I worked a full day yesterday, then headed to the airport. I had a long flight to San Francisco ahead, so I packed literature. We're talking heavy literature.
We're talking Half-Priced Books used bookstore five dollar hardcover you could defend yourself in an alley with it literature. We're talking Romain Rolland's epic novel Jean-Christophe.
Romain Rolland is one of those writers who says a lot of cool aphoristic things that you might find in a fortune cookie, if fortune cookies were written by eccentric French fellows who use a lot of colorful phrasing. I had really liked his Gandhi biography, even if it tended to eschew linear narrative in favor of Rolland's own impressions of what Gandhi "means". We are always trying to make people into definitions--or at least Rolland and I do.
I'm now a few hundred pages into Jean- Christophe, and let me tell you, VH-1's cable television show, Behind the Music, has nothing on Jean-Christophe. Rolland was an ace music guy, you see, so it makes sense that his 1000 page epic novel would be about a music guy. This guy makes the guys at Motley Crue seem tame. Have you ever noticed that music guys are always misunderstood? I'm just getting to know this Jean-Christophe fellow, but I suspect he probably benefits from misunderstanding. I mean, this guy has problems. He's got the proverbial bad childhood, one of those pure integrity things that doesn't keep him from all manner of error (I don't know why in French novels of a certain era, folks with real shortcomings continually get praised for their immense integrity), and a mild affection for passionate violence. VH-1 would love him. E! would give him a reality show.
Rolland wrote this in the early part of the 20th Century, and his narrator's voice provides running commentary as the plot moves on. I rather like this style of writing, although it is out of vogue. After all, my own head has a running commentary as I read a novel, so it is nice to hear the author's own musings, so that I can see if we ever "duet" in our thinking. I was glad I was on a plane, when enforced sitting makes one better able to tackle a "tome", as the book's meandering style does require some focus.
I signed up for that Bookcrossings.com, so I feel that once I finished this book, I ought to pass it out to someone or release it into the wild. I will have to annotate it with the magic codes, or print stickers, or something. It will be my first book on that service, which tries to get books free to people. I like that idea a lot.
As for the novel, I still wonder a bit, even fairly early in, whether musicians (and artists and writers uzw) really "feel" the slings and arrows of fate anymore than we who are ungifted, or if instead they are merely more gifted at accessing and verbalizing those feelings.
I am not sure--I don't even know which side of my brain got up this morning, as I landed in SF so late. I stayed last night out by the airport, and was delighted to see cool temperatures and deep fog when I stepped out to catch my shuttle this morning. I also was intrigued to see my hotel was right by a bay, which I had no idea was there when we drove in last night. Unlike Jean-Christophe, I am not sensitive to much of anything from day to day, other than the taste of raisin bran and petty slights.
This is why, of course, I will never have an episode of Behind the Music tell about my sad, sordid descent into drug abuse and teased, dyed hair at 50.
If I were Jean-Christophe, child prodigy, tortured artiste, I would see the water, and wonder what it means--to me. I suspect that the water has its own ways, and its own meanings, though--and for me it is something nice to view as my shuttle pulls away.