Glenn and Corduroy
The funny thing about being profoundly influenced by someone you’ve never met, is that whether you realize it or not, they’re almost always on your mind. Just when I think I’ve parcelled away my Gouldian ideas for the night – ideas about voicing in the music of Bach, or about the similarities between Art of Fugue and Walden – a seemingly unrelated yet strikingly appropriate connection comes to mind.
One such moment happened when, after opening the drawer to my nightstand, I found the cover of one of my favourite story books, Corduroy by Don Freeman. I am comforted by the sweet and innocent cover of this 1968 classic, it’s no wonder I keep it where I can see it before bedtime instead of hidden away on the top shelf of my bookcase.
While I’ve no way of knowing whether or not Glenn ever read Corduroy, I’ve a hunch that he’d have found in it, a simple depiction of some of his deepest values. If you aren’t familiar with Corduroy, then I highly recommend checking out a copy from your local library (you’ll find it under “X FREE” in the Junior Paperback Picture Book section).
Corduroy is the story of a wee stuffed bear, living amongst fancier toys in a department store. While out shopping with her mother one day, a young girl named Lisa, passes by and walks up to the bear. Longingly, she looks at Corduory and pleads with her mother that this is the bear she has always wanted. Lisa’s practical mother has no time for the bear, remarking that they’ve already spent a great deal of money and furthermore, the bear has lost a button to one of his shoulder straps. Exit mother and daughter.
Thinking that if he could only find a button for his overalls then the pleasant little girl would come back for him, Corduroy sets out in search of a button. After store hours, when all is quiet and the lights are off, Corduroy travels from department to department, up and down the escalator where, after seeing a mattress button, attempts to pull it off only to have an accident in which he knocks over a lamp.
The adventure ends when, after hiding under the comforter of one of the beds, the night watchman shines his flashlight on two little ears poking out from under the covers. Dutifully, the watchman carries Corduroy back to the toy department and places him next to the other, mainstream stuffed animals. Poor Corduroy, his plan to find the missing button in the hopes that he would no longer be neglected, had failed. He would forever remain shabby and therefore unloved. Or so he thought…
Having emptied her piggy bank, Lisa returned to the store the next morning to buy the bear. Refusing a gift box, she carried the buttonless little friend in her arms back home, where she gave him a new home and a button, too. “I like you the way you are,” she said.
On the one hand, this is a story about the simple life, about helping others and being a good and generous person. These notions are very Glenn, however, what I want to point out is the way this story relates to Glenn’s penchant for turning to neglected creatures and things, as if opening the door for many little ecstatic experiences and meaningful communication.
Glenn’s choice of repertoire, for example, favoured the works of neglected composers such as Orlando Gibbons, Paul Hindemith and Arnold Schoenberg. As for the music of J. S. Bach, let’s be clear that it was not crowd-pleasing works such as the Italian Concerto or the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue which Glenn admired, but rather, the composer’s thorny, old-fashioned and unconventional final work, Art of Fugue.
Let us not forget how as a boy, Glenn would bring home every stray pet in the neighbourhood, including a skunk. Glenn’s obsession with solitude and neglected northern landscapes and remote highways, is not unlike Corduroy and his trip through the abandoned department store. We might even go so far as to say that Glenn’s preference for polyphonic music symbolized a desire to give all voices equal attention, to undo them from the neglect that results from homophonic textures and their dominant solo part or melody.
This aspect of Glenn having given his attention to the neglected, can also be seen in the spirit of his compassion for those less fortunate than himself. That is to say that he left his entire estate to two charities, the Toronto Humane Society and the Salvation Army. Since Glenn’s death, many neglected people and animals have benefitted from his generous spirit.
As intellectually stimulating as Glenn’s recordings, radio documentaries and philosophical writings are, his human side – made evident by these seemingly random, unmusical connections to things like children’s storybooks and 1970’s television shows is an aspect that we might do well to contemplate. Whether your artistic role model is Glenn Gould, Pablo Picasso or Tina Turner, look for the unexpected connections that bring these people close to us. All of the great minds that have come and gone have much to tell us in their own unique and unconventional ways. Like a finely tuned radio (I know, another Glenn reference) we ought from time to time, to tune into the humanfrequency, adjusting our receivers accordingly and picking up some truly meaningful connections.
