, I felt at home on that stage, and played like it. 

After my set, I had a good number of folk come up (including the folks in King Street Bluegrass) to remark upon the smoothness of my playing,  how solid and inventive my guitar arrangements were (how well they supported my vocals), and a few wonderful compliments on my songwriting.  Yeah, I know that to write this sounds audaciously boastful, but it is to underscore just how good the evening felt.  I had gone to this, another entirely new venue, feeling a bit nervous (mostly because of the stress of traffic and a poor, struggling GPS), and headed home at the end of the evening feeling relaxed and energized.  I could play this kind of gig six nights a week, and that is more or less my goal for the foreseeable future.