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An Unusual Adolescence

Yesterday, as I tidied the apartment and whistled my way through Aida, I looked forward to today as a a series of interesting little projects, such as learning more about the new digital camera that neither one of us knows how to operate, not really. But I have spent the entire day reading Sonata for Jukebox: The Autobiography of My Ears, by Geoffrey O'Brien. (The paperback addition has a new subtitle, it seems.) Damn, I'm sure that I bought a Beach Boys compilation, but I can't find it.

I picked up Sonata at the Union Square branch of Barnes & Noble on Wednesday night, after dinner at the Shake Shack with Miss G. Seeing that the book was divided into three sections, "Exposition," "Development," and "Recapitulation" - the structural elements of sonata form - I nodded in approval, and when I discovered that Mr O'Brien was born in the same year as I, I thought to myself, at least I'll know how old he was when he first listened to something. Mr O'Brien is a poet, and the editor of the Library of America. Sonata is not a bit of pop-praising fluff, but a serious, lyrical memoir.

But despite the fact that the author and I are contemporaries, and even though I remembered lots of the songs that he writes about - and got Kathleen to sing the ones that I didn't - my exposure to rock was always highly buffered by my preference for classical music. While everyone else was comparing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, I was getting to know Mozart and Wagner. There's more to the difference than taste or style. As Mr O'Brien choruses, pop songs are storage devices for poignant memories. Classical music is really too complex to take on much baggage, and in my experience it is thoroughly a-nostalgic, because each time I hear something I hear it better, and enter into it more fully. It is not an escape from myself, exactly, but I do forget about me. I was as solipsistic as the next teenager, and I didn't know squat about the music that I professed to love (well, I knew squat), but listening to classical music made for a very unusual adolescence. I certainly never for a minute felt that it was cool to be young. Mr O'Brien's book has made me feel the sadness of that.


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I'm into Greil Marcus right now ("Like a Roliing Stone, Bob Dylan At The Crossroad") and you make me want to read this one!

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