Debussy: A Painter in Sound

Debussy: A Painter in Sound took me months to read. Far longer than it should have, really. Why? As a high-school trombonist, I’ve played loads of loud, boomy orchestral pieces (think Beethoven, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky) and softer, more delicate, lower-pitched pieces, mostly originally meant for cello (like Bach’s Cello Sonatas). Debussy is most emphatically not that kind of music.

He, like all musicians of his day (late 1800s – v early 1900s), was creating in reaction to 2 main things: Wagner – a bombastic style to be avoided – and Impressionism – a lightness to be embraced. His works are shorter, some only a few bars long, and are largely for instruments like flutes, violins, and pianos. Ergo, the first stumbling block for me was my unfamiliarity with his music.

Debussy is less a biography of the man and more a history of his music. Walsh talks about his rejection of the Conservatory and its standardized notions of what a musician should do, the spareness and lightness of his music, and how it evolves over time. He talks about the spareness of the sound, the arpeggios, the scales, and while I understood the words, I couldn’t hear the music.

Thank god for YouTube, where I could learn about things like octatonic scales, and Spotify, for its numerous recordings of Debussy’s music. Without them, I would have understood so much less. I listen to Debussy regularly now. His music is light and delicate and I’m not sure I would have ever taken the time to listen closely before.

I want, at some point, to learn to play some of his pieces on the piano (and take the years of piano lessons that would render that possible), to listen intensively to all of his music, to go to concerts when we can do that again, and to re-read Debussy with a much more knowledgeable ear and eye.

That’s all you can ask of a book sometimes: to make you want to go down the path it has laid out before you. this one does its job.

Slumps and books I’m not sure are any good

I’ve been in something of a reading slump lately. Including with this book. I started Paris in the Present Tense ready for its atmosphere and characters and sank into the first chapter. After that, every time I picked it up, I read slightly less and was slightly less interested in the story. Once I was halfway through the book I found myself not caring almost at all.

I don’t think it was the story, about an older man, a failed musician, who is still fit and exercises daily, whose grandson is dying and through a series of events ends up in a street fight and kills a young man (who, it should be said, was about to kill him). You root for him, but I’m not sure you should. And I didn’t care enough to explore the middle ground.

But was it the book or was it my slump? It’s hard to tell, but I can’t recommend Paris in the Present Tense, despite my initial delight with it.

Charm and snacks

I have been looking forward to Somewhere Only We Know since I first learned about it last fall. Why? Because Maurene Goo writes delightful teen romances that I quite enjoy. But also because this is an updated take on Roman Holiday, one of my favorite movies.

In Roman Holiday, a princess whose life is too structured, escapes the palace after taking a sleeping pill, only to be found mostly asleep on the street by a journalist. He thinks he’s stumbled onto the story of the year, only as they spend the day together they start to fall in love. He decides that he can’t publish the story, and she returns to her life at the palace. They go their separate ways.

Somewhere Only We Know is basically the same story, but in Hong Kong instead of Rome, and with the top female K-Pop star instead of a royal princess. And instead of a journalist, it’s a paparazzo who would much rather be studying photography, but he hasn’t figured that out yet.

Both Roman Holiday and Somewhere Only We Know are full of charm and delight and love for their locations. Somewhere Only We Know is definitely also in love with food. You are likely going to be hungry whilst eating it. Have snacks handy.

If you like a teen romance with a travel flavor? This is your book.

Grace Coddington seems like a fun person

A very sun-faded copy. I’m pretty sure the cover should be a uniform shade of orange.

Grace is, as advertised, Grace Coddington’s memoir. She is a hoot, and this is a fun story of a person who loves clothes and fashion and art practicing her craft throughout the mid- to late- twentieth century. She certainly sounds like a lively person to be around and being in the fashion world during that time seems like a hoot.

Unfortunately, I only got through about half of this book because, while she seems like a great person who is full of enthusiasm, the story got a bit repetitive (she’s in London! no Paris! now London again!) and it was more name-droppy than I would have liked. Don’t get me wrong, she’s just talking about her friends, but a little bit less of making sure we know she knows these people and more about fashion in the 1960s and beyond would have been better. It was eventually tiresome.

Kim Gordon is cooler than you

Girl in a Band

 

What’s it about?
Girl in a Band is about Kim Gordon’s life. Who’s Kim Gordon? She was the bassist for Sonic Youth, but the book doesn’t talk a huge amount about Sonic Youth. It’s about her childhood in Los Angeles; her years as a visual artist in 1980s NYC; it covers a bit about her marriage and the band and how some of the main albums were created.

Why should you read it?
Because Kim Gordon has her shit together. She is cooler than you because she has lived and spent time figuring things out: what kind of artist she wanted to be, what kind of parent she wanted to be, what was best for her. Reflecting on the book, I also think writing this might have been a way for her to define herself outside Sonic Youth and her marriage (since she is recently divorced). Who is Kim Gordon if she isn’t Sonic Youth? To clarify: the first draft might have been uncertain. The version that I read wasn’t. She has a clear sense of who she is and what she thinks and she is communicating that to you.

I want to be Kim Gordon. At least a little bit.