thoughts about Elvis (with a nod to Monsieur Proust)

 

 

Détestez la mauvaise musique, ne la méprisez pas. Comme on la joue, la chante bien plus, bien plus passionnément que la bonne, bien plus qu’elle s’est peu à peu remplie du rêve et des larmes des hommes. Qu’elle vous soit par là vénérable. Sa place, nulle dans l’histoire de l’Art, est immense dans l’histoire sentimentale des sociétés. Le respect, je ne dis pas l’amour, de la mauvaise musique, n’est pas seulement une forme de ce qu’on pourrait appeler la charité du bon goût ou son scepticisme, c’est encore la conscience de l’importance du rôle social de la musique. Combien de mélodies, du nul prix aux yeux d’un artiste, sont au nombre des confidents élus par la foule des jeunes gens romanesques et des amoureuses. Que de “bagues d’or”, de “Ah! Reste longtemps endormie”, dont les feuillets sont tournés chaque soir en tremblant par des mains justement célèbres, trempés par les plus beaux yeux du monde de larmes dont le maître le plus pur envierait le mélancolique et voluptueux tribut – confidentes ingénieuses et inspirées qui ennoblissent le chagrin et exaltent le rêve, et en échange du secret ardent qu’on leur confie donnent l’enivrante illusion de la beauté. Le peuple, la bourgeoisie, l’armée, la noblesse, comme ils ont les mêmes facteurs porteurs du deuil qui les frappe ou du bonheur qui les comble, ont les mêmes invisibles messagers d’amour, les mêmes confesseurs bien-aimés. Ce sont les mauvais musiciens. Telle fâcheuse ritournelle que toute oreille bien née et bien élevée refuse à l’instant d’écouter, a reçu le trésor de milliers d’âmes, garde le secret de milliers de vies, dont elle fut l’inspiration vivante, la consolation toujours prête, toujours entrouverte sur le pupitre du piano, la grâce rêveuse et l’idéal. tels arpèges, telle “rentrée” ont fait résonner dans l’âme de plus d’un amoureux ou d’un rêveur les harmonies du paradis ou la voix même de la bien-aimée. Un cahier de mauvaises romances, usé pour avoir trop servi, doit nous toucher, comme un cimetière ou comme un village. Qu’importe que les maisons n’aient pas de style, que les tombes disparaissent sous les inscriptions et les ornements de mauvais goût. De cette poussière peut s’envoler, devant une imagination assez sympathique et respectueuse pour taire un moment ses dédains esthétiques, la nuée des âmes tenant au bec le rêve encore vert qui leur faisait pressentir l’autre monde, et jouir ou pleurer dans celui-ci.

 

— Marcel Proust. “Eloge de la mauvaise musique,” Les plaisirs et les jours, Chapitre XIII

 

 

Detest bad music, but do not despite it. As it is played, and especially sung, much more passionately than good music, it has much more than the latter been impregnated, little by little, with man’s tears. Hold it therefore in veneration. Its place, nonexistent in the history of art, is immense in the sentimental history of nations. The respect — I do not say love — for bad music is not only a form of what might be called the charity of good taste, or its skepticism; it is also the consciousness of the importance of music’s social role. How many tunes, worthless in the eyes of an artist, are numbered among the chosen confidants of a multitude of romantic young men and girls in love. How many “bague d’or,” how many “Ah! reste longtemps endormi,” whose pages are turned tremblingly every evening by hands justly famous, drenched with the tears of the moist beautiful eyes of the world, whose melancholy and voluptuous tribute would be the envy of the purest musicians — ingenious and inspired confidants that enable sorrow and exalt dreams and, in exchange for the ardent secret confided to them, give the intoxicating illusion of beauty. The people, the bourgeoisie, the army, the nobility, all of them, just as they have the same mail carriers, purveyors of afflicting sorrow or of crowning joy, have the same invisible messengers of love, the same cherished confessors. Bad musicians, certainly. Some miserable ritournelle that every well-born and well-trained ear instantly refuses to listen to receives the tribute of millions of souls, guards the secret of millions of lives for whom it has been the living inspiration, the ever ready consolation always open on the piano-rack, the dreamy charm and the ideal. Certain arpeggios, a certain “rentrée,” have made the soul of many a lover vibrate with the harmonies of Paradise or the voice of the beloved himself. A collection of bad Romances worn with constant use should touch us as a cemetery touches us, or a village. What does it matter if the houses have no style, if the tombstones are hidden by inscriptions and ornaments in execrable taste? Before an imagination sympathetic and respectful enough to silence for a moment its aesthetic scorn, from this dust that flock of souls may rise holding in their beaks the still verdant dream which has given them a foretaste of the other world, and made them rejoice or weep in this one.