Why Glenn Gould Loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show
If it’s true that Glenn Gould was as good a person as those who knew him said he was, then it’s no wonder he loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Here was a 1970’s sitcom about a thoroughly decent, thoughtful and polite single girl, who worked as an associate producer at WJM, a friendly television news station in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
There it is, a program about a good person, living alone in the north and happily working in the field of media and communications. It’s practically Glenn, well, minus Mary’s great sense of fashion. Of course, Glenn was notorious for dressing in drab colours and, his shoes were, according to Lorne Tulk, almost always untied. Glenn also wasn’t one for looking after his things. Can you imagine Mary Richards, the main character, hauling around her typewriter in a green garbage bag? This was how Glenn transported his special piano chairs.
Personal appearance aside, there are a great many similarities between Glenn and Mary. Take for instance, their inability to tolerate violence of any kind. In the episode, “You Sometimes Hurt the Ones You Hate” from season 5, Lou Grant, Mary’s boss, throws anchorman, Ted Baxter through a door for having endorsed a political candidate on the air. Upset, Mary tells Murray Slaughter, her coworker, that she doesn’t believe in physical violence. “The thought of someone being physically injured, I just don’t like it,” she says, “I never have.”
Glenn was very much the same way, particularly regarding animals and, in an effort to protect innocent fish from meeting their dreadful fate up at the Gould family cottage on Lake Simcoe, Glenn would bustle about in his motorboat, nicknamed the “Arnold S” (that’s “S” as in Schoenberg) stirring up great waves and frustrating those with rods in tow.
On the topic of animals, it appears from the opening credits of the show, that Mary also loved dogs. Season 3 opens with footage of Mary lovingly giving a friendly pat on the head to a neighbourhood dog. Those unfamiliar with Buddy, Sir Nickolson of Garelocheed (Nicky) and Banquo, need only perform a Google image search for the phrase “Glenn Gould dogs.”
That same third season intro features Mary participating in a number of Gouldian pasttimes, ranging from driving around in her car, to walking outside alone in nature during wintertime. I can’t help wondering if Glenn’s love for the show had something to do with the outdoor photoshoot that he would have a few years later in 1974, with photographer, Don Hunstein.
Handily, the show’s intro can be viewed online:
Let’s be clear though, Glenn would never have been caught shopping for a loaf of bread in the afternoon. A midnight run for Arrowroot biscuits however, yes, that’s more like it.
As regards the whole driving thing, it’s interesting to note that Glenn treated driving as a kind of piano practice session. According to Lorne, Glenn would think of the dashboard as a kind of keyboard. “Glenn knew where the notes were,” Lorne said, “he could ‘see’ them and visualize the jumps.” Glenn might not have been much of a practicer at the instrument, but he sure did put in the time out on the open road.
Mary’s newsroom colleagues (Lou, Ted, Murray and, in the later seasons, Sue Anne Nivens) were likeable characters, none of which had much of a social life. As such, they were more than colleagues, or for that matter, friends. They were family. This aspect of the show is present in all 168 episodes, not the least of which is “The Last Show” which aired here in Canada on March 18, 1977. Glenn would have been forty-six.
I think a lot of why Glenn loved the MTM show, was because it involved a team of good, kind and caring people working in the field of media and communications. In a nutshell, Mary and her colleagues were doing the kind of work that interested Glenn. “The most interesting people to have around one,” he remarked in 1969, “are people who are in a position to make synoptic judgments, diplomats, foreign service people, people in communications, journalists sometimes if they don’t get too caught up in the clichés of journalism, but definitely not artists.” Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but I really think that the MTM show validated for Glenn, a lot of what he was trying to do with his own work in the recording studio. The show was also ridiculously funny, “Farmer Ted and the News”, “I Was a Single for WJM News” and “Chuckles Bites the Dust” from seasons 3, 4 and 6 respectively, are three of my favourites.
For what other reasons might Glenn have loved the MTM show? Take for instance, Mary’s love of music. In both of her apartments (in season 6, Mary moved out of the quaint upstairs apartment she had in a beautiful old house and into a modern high-rise) we find a stereo system. Ok, maybe there weren’t any Neumann U87 microphones or AKG speakers in Mary’s living room, but she did enjoy her records.
In the episode, “Ted’s Tax Refund” from season 6 for example, Mary’s stereo breaks down. Lou comes over and gets the system up and running, after which Mary puts on a record of Schumann’s E-flat Major Piano Quintet. Nice.
Yes, it’s good to have Living Stereo!
