Will I go silent (or gentle)? For those who do not fear reality (old people, mostly)

Do not go gentle

Do not go gentle


Dylan Thomas’s most famous poem begins

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

My Grandmother Peck, my Grandfather Knight, my mother’s Cousin Ruth, the Rev. Ginger Georgulas, Sue Mansfield, Janey Fields, Dorothy Seuberling, David and Gina Quinlan, Bill Houghton

Friends, family, mentors who, I assume, did not go gentle into that good night. They may well have gone calm, but I cannot imagine they went gentle. They all loved life too much to have simply given in to the end. I know that for sure because

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Last night a friend opened a conversation, “How do you feel about dying in Dallas?” He he’s a youngster at 62. For LGBT persons without children this is a particularly vexed question:  Where should one be when one can no longer care for oneself – or, even if care never becomes an issue, when one is in the end stages of life and growing more and more alone.

My siblings live in California and Louisiana—and all of their children live in California.

My family of origin is not immediately present in my life although we all do keep very close contact (thanks to Facebook, and email). It is my family of choice, that myriad friends and colleagues, and my inamorato that are most likely to be aware of, if not burdened with, my eventual need for help and tender loving care.

For me thinking about this now is—and I think it should be for everyone over about 60—important not so much because I am thinking about being old and decrepit (and I am not obsessed of thoughts of death) but because I want to be sure that I am in a place where I am comfortable mentally, physically, and spiritually when my time comes. That does not need to be a retirement community run by some upscale hotel chain or anything special at all. But it must be a place of my choosing where I can live (as long as I am physically and mentally able) with freedom and dignity.

There. Enough nuts and bolts and depressing stuff.

The Lone Ranger?

The Lone Ranger?

Non sequitur.

A somewhat startling number of composers’ last works are, if not robustly joyful, at least in some way different (and more accessible?) than their previous work. Take the Beethoven Ninth Symphony, for example. Or, better, his String Quartet in F Major, opus 135, his actual last completed major work. Listen to it and marvel in its joy.

Even the most uninterested opera goer will find the hilarious romp through love and madness of Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff irresistible. Or listen to the Mahler Ninth Symphony. Or, if you’re really imaginative, listen to the Shostakovich Fifteenth Symphony with its almost silly quotation of the Rossini “Lone Ranger” theme (I absolutely love it that, the first time I opened this link, the advertisement was for Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds).

These composers did not go gentle. They went joyfully!

That list of friends and family I began with are like these composers. Each of them lived out her or his life in dignity and comfort. And I had contact with most of them shortly before they died. I know they ended their days as they had lived them. Fully, and in some cases, boisterously! They are the angels who dare, in the words of Sherman Alexie’s poem, to “ride [me] piggyback!” They are all over me, burdening and unbalancing me with my memories of their examples.

My favorite, though, is  Johannes Brahms. His last composition, Opus 122, is a group of settings for solo organ of eleven hymn tunes—all of which are about death. And there is not a sad or dreary note in the lot.

Brahms went neither silent nor gentle into that good night. I wrote yesterday about my teacher Leslie Pratt Spelman. I studied the eleven pieces with him as a college student. Twice in my life I have played recitals consisting of all eleven of the preludes, bracketed by the great Bach Prelude in C Minor, BWV 546 at the beginning and its fugue at the end.

Now I am playing them at home for my amazement.

The words for the last of them O Welt, Ich muss dich lassen, are:

O World, I must leave you,
I travel from here along my way
to the everlasting fatherland.
I will give up my spirit
so that my body and life
lie in God’s merciful hand.

(Please see the note below the video link for a word about the playing I seem to be determined to upload these days.)

I am fully aware of two obvious deficiencies in my recordings. The first is, my playing is not necessarily stylistically correct – or mechanically perfect. The second is that my recording equipment is so lacking that I cannot capture the real beauty of the sound of the organ. I have to have the camera so close that the mechanical sounds sometimes overwhelm the music. I know that’s not fair to Steuart Goodwin who built the organ more than 40 years ago—his first opus. But I happen to like the way my playing and the sound of the organ are simply what we are.

A friend says I should use the moniker “The Barefoot Organist.” I should because I am not going to do anything to make these recordings other than what they are—my private reveling in the music, which I am happy to share with you. Besides, my psychiatrist (a gerontological specialist) has given me the assignment to play the organ every day for my own emotional good, and making these tapes helps me stick to the program!

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