Hi there. If you're reading this, it's either because you know me or you spend way too much time hitting "I'm feeling lucky" on Google. Either way, welcome.

Illumination is a perpetual work in progress, so please pardon our dust. The intent of the place is to provide space where I can lay down my thoughts and observations about the world around me and the things I do. That means it could be filled with nearly anything, from silly accounts of my gaming antics to thoughtful political discussion and anything in-between.

Whatever it turns out to be, please have a look around. It's only a few minutes of your day and you might find something worth your time. If you see something you like, leave a comment and let me know.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Themes (on Heroes Redux)

Life, I've long maintained, has a soundtrack. It has a grand score, unmatched in passion and scope, rising and falling with the highs and lows of life. I feel sorry for the benighted fools among us who can't or won't hear it, because I find this world much richer with it accompanying us through our days.

This third member of these odd little pieces of fiction is, I think, a reflection of that. What if we were able to harness our personal soundtrack and project it to others, for they to share in it with us? That would be a powerful gift indeed.

Every so often, I stumble on a song that suits its particular moment perfectly. Several nights ago was such a moment, and such a song. It led to this, three hours later, bleary-eyed and dazedly tapping away at a laptop keyboard as time sinks away into those cold pre-dawn hours when the world seems to vanish beyond the window.

There are few things I enjoy more than this "magic hour," and the creations that spring forth from within it. I hope you'll enjoy it too. Eventually I may even tell you where I'm going with these odd little stories.


Hypnotic. Enthralling. Mesmerizing. And then she actually touches the keys in front of her, raising a haunting chord that resonates through her enraptured audience before slowly, achingly, fading away into breathless silence.

She brings down her other hand, fingers stroking black and white like they were long-lost lovers. Above these effortlessly lingering sounds her melody rises, melancholic in its minor key without being sorrowful, calling to mind images of a carnival ground in the rain, meridian silent and empty as the grand ole dame of Paris rises into the clouds behind. Satie.

She fills the hall with emotion, tugging subtly on tempo like it was a direct line to the souls of everyone in the room -in some ways it is. She isn’t a performer, but an artist. The hall is to capacity, but she is utterly alone as she plays. She does it for no one in the world, save herself.

I know men who know sound. I know men who can make a poor space sing, and a good one ring like heavenly chimes. I know men who can control their space with long-practiced precision, deftly muting or letting soar tones to impact the hearts of their audience. All seem as clumsy children against her. She can make a tiny room ring like a vast hall, or draw an audience of thousands to believe they have stepped into the most intimate of spaces.

Today, she chooses a sweet and rich old Schweighofer, but anything she touches is magic. Indeed, she need touch nothing at all, able to stir the hearts of men with her voice alone. She hushes a room with mere presence, and to meet her gaze is to experience a breathless rush, falling into an endless night sky.

She fills the hall with passion and the ennui of waiting for a lover, and there is no inch of the room that is not hers to command. The purity of her sound is so complete that none dare disturb it for fear of shattering it like a delicate, priceless, jewel. Her audience does not move, does not even draw more than the barest of breaths as they listen.

Each of them feels as though she is playing for he or she alone; they have forgotten utterly that there are hundreds here. But she must wield this peculiar magic of hers with great care; I once saw a man enthralled so by her ever-joyful laugh that he froze in oncoming traffic -and another, the same day, who simply fell to tears as she flashed him her smile.

She plays on, eyes closed now, the hot lights of the stage turning her auburn hair into a golden halo, diamonds at her ears and neck sparkling. I found her, 16 then, in an airport parking lot, dusty coveralls and checkered flannel, sitting on a battered Carhartt, an equally-battered RainSong tucked under her arm as her ballad stopped traffic and drowned out the jets going up and the rain coming down, all a far cry from the lights now draping her gown in ripples of satin silver. She could have gone anywhere, done anything, but she came with me because she said I made her laugh, and because I wasn’t one of those “big shot tinsel town gaff hook producers out to milk talent to make a buck.”