Let’s get back to that whole idea of Mary being a good person. I am certain that Glenn watched her show with a big smile on his face. Incidentally, his dubs of the show are housed in the Glenn Gould Archives, at the National Library of Canada. “Glenn worked very hard at being a good person.” Lorne has repeated this phrase to me numerous times, as have a number of other individuals I have come to know, people who worked with Glenn in one way or another. This was a man who left his entire estate to the Salvation Army and the Toronto Humane Society. His life was devoted to the pursuit of ecstatic experiences and, to that end, Glenn viewed solitude as a prerequisite.
Glenn was also very much against competition and conformity (an obvious reason for his having loved J. S. Bach’s final work, Art of Fugue) and it was for this reason that he abandoned a successful concert career in order to devote himself to studio recording. Here was a concert pianist who turned his back on giving recitals so that he could make radio and television programs, so that he could use technology not as a means of rejecting pre-existing material, but rather, to manipulate it in order to form new creative ends.
The episode that comes to mind here, is “The Outsider” from season 5, in which WJM hires a young hot shot to help improve ratings. While Bob Larson does manage to successfully get the ratings up, the team realizes that, with his departure for bigger and better opportunities with the network, WJM may have went as far as it will ever go. Feeling down about their overall place in the world of broadcasting, Mary rallies the troops, reminding them that ratings aren’t everything. “What’s wrong with being a nice, friendly little station?” she says. To be a good person, bringing kindness to others and without the need to always finish first or to make the most money, this is how Glenn lived.
One of the episodes that best sums up why I think Glenn loved the MTM show is “Ted’s Change of Heart,” from the seventh and final season. After a mild heart attack brings about a change of personality for WJM anchorman, Ted Baxter, the rest of the news team take a deeper, more thoughtful look at life and why we are here.
Airing on October 23, 1976, the episode concludes with Mary, Lou and Murray at the window, taking in a beautiful sunset. They’ve turned off the news and all of it’s violence and destruction, in order to have a little “ecstatic” moment. This they do in the film room – a studio which looks not unlike those Glenn occupied at the CBC – amidst reels of film, projectors and such. It is a moment of goodness, of not caring about ratings or competition. It is very Glenn.
If you don’t already know this wonderfully made television show and, in particular if you admire the work of Glenn Gould, then I hope this little post inspires you to watch the MTM show. When you buy your next book or box set of Glenn-related material, think about adding to the cart, a wonderful gift of love and laughter.
Taking Care of Glenn's Chair
One of my dear friends is Lorne Tulk. A distinguished CBC Radio technician, Lorne was also a close friend of Glenn Gould, the two having worked together on many recordings and radio documentaries. Lorne is a soft-spoken and deeply compassionate individual who honours with great care and thoughtfulness, the national treasure that was Glenn.
In almost all of our email correspondences and visits, Glenn’s name comes up and it is as though he never left. We talk about a game Glenn liked to play, we play a few rounds, Lorne shares anecdotes from the past, we play some more and then have a good laugh. In our conversations, it is never “Gould” and always “Glenn.”
Though artists of my generation have come to know Glenn posthumously, I have always felt a closeness to this deeply moral and brilliant musical thinker. Every note I play at the piano, every word I write, every new idea that I have is usually, in some way or another, influenced by him. To do things differently and in a meaningful way that is full of goodness – this is what I have learned from Glenn.
By no means have I heard every one of his recordings, nor have I read the many books (eighty-five is it?) about Glenn. Rather, I find Glenn in the notes of Bach, in the writings of Thoreau, Mann, Innis and McLuhan, in episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in solitude, animals and of course, with Lorne.
When it came time to prepare my opening remarks for “Glenn Gould 905”, a Canada 150 event that I coordinated a few months ago for The Chamber Music Society of Mississauga, I asked Lorne for permission to borrow a very special object that was given to him by Glenn. The chair that creaks and sways in Glenn’s recordings is well known to listeners around the world. This chair currently resides in Ottawa. There were in fact, two chairs. As it was told to me by Lorne, here is the real story behind Glenn’s chairs.
When Glenn was relatively young, he came to the conclusion that he wanted a lower chair for playing the piano. Now, quite often, his parents had guests over to play cards and so they had a specific Card Table Set. Glenn liked these chairs and decided to take one. Likely, it was in his father, Bert’s workshop where Glenn proceeded to saw off the bottom of one of the legs of the chair. Having happened to pass by, Bert could see what his son was up to and with great care and understanding, helped his son by cutting the rest of the legs. Glenn was thrilled with what they’d achieved and, from that time on, took his famous “Good Luck” charm with him always, whenever and wherever he played, including at home.
