One man’s approach to a problem of modern musicJul 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 42 • By JOE QUEENAN
A few years ago, I was offered two very good tickets to a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. I invited my daughter to the game, but almost immediately my wife complained, “Why don’t you ever let me go?” So I gave them the two tickets and went to see the legendary pianist Alfred Brendel at Carnegie Hall instead.
Even though my wife and daughter were rooting for the visiting Philadelphia 76ers that night, Knicks fans were very nice to them, and they came home saying that they had had a wonderful time. Nobody spilled beer on them, nobody swore at them, nobody in any way detracted from their fun. Which was awfully nice of them, considering that the Sixers won by 30 points. Meanwhile, 25 blocks north at Carnegie Hall, I was having an entirely different experience.
From the time the geriatric-but-nimble Brendel began tickling the ivories, the three tourists seated in front of me started running their mouths. In German. That was bad enough. Worse was when one of them lifted his right arm and began playing air piano right along with the virtuoso on stage. He did this straight through the Haydn and straight through the Mozart. He did it in languorous, theatrical, ostentatious fashion. At intermission, I leaned forward and asked the woman if she and her friends were from the House of Annoyingness.
“No,” she said. “Does such a thing exist?”
When the second half of the concert began, she and one of the men were gone, but Herr Air Piano was back. Worse still, he was now seated directly in front of me. The first time he lifted his arm to simulate a luxuriant glissando I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to stop. The second time he did it, I grabbed him by the forearm, forcefully yanked it down and said, “If you do that one more time, I’ll break your arm off at the shoulder. I swear to God.”
Other patrons found this distracting, so when the ensuing Beethoven sonata concluded, I left my seat and watched the rest of the concert from the landing. But straight through the encores, I kept staring up at the troublesome Teuton: “It’s on, bitch,” my expression seemed to say. “After the concert, I’m going to punch your lights out.” When the concert ended, he scurried away, perhaps out a side entrance. A wise decision. I would have clocked that little putz.
Though it embarrasses me to say it, this was by no means an isolated incident. Over the course of my lifetime I have attended roughly a thousand classical music concerts. More often than I care to admit, trouble was a-brewing. You expect to get into it with drunks at a Stones or a Ramones concert, yet in a surprisingly large number of instances, I have crossed swords with aficionados of Liszt, Charpentier, even Rameau. Last year, the fat guy sitting next to me at the Metropolitan Opera suddenly opened up his iPad to check his email while the valkyries were belting out their signature number. I covered the gleaming device with my hand: “This is the Metropolitan Opera,” I said. “We don’t do that here.” He left at intermission. Several times I have yanked baseball caps off the heads of scruffy music lovers at Carnegie Hall. “This is Carnegie Hall,” I tell them. “We don’t do that here.” The de-cap-inated always look angry but are ultimately cowed by my harsh demeanor and never put their hats back on.
For the record, I only confront people who are eminently confrontable. I do this because I believe that slobs should always be confronted by patrons big enough and nasty enough to bash their faces in; otherwise, society goes largely unpoliced and the miscreants’ swinish behavior goes on forever. But if you are 6-foot-8 and weigh 290 pounds and you want to wear a filthy White Sox cap at Car-negie Hall, be my guest.
Fans of classical music are widely perceived as cultured and sophisticated and unfailingly polite, but this is an urban myth. The savage, conscienceless, blue-haired ladies who attend the afternoon concerts at Avery Fisher Hall will break your legs in the mad stampede for the exits at the end of Handel’s Messiah. People routinely bring sandwiches and soda and coffee into the concert hall, fan themselves with their programs, crinkle paper bags, and take an hour to unwrap the foil-entwined lozenges they should have popped into their mouths at intermission. They giggle and whisper and refuse to turn off their cell phones and just generally behave like slobs; but if they are sitting anywhere near me, I let them have it. Both barrels. Right between the eyes.
You think ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ is traumatic? Think again.Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By JOE QUEENAN
The New York Times recently ran a story about college students requesting “trigger warnings” to alert them that something in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Great Gatsby might freak them out. Such warnings would alert a student that The Merchant of Venice contains anti-Semitic elements and that Mrs. Dalloway deals with suicide. The issue of trigger warnings has been raised at schools as varied as Oberlin, Rutgers, and the University of Michigan.
The coupon as emblem of consumer confidence. May 5, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 32 • By JOE QUEENAN
Until the consumer really, really jumps back into the thick of things, the experts agree that this economy is doomed to sputter. Until the average American believes he has the wherewithal to go out and buy that new house, that new car, that new kitchen, unemployment will stay right where it is. Nothing’s going to happen until people start feeling good about the future.
The interrogative mysteries of Deep Space. Mar 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 25 • By JOE QUEENAN
Last June, scientists at the Astrolabe Institute in Houston made an electrifying discovery. While listening in on sounds emanating from deep space, they heard what seemed to be a conversation between two sentient creatures located on Nardalus X-50, a small, recently discovered planet.
Sometimes it pays to be excluded from the fun.Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By JOE QUEENAN
Recently, a close friend told me that he had to cut our conversation short because he had tickets to see Steve Martin and Edie Brickell in concert. He clearly expected me to covet his immense good fortune, though my immediate reaction to this statement was, “Better you than I.” Then, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Even, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
’Tis the gift, if you follow these suggestions. Nov 25, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 11 • By JOE QUEENAN
The national conversation about simplifying modern life continues unabated.
But I’m getting a little weary of the adjective. Sep 2, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 48 • By JOE QUEENAN
The other day, I decided to see how long I could go without reading the word “iconic.”
The more we know about, say, cauliflower, the less we like it.May 13, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 33 • By JOE QUEENAN
Recently I read a story in my local newspaper reporting that high school kids routinely throw out tons of vegetables because the food in their school lunches is so awful. It would seem that the youth of America particularly object to the lettuce.
Vengeance is mine when the crime is so abhorrent. Mar 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 26 • By JOE QUEENAN
Recently, I drove to the nearby village of Pleasantville to buy my wife a couple of books as a birthday present. I also bought some festive wrapping paper. The paper had lots of brightly colored fruits silhouetted against a shiny white surface. It was quite jolly.
American rhetoric in black and white. Jul 16, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 41 • By JOE QUEENAN
Recently, as I was putting the finishing touches on a story, an editor suggested that I “give props” to the people I was writing about. The idea came from a superior who felt that I should also give a “shout-out” to the subjects of my essay. It was a suggestion which my editor, after considerable reflection, said he was “down with.”
When the going gets tough, the tough sing ‘Besame Mucho.’ Jun 6, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 36 • By JOE QUEENAN
Chilling tales from the literary slush pile.Aug 9, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 44 • By JOE QUEENAN
Last year I was talking to a literary agent and friend about the dire manuscripts I am sometimes asked to read by neighbors, troubled youths, swains of hairdressers, and the man in the dark trench coat who stands at the back of the room at every book-signing, and then thrusts a grimy manuscript into your hands whose first paragraph describes the ritual dismemberment of someone on
Not all past events have ramifications for today.Apr 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 30 • By JOE QUEENAN
Recently I got around to reading Donald Kagan’s majestic study, The Peloponnesian War. Boy, was it majestic. Adroitly delineating the circumstances that led to the demise of the Athenian republic, Kagan makes it clear that the unnecessary conflict was one of the worst tragedies ever to befall mankind.
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