She was enchanting from the moment I first laid eyes on her, but it wasn’t for a year that I discovered why. We met a man, loud Hawaiian shirt and an easy laugh, kind eyes, who told us. He brought us into a realm even I had never dreamed, offered her a way to change the world. But she said no, that she was happy, being herself, practicing her art for its own sake, playing for herself alone, and if others cared to listen, she said that the hoped only they take the same joy from it as she.

But she knew, then, of what she was. It helped her focus, learn. Even without her spellbinding allure, she was great -with it, she was the finest in the world. It could have taken her anywhere, but she chose to stay here. Some people call it the center of the universe, but to her it’s just home, as it becomes to everyone who hears her.

Her melody rises now, fingers brushing vintage ivory as she crescendos, her odd sorcery helped along by the raw, unfinished chestnut case -rough around the edges and lovingly warm, a lot like her in many ways. A plainly honest sound that compliments her piece; unpretentious, intimate.

She isn’t singing, but I can see her mouthing the words to herself as she plays, rocking in time with her hands on the bench. A lot of professionals do that, but she always laughs at how fake she thinks it looks. Haughty, she calls it. I don’t think she even knows she does it herself, but instead of conceit, she gives off and air of being just as awash in her music as her audience is.

Students play notes, professionals play music, masters play meanings... she plays hearts and souls and emotions themselves, and not a single one of her audience is even aware of the hall around them anymore. They are far away, strolling through a garden of fading glories, a moss-covered path through hedgerows leading to the small, secret places of the world.

She likes these sorts of pieces -Satie is a particular favorite of hers, that vague despondence seeming at first to clash with a young woman able to fulfil her greatest dream. As I got to know her better, though, I learned that it was no clash at all, and that she is thrilled and touched by all of life’s moments, not merely the happiest. I have never met someone more at peace than she -that she can share that, even briefly, with others through her music is a gift of unimaginable worth.

Those like her, who bear burdens unimaginable to you or I, are doubly blessed. This is one of the few places they can come to forget themselves, to walk these hidden, magical paths of music and emotion with her for a time, moving by turns from desolate tears to unrequited joy at her whim, freed for an instant by her presence. We always welcome them with open arms, no matter who they are -in the end, we are all human, and I know it is easy for them to forget that, sometimes.

She brings the piece to a close now, her melody falling away from its peak and returning to barest whispers of sound; even so they fill the hall. She lets the final note linger in the air, fading slowly, tenderly, finally, to silence. Her hands rise form the keys at last, to fall demurely into her lap. Her eyes flutter open and drift in my direction. The wings of the stage are dark against the waxed hard-wood glow of the stage, but she knows where I am standing; where I am always standing. She smiles at me, sublime joy written on her pretty, freckled face. I smile back, even though she can’t see it. She knows I am, anyway; I always do.

It is nearly a full minute before her dazzled audience realizes she is finished, lured so into her sound and the perfection of her ending that they only now realize the silence is not part of the song. Or, perhaps it is -who am I to judge, a mere mortal in the presence of the godlike figure sitting on stage?

They begin to applaud as the spell finally breaks, slowly at first, then with rising intensity as they take to their feet. She stands, elated smile, cheeks flushed, and bows before their thunderous adulation; they filling the hall as fully as she, attempting to express their thanks for a rush of feeling they will cling to long into the night, and a memory they will carry forever.

She looks to me again as the curtains close. I could never hope to hear her over the applause, but I watch her breathe the same words she does every night, that capture her magic so well: “...Je n'ai qu'une envie...”

“J'ai compris ta détresse
Cher amoureux
Et je cède à tes vœux
Fais de moi ta maîtresse
Loin de nous la sagesse
Plus de tristesse
J'aspire à l'instant précieux
Où nous serons heureux
Je te veux”
-Erik Satie, “Je Te Veux”

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