Needless to say, after many years, many miles and many performances, Glenn came to the realization that this beloved “member of the family” could notcontinue taking a beating. Glenn mentioned the concern to his father who proceeded to have another chair built to the exact, same specifications. For several years, Glenn insisted on carrying around with him both chairs. Eventually, he decided to keep the second chair for use at his apartment. I should add that when I picked up the chair from Lorne, it was still in Glenn’s very same carrying case…a green garbage bag!
Having had Glenn’s chair at home with me for those two weeks in September was a rare and unexpected privilege. The nicks on the wood, the adjustable black rubber stops on the ends of the legs, the missing black button in the upper left hand corner of the backrest and finally, the “Do Not Remove” tag at the bottom of the chair…Each of these traits launches a thousand thoughts, and I would be hard pressed to find any experience that can top having sat on Glenn’s chair while practicing Bach, just fourteen inches from the ground, in my home, alone, just me. Solitude was, after all, the primary ingredient in all of Glenn’s work.
Blind River 1962 - Long May You Drive
In Neil Young’s hit song, Long May You Run, the second verse opens with the phrase, “Well it was back in Blind River in 1962, when I last saw you alive.” Sault girl as I am, the words stir up memories of family trips to Sudbury in which we passed through this quaint little town located along the north shore of Lake Huron. I can still recall one spot in particular, the cozy little restaurant named Carlo’s.
Now, I can’t say what Blind River was like in 1962, that was before my time. What the song really conjures up however, is the image of Glenn Gould driving north along Highway 17. “His destinations of choice were almost always north, and included Manitoulin Island, in Georgian Bay, as well as Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa, Marathon, Thunder Bay, and other towns along the rugged, lonely north shore of Lake Superior, where he admired the ‘Group of Seven woebegoneness’ of the countryside.” (Kevin Bazzana, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, 2003). For Glenn, small towns represented ideal places in which to write, study and think. In his own words, they offered a kind of “blessed isolation.”
In the spirit of a Gouldian road trip along the rugged landscapes of the Cambrian Shield, I’m going to hang a left here and take a slightly different route from the direction in which this post is currently headed. That is to say, that this is not a post about the philosophy of Gouldian solitude. For that, one need look no further than The Solitude Trilogy, a quasi-autobiographical collection of radio documentaries created by Glenn.
That song of Neil Young however, has me on a completely different path. Have a listen:
While the song makes me think of Glenn driving through Blind River in the 1960’s and 70’s on his way further north (hey, that’s the name of my blog!) it also has me musing about what this scene might have looked like. I am referring of course, to Glenn’s choice of car. As any fan will tell you, Glenn was quite fond of his cars, or, as Bazzana puts it, “He was one of those North Americans who are in love with their cars.”
The cars Glenn liked most were American made. I’ll admit that a trip to the Glenn Gould Archives at the National Library of Canada would probably put me in touch with a host of details about the specifics of Glenn’s various ‘apartments on wheels’ however, right now I’m feeling more of an inclination to put myself in the hands of the folks at Lincoln Continental and take a ride back in time. While Glenn’s cars were many, in his later years it was his Lincoln Town Car of which he was particularly fond.
Google the phrase, “Glenn Gould’s cars” and you’ll find pictures of him at the wheel of his beloved Longfellow (Lance was the nickname he gave to his Chevrolet Monte Carlo.) While I’m hardly knowledgeable about cars, I do so love to look. Here’s a commercial for the 1970 Lincoln Continental. This may not be the precise year of Longfellow (talk about a pun and a half) but you get the idea. He sure did like a big car. I like to think that Glenn identified with the epic proportions of this car. Witness for example, his own extensive note-taking, recording splices and even his lengthy telephone conversations. Short-winded he was not!
Measuring 225 inches in length, this car was sure to get a person out of Toronto although, by the time the head lights got to Blind River, the tail lights were probably still just getting onto the 400. But I digress. Luxury is the motto of this car and with it’s “sweeping expansive wood tone,” and optional AM/FM stereo radio integrated into the instrument panel (“eliminating the floor adaptor”…!!) this car must have really lived up to Glenn’s need for an apartment on wheels. Incidentally, when you look up the photo of Glenn driving, you’ll note that he’s not wearing a seat belt. For goodness sake, Glenn, buckle up! I guess it’s just another sign of how much things have changed.