 

 

— Marcel Proust, “In Praise of Bad Music,” Pleasures and Regrets, Chapter XIII

 

 
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The following is the text of an exchange of emails I had today with a woman I became acquainted with on Facebook. The reason for us becoming Facebook friends is an ancestral connection, going way back. I noticed the similarity of her last name to my middle name, which is not a common one and which was a family name.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 19, 2017

 

 

 

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Natalie

I am Southern to the core, I was born in Mississippi. My father’s job moved us to Texas when I was nine and I’ve been here ever since.

 

Roger Smith

I grew up in New England. Loved it. Strong regional identity and much history and beauty. Great towns, each unique. I have always thought I would love the Deep South. Mississippi. Where Elvis came from!

 

Natalie

Elvis is my very favorite!

I was in high school when he died and took it very hard. I took my daughter on a “girls’ road trip” and drove to Memphis and toured Graceland on my 50th birthday. It was on the VERY top of my bucket list.

I have always wanted to see New England in the fall. I’ve heard there is nothing quite like it.

As for the deep South, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We have a “sort of” fall here, but no winter at all.

The heat and humidity in the summers here are brutal.

 

Roger Smith

Yes, I have heard the Southern summers are brutal. I love being able to experience the four seasons. Yes, the New England falls were gorgeous. I miss them. Nothing can equal them.

I became a rabid fan of Elvis in elementary school. That dates me. He hardly ever sang or wrote an original song, but he had an unmatched voice. I still love to hear him.

 

Natalie

I grew up with him. LOVE everything he did. I guess if anyone could say I have an obsession, it is with Elvis.

He had his problems, but his talent was genuine and pure and his kindness and generosity were both legendary. Such a shame that his life ended so tragically. There are hardly any entertainers today that can pull off that kind of voice without the aid of synthesizers, etc.

 

Roger Smith

Agree. I read a story a long time ago in some magazine. Elvis was staying somewhere — I think he was at poolside — when a young girl somehow gained entrance and started to approach him. His handlers tried to whisk her away. No, he said, let her stay, and he was kind to her.

He didn’t try to duck military service. He was well liked and didn’t expect special treatment.

I think some of the early songs were among his best, although there were some very good later ones as well. I love “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

It seems that “King Creole” may have been his best film.

 

Natalie

I do love “King Creole,” especially since New Orleans is familiar to me.

And, yes, that song is GREAT.

 

Roger Smith

I bet he caught the flavor of the city. I have never been there.

Yes, I love “Wise men say …” I think it was from the soundtrack of “Blue Hawaii.”

 

Natalie

It was from “Blue Hawaii” — another of his movies that I liked. And, New Orleans is a world of its own. It’s not for everyone, but it’s amazing. Basically, Louisiana is unlike all the other states.

 

Roger Smith

Elvis’s voice was very deep and masculine, but at the same time mellifluous.

 

Natalie

Exactly!

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. He hosts separate websites devoted to the authors Theodore Dreiser and Pitirim A. Sorokin and to classical music as well as family history/genealogy.
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