In the old days, before the new era, better known as the new life, I would drink too much alcohol whenever I was sad, and I would drink too much whenever I was happy. I was always sad or happy, so you can observe my dilemma. When I look back with honesty, I realize that I was always sad, or never truly happy. I drank to rid my consciousness of despair – a never-ending task. And when I had happiness or some sense of accomplishment or pride, I poured massive amounts of alcohol on it to maintain my state of joy, which always ended the next morning if not far sooner.
Today, I was listening to Shostakovich which is a bit like saying today I got dressed, but it was my first and favorite Shostakovich, the 10th Symphony. This piece is filled with despair with all sorts of glancing touches of hope. (It was meant as a farewell to Stalin after his death, and the portrait of Stalin is particularly poignant in the fury and evil of the second movement. Stalin prevented Shostakovich from creating freely and the 10th is surely a long-awaited response to that state of being. Violations of Stalin’s artistic censorship were always punishable by death and Shostakovich was very close on at least one occasion.)
It occurred to me that I love Shostakovich more than any other composer because he speaks a language that penetrates to the deepest and most vulnerable parts of my soul. I especially love my Shostakovich whenever I am either sad or happy, and I am always sad or happy, so you can observe my dilemma. However, in this case, the dilemma is not killing me or sending me to the insane asylum in the gutters of Brooklyn.
When I am sad, Shostakovich sits with me so I am not alone as I shake my fist at the world. Shostakovich communicated in his music that dreary state of knowing you’re not good enough for the world. When I am happy, I hear in Shostakovich the tremendous victory and gift and blessing of breathing right now, and I hear the knowledge that no matter how far down the scale I’ve gone, I can hope for happiness and hope that there will be moments of joy and happiness other than the one that is felt right this moment.
When I’m listening to the 10th, oh my god, I want to play the clarinet, piccolo, trumpet, or trombone. Oh my god, give me a fucking clarinet! But I never learned any wind instruments, and I can’t learn now because it would not start off sounding perfect, and the imperfect squeals would send me into fits of depression. I do believe I could play the timpani, and yes, I would love to play the timpani or tuba, yes, tuba, with the Chicago Symphony, preferably conducted by Bernard Haitink or perhaps Riccardo Muti, while it plays the richest and most emotional version of the 10th ever to be played while Shostakovich cheers me on in a deeply happy sate but with a fairly dark frown on his face and his heavy-framed glasses blocking view of the fire of his spirit coming out of his eyes.