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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Writing in the Margins

We reorganized our living room. Lots of toys have been moved to the kids' rooms. Suddenly we are able to access the lowest shelves of our bookcase again. The shelves where the record collection is: I guess some 750 LPs - the collections of me and my wife, of parents, of friends, things we bought on second hand markets (about 150 hawaii- and keroncong-albums, for example, including the successive Kilima Hawaiians jubilee-albums: 10 years, 15, 20, 25, 40 years of the Kilima's).

So now I occasionally at random pick an LP to listen to. And at some point I picked a gipsy music album - the famous Tata Mirando. I guess the LP is from the 1970s or so. To me that sounds like yesterday but it means some 40 years old now. I like the music. I generally like to think that LPs such as these were made with much love.

At the back of the LP there is a nice text about wandering gypsies, their family ties, their love for music and all that. "They played like demons and produced the kind of record of which every record producer dreams - one which is 'just right'." That kind of stuff. The texts match the picture on the front - check out the combination of little boy and empty beer bottles.

But funny enough, one of the previous owners of the LP obviously disagreed with me about the music. I like it. He put a huge cross over the track list, and as if that message was not clear enough, he wrote comments after each song title.

My grandfather used to write in the margins of his books. I have some philosophical books of his (he liked them in all forms, from the academic to the very exotic and esoteric), in which occasionally he wrote "nonsense!" or "wrong!" in the margin. The remarks on the record could have been written by him - he was a violinist (he is rumored to have bought violins from gypsies at the door, including the one I am now fiddling on, and was fascinated by the fact that at some point at the conservatoire I had lessons from Andrei Serban, son of Gregor - lessons which mainly consisted of me teaching him Irish jigs and reels and he teaching me some Balkan stuff, with sometimes just for formal reasons some attention to Bach's double concerto); but I think my grandfather liked Tata Mirando too much (and anyway, if the record would have been my grandfather's it would smell like pipe tobacco) to write what the former owner has written on - now - my record. "Long; occasionally 'real'", it says at track 1. Track 2: "short! Very 'drummy'." Track 5: "Much heavy vibrating squeaking." Et cetera.

The man may, no must have been a connoisseur; when "I. Malcaroff" is mentioned as the arranger, he underlines the "I.", as if to indicate a mistake (it may have been V. Malcaroff, indeed). (In academic circles he would have written "sic!" somewhere, to indicate he has viewed a mistake. I hate "sic!"s, I must confess, they remind me too much of people who not simply say "in academic circles" or "amongst academics" but instead say "in academia". Especially in Dutch I find that pathetic, but that of course is completely my personal feeling - no harm meant, really.)

I try to imagine my predecessor. I guess he was slightly older (I read his handwriting as the handwriting of a slightly older person - I wonder how I would read my own handwriting today if it would have been a stranger's one). I imagine it is a man's handwriting, for no good reason apart from the fact that my grandfather (and not my grandmother) is my great example of a margin-writer. I see him sitting at his desk, listening to the record for the first time - disappointed he listens and re-listens, and then resolutely puts a huge cross through the track listing (and - to be sure - marks the front side of the sleeve with a cross as well), writes his comments, and then puts the record on the shelf with all the other records with crossed-out track lists and sarcastic negative commentaries. He feels a bit sorry that the record was no good, but at the same time he is happy that at least he has, in this modest way, made very clear that there is a difference between good and bad, and that there are still people in this world who are able to tell that difference.

I try to think, these days, not in terms of 'music' but of 'musicking'. Music is not a thing, it is behavior. Listening to music, dancing to music, eating to music, collecting record sleeves. I can now add a new one to the list: writing commentaries on record sleeves.

Fascination without end.

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