One of the things I find most amusing about this car is the way in which things are hidden. Advertised in the commercial are the “concealed headlamps” and “concealed windshield wipers.” And don’t forget those “fender skirts”. Of particular interest to the car is the “improved sound package,” designed to “reduce outside noise.” So, when you’re driving past the Big Nickel and conducting along with a Mahler Symphony on the radio (yes, Glenn did this) you don’t need to worry about being heard.
The various selling points of this car are in themselves rather Gouldian, the intensely private Glenn having tried very hard to conceal himself from the public. Talk about concealed head lights and windshield wipers. I realize that my attempt at humour here is about as successful as Glenn’s Karlheinz Klopweisser skit. My sincerest apologies.
More than thirty-five years later (Glenn died in 1982) and the folks at Lincoln Continental have slimmed down the 1970 behemoth to a modest 201.4 inches. So, today’s model is basically two feet shorter than Glenn’s but still nearly twenty inches longer than a Honda Civic. St. Aubert, my own little gentleman (now blushing in the garage) is bursting his buttons. Have a look at what Glenn’s choice of car looks like today:
In all fairness, this is a nice looking car but boy those fender skirts sure had personality. If Glenn were still alive, I have a hunch that while features such as the heated seats and automatic window screens would be a delight for keeping him warm and rid of unwanted sunlight (not to mention what I suspect is a much more powerful engine for getting out of the GTA) this car has a few un-Gouldian features, namely the backseat passenger audio controls. While out for a drive with Glenn, nobody but Glenn controlled the audio. Nobody!
The long and short of it is that while styles change, the basic function of any automobile is to get us safely and comfortably (and hopefully with as little a carbon footprint as possible) from point A to B. What really matters is the location of those two points and, if you’re like Glenn, then point B is likely going to be somewhere along the north shore of Lake Superior.
Safe driving and remember to fasten that seat belt!
Harnessing Gouldian Thought in a Distracted Age
In this audio post, I explore ways in which twenty-first century artists might use Glenn Gould as a career role model. The moral fibre of Glenn’s creative output, his pursuit of solitude as a means for ecstatic experiences and his efforts to remove himself from the centre of a society in order to see it more clearly, serve as the backdrop to this audio essay.
Further North Audio Essay - Penny Johnson.mp3
"Do it differently," he said...
If Glenn Gould were alive today, he’d probably be amused, though not at all surprised by the fact, that an online search for recordings of Classical music literally yields hundreds of thousands of results. With the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, for example, Google retrieves three hundred and sixty-five thousand video items. Amidst this enormous array of recordings, can we be certain that each one is truly expressing something that has never been said? What treasures in these centuries old works remain undiscovered? Glenn’s work has helped me to find ways of answering these questions.
Throughout his career, Glenn was concerned with performing works in such a way that they were unlike any previous interpretation. “If there’s any excuse at all for making a record,” he said in 1968, “it’s to do it differently, to approach the work from a totally recreative point of view…to perform this particular work as it has never been heard before. And if one can’t do that, I would say, abandon it, forget about it, move on to something else.”
The montage at the top of this post is one that I came up with last year as part of the preparations for Glenn Gould 905: A Triple Birthday Multi-Media Celebration. In the photos, we see eighteen individuals who influenced Glenn in one manner or another. Pictured third from the left on the bottom row is Rosalyn Tureck, a pianist whose playing style Glenn admired. Known primarily for her performances of J. S. Bach, Tureck, like Glenn, was also regarded for the ease with which she presented on television, various aspects of musical thought and instrumentation.
Have a look at this clip in which she demonstrates the playability of works by Bach, on all types of keyboard instruments:
I like to think that beyond her sparklingly clear and exuberant interpretations, what Glenn admired most about Tureck was the fact that she was willing to do things differently. What other pianists of her generation would have dared to appear on camera, performing works by Bach and Chopin on a Moog synthesizer?
Like Glenn, I admire Tureck and it was her influence that prompted me to carry out an unusual project of my own. In the October 1947 edition of The Etude, Tureck published an article entitled, “Learning to Understand Bach” (available here). In it, she instructs as to how a player might set about thinking/listening contrapuntally. With regards to the Fifteen Two-Part Inventions of Bach, one particular technique required the creation of what she referred to as contrapuntal studies. This involved writing the pieces out in such a way, that the material of the right hand would be played by the left hand and vice versa. By inverting the voices of these important teaching pieces, the student would in turn, gain new insight on the structure of the music.
