May 4th, 2016 - 7 Comments
“You’re a violinist? How do you like David Garrett?” asked the man in the driver’s seat to the left of me, driving down the A2 at blistering German speed a few early mornings ago.
I had to tell him I didn’t know, though of course I had heard of him, and seen his enormous posters all around town last winter — David Garrett, world’s hunkiest violinist, standing outdoors at reddish sunset in ethereal rain, flowing blonde hair loose and wet on head turned melancholically to the side, tatooed 6-pack under a steamy white T-shirt under a leather jacket, devil-may-care limp arm holding a violin inches from the floor — like some sort of a cross between Fabio Lanzoni and a one-man 90s boy band, advertised as playing the “greatest hits of Violin”, whatever that meant.
I decided that it wasn’t really worth getting into a conversation about the philosophical ramifications of David Garrett, not that early in the morning, not with some complete stranger Mitfahrgelegenheit driver, and not, simply because I didn’t care about David Garrett. Even if he was as terrible as everyone supposed, I thought, somewhat cynically, that he was at least rather intelligent for having put together such a well-selling act. It seemed to me he had found a way to work way less hard than the average classical soloist and earn way more. We all gotta do what we gotta do, right? Who was I to judge the stadiums he filled? Who was I to judge his love of money? It was his life, he could do whatever he wanted. Nobody was forcing anybody to listen.
Sitting there, seatbelt on, with heavy eyelids and a stiff neck, hours of German Autobahn ahead of me, the driver started the album off, a mix of shyness and curiosity winning over any good reason for me to say no.
Little did I know what I was in for.
Though I was determined to listen with an open mind, and had indeed served as devil’s advocate of David Garrett in several conversations in the past, within a few moments I understood clearly why he had been the object of so much ire. The songs ranged in genres from Chinese restaurant pop, to 70′s rock covers that would make Freddie Mercury turn in his grave, to a few songs with singers I can only describe as Opera Eats its own Vomit, to classical “favorites” with the lovely addition of electric guitar, drum machine, and orchestra, complete with David Garrett favorite, (sampled) glockenspiel. The 40 or so tracks, spanning at least 2 and a half hours, were accompanied by what David Garrett tried to make me believe was a small rock band and orchestra, but what I heard was actually expensive samples layered with cuts of David Garrett’s own playing, multiplied and octavised and technology-whipped to the stiff peaks of the decidedly David-Garrett-y sounding string section of a David Garrett click-track karaoke orchestra. I realised there was only David Garrett on this David Garrett album; David Garrett’s trademark touching lyricism plus David Garrett’s ruggedly-handsome-yet-sensitive image played on David Garrett’s expensive Stradivarius mixed with David Garrett’s expensive gear made by David Garrett’s expensive collegues, all to feed David Garrett’s expensive life. It would not have even surprised me if David Garrett had forgone David Garrett’s expensive collegues and done the mastering, editing, and mixing of his David Garrett album all by his David Garrett self.
And the result lies, no, so much worse, it primordially oozes, in some disgusting subterranean crater somewhere in that godawful musical grey area between classical, pop, and soft-rock, and manages to be equally belittling to all three genres — if of course you can condescend to rock any more than putting the word soft in front of it (which David Garrett can. Easily). David Garrett says that classical musicians are prejudiced against the music he creates; but the real fact is, the music he makes is as equally terrible pop and rock and classical as it is way below even the standards of a German grocery store’s taste in music.
But it wasn’t the sheer tackiness of the album that disturbed me. Or even its total unoriginality! From “Hooked on Classics with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the 80s, to Hans die Geige, the original German rock violinist from the 70s onwards, to even Nigel Kennedy and countless others, this kind of thing has been done again and again.
What really disturbed me, and continues to, was the manner with which he played it. I couldn’t understand for the life of me what he meant. Was he playing from his heart? Was he serious? Was he being ironic? Was he “breaking free of the classical shackles” etc.? I don’t hesitate to say he’s an excellent violinist, and even a pretty good musician. He has a beautiful sound from a magnificent Stradivarius, and fantastically sensitive ears. It would make no sense to complain about David Garrett’s performance, because David Garrett knows EXACTLY what David Garrett is doing.
No, what really perturbed my intellect, what squeezed my feelings through so many hate-filled corridors of the mind, what nauseated my soul — what really got me, was nothing less than the unspeakable shameless evil that vibrated out of every knowing, cunning, insidious moment of this deeply diseased musical by-product. It was an evil so thick it made no sound at all; it was empty, sinister, abysmal; the same quiet hole that overcomes any decent person thinking about world politics, or genital mutilation, or animals in slaughterhouses. It was too sick to think about, too evil to process, too gross to fathom. It was pure anesthety.
David Garrett’s album is, simply, the most mind-numbing, emotionally-paralysing, soul-murdering bullshit I have ever heard in my whole life. And frankly, the question we ought to be asking ourselves is not whether or not we like or approve of David Garrett — but rather, we should strive for deeper examination, and we should ask ourselves whether David Garrett might be the ruler of hell, the musical incarnation of the devil.
January 1st, 2016 - Comments
The stink of winter — sweat, salt, and bewildered frustration — in the air and on the faces of my elderly, frail, and disturbingly zombie-like companions on the number 2 bus. Can’t see out the windows for the inch of winter-sludge covering everything. Bus cannot actually accelerate given its disproportionate size, the snow, and the stops every block and a half, designed to pick up old and withered humans so fragile they can hardly push their own walkers when there isn’t a foot and a half a blowing snow outside. Pay the absurd amount of $3.55 to get on, squeeze past the worst specimen of Canadian, the chatty-old-crazy Canadian, who’s standing at the front of the bus repetitiously talking the bus driver’s ear off, 100% void of any content or meaning except PAY ATTENTION TO ME. Make my way past the walkers and wheelchairs into a seat next to a gentleman so large I only have half a seat to myself, who, terrifyingly, seems also to be in a chatty mood. I resolvedly turn my head, lest I let my guard down and make myself available to yet more terrifyingly inane chatter, knowing the instant I relax would be the precise instant the godawful chitchat would start, yet again. I’m sweaty, balancing my ass on my half-seat, forced to listen to crazy-chatty-old Canadian at the front of the bus, neck turned determinedly away from my neighbour, whose energy I’m sure is still trying to catch mine with a “great weather we’re havin’, eh?” chitchat pickup line.
I’ve been in Germany too long.
Steam coming out my ears, I lunge for the next available seat away from chatty-fatty next to me, hopped up on the neverending free-refilled cup of coffee I had with my fluorescent sugar-salt-fat pumped breakfast served by psychopathically friendly staff; wondering with righeous anger on how the hell could a 5km busride take over an hour, how everyone could tolerate the bus stopping every ten seconds, slowly kneeling to pick up the latest centenarian inches from death (probably by boredom), wondering how the hell the driver and all the passengers could tolerate the loud vapid rambles of the old guy at the front (and what kind of a place finds this acceptable behaviour!), dodging the aggressively friendly stares of all my compatriots on this nightmarish ride, trying not to breathe too much of the pudrid winter bus air, trying vainly to see out the salt-and-shit covered windows to see if I was anywhere close to where I needed to get off.
Needless to say, I got off early.
September 20th, 2015 - Comments
Here is a second preview — Chapter 11 of my first short story entitled “Bad Magic”.
This chapter takes place around day 4 or 5 of the tour.
I don’t even know where we are right now. Took a long busride starting at 9 this morning (again