In this instance, Tureck’s mode of thinking resembles that of Glenn, for what she was doing was encouraging students to re-compose the music of Bach, to present differently, music that had been performed countless times since it was written. What better way to find new things to listen for in these pieces than by switching the material between the hands? Apart from Tureck’s own written out version of Invention #1 however, I was unable to locate any arrangements of the remaining fourteen pieces. The solution, of course, was to set about completing the task myself.
Experiencing these familiar pieces in a fresh new way has not only helped me to think/listen contrapuntally, but it has also given me an opportunity to uncover a few clues as to how Bach managed to write such well-crafted contrapuntal music. Much of this has to do with the textural saturation of thirds and sixths. Inverting the voices also gives the player fresh ears for identifying motives and dissonances, as well as for recognizing the relationship between instrumental range and subject placement.
Writing and practicing these arrangements has even had a positive impact on the time spent practicing other pieces. For example, I now find myself listening more carefully than ever before, to the canons in the Goldberg Variations. Of course, it’s been challenging getting my hands to suddenly perform patterns in an opposite, mirror fashion and ornaments have been particularly tricky to adjust however, it’s all been well worth the effort. Most importantly, this project has enabled me to become better equipped at expressing the humanity of the music, a quality for which Glenn greatly admired Bach.
If you’re wondering what this sounds like, then here is a sample:
That these musical miniatures stand as independent and aesthetically pleasing works even when the hands are switched, is a testament to the craftsmanship of Bach. Try doing this exercise with pieces written by pianistic composers say, of the nineteenth century. It’s preposterous. And, were it not for Glenn, whose work has led me to explore that of Rosalyn Tureck, then I’d likely have not discovered this unique experience for developing my musical relationship with that most special individual of all, Bach.
Existing in these little teaching pieces are the seeds that would eventually become Art of Fugue, Bach’s final composition and arguably the greatest contrapuntal work of all time. This is music for which Bach received criticism, music for which he was seen as old-fashioned. The evolution of Bach throughout his sixty-five years as a devout composer of contrapuntal music, therefore, suggests on his part a retreat of musical sorts from the center to the margin. In the same way that Glenn spoke both literally and figuratively of “going north”, we might say that Bach – the favourite composer of Glenn, Rosalyn, you (I hope) and me, too – was doing much the same thing.
Cat Dedications, Al Martino & A Penchant For Radio
I listen to a lot of AM radio and I find that the lower bandwidth creates a more pleasing sound than FM. I also prefer the sound of long playing records to digital CDs. It’s the analog versus digital thing, I guess and from what I can tell, I’m not alone.
The analog sound, so full of warmth and roundness, is one that I find particularly useful as a model for tone production at the piano. That is to say, that when I am practicing, I try to create as golden a tone as possible and boy did those pianists from the early days of recording (Ignacy Paderewski, Alfred Cortot, Moriz Rosenthal and the lovably eccentric Vladimir de Pachmann to name a few) know how to make a beautiful tone! Piano playing aside, this is a post about another side of radio and the sweet, little Gouldian moment that the AM dial gave me on a cold, snowy winter evening.
About a month ago, I was driving home listening to one of those caller request programs that always seem to be wafting over the airwaves on Friday nights. You know the scene, you’re alone, listening and picturing those folks “out there” who are busy shopping, clubbing, dining, hanging with friends or, in other words, not listening to the radio, at least not willingly. But I love solitude and I love these little experiences that only radio can give. I’ve always found there to be something secure and safe about the airwaves.
So, on this particular evening, a number of people called in for this song, for that song. One man asked for Bad Timing by Blue Rodeo. I had heard the song, but didn’t know the title or the artist and so had one of those little radio moments where you say to yourself, “oh, so that’s the song!” The caller had wanted to connect the song to lost loved ones.
Suddenly, a cheerful female voice called in to the program. “Yes, hello, I’d like to request Al Martino’s I Love You Because. It’s for my cat.” And cue:
Admittedly, I don’t know the life story of Al Martino however, I’m fairly certain that the music of Webern, Gibbons, Bach and Sweelinck were not on his list of future recording projects. Still, this caller’s request is so very Glenn because it illustrates precisely (and sweetly) the reasons for which Glenn preferred the medium of radio above others.
Now let’s be clear, Glenn detested the McLuhanesque type of “linear” radio (yes, both AM and FM are notorious for this). Speaking in 1971 with John Jessop about “Radio as Music,” Glenn said that these types of programs came out sounding “‘over to you, now back to our host, and here for the wrap-up is’ – in a word, predictable.”
Glenn loved radio. As a boy, he would listen to theatrical radio programs of the 1940s, commenting that, “a lot of that kind of ostensibly theatrical radio was also, in a very real sense, documentary making of a rather high order. At any rate, the distinctions between drama and documentary were quite often, it seemed to me, happily and successfully set aside…I was fascinated with radio theatre because it seemed to me somehow more pure, more abstract, and, in a certain sense, it had a reality for me that, later on, when I became familiar with conventional theatre, that kind of theatre always seemed to lack.”
I know that had Glenn lived beyond the age of fifty, his plan was to ease up on piano playing and devote the bulk of his time and energy into making radio documentaries. I think why I like the cat dedication story so much, is that it emphasizes the very thing Glenn loved most about electronic technology, the ability it has to create an intimate, direct-to-listener experience.
“Technology is a distance,” he said, “something that places itself between the audience and the point of origin – the artist, the work, or both. That placement is not only moral in a biological sense, but it also affects the final product by the fact that, if properly handled, it can change and improve it, and introduce new elements that otherwise might not be introduced.” (From the article, “The Glenn Gould Contrapuntal Radio Show” by Robert Hurwitz, The New York Times, January 5, 1975.) In other words, through the sheer fact of technology having put space between you (the listener) and the performer/creator, you have, in turn, the opportunity for a very direct and personal listening experience which, for Glenn, was the sort of acoustic environment for which no concert stage could capture.
Back to the cat dedication of I Love You Because. The story is ever so sweet, of course, because it involves animals and we all know how Glenn adored his four legged friends. It seems to me that if a person is to dial up a radio show to request and dedicate a song to their cat, they not only love their pet, but also, there is – though perhaps not acknowledged as such – an appreciation for the unique qualities of radio. The direct-to-listener space that one gets through radio is surely not as easily attained on television. Dedicating a song to your pet over a cool medium like television is rather silly. So then, radio – even the linear type programs that were a far cry from Glenn’s densely textured contrapuntal radio documentaries – is still a trusty vehicle for delivering personal and moral listening experiences. And as Glenn’s best friend, Lorne Tulk (a retired CBC Radio technician) told me, radio is a much simpler medium than television. You don’t have lighting, sets, camera angles, etc. It’s just sound.
Glenn worked very hard at being a good person. It’s something that I’ve touched upon in nearly all of my posts, in particular Glenn and Corduroy and Why Glenn Gould Loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show. It also served as the point of departure for 1982 Times Two, a post about Glenn’s humanitarian efforts and his having left his estate to the Salvation Army and the Toronto Humane Society. Glenn used to say that he got along much better with animals than with humans. And so it is, that the world famous pianist who, during his historic 1957 Russian tour, sent his dog, Banquo a charming post card – and who would, later on, be criticised for having abandoned the concert stage in favour of working in front of a microphone – could very well have penned, as a letter to his own four legged friend, the lyrics from our radio cat lover:
I love you because you understand, dear
Every single thing I try to do.
You’re always there to lend a helping hand, dear
I love you most of all because you’re you.
No matter what the world may say about me
I know your love will always see me through.
I love you for the way you never doubt me
But most of all I love you ’cause you’re you.
I love you because my heart is lighter
Every time I’m walking by your side.
I love you because the future’s brighter
The door to happiness, you open wide.
No matter what the world may say about me
I know your love will always see me through.
I love you for a hundred thousand reasons
But most of all I love you ’cause you’re you.
(Song by Leon Payne, 1949).
I think that, apart from perhaps Lorne, nobody truly understood Glenn as well as did his animal friends. In many ways, I Love You Because is a perfect song for Glenn. Now, look at this next photo and tell me the shoe doesn’t fit. (P.S. Thank you to The Glenn Gould Foundation for sharing this and other photos of Glenn and kitty.)
To the lady who called in to request a song for her cat, I say thank you for giving me an idea for a blog post. To the fellow who called in the Blue Rodeo song, thank you for just plain picking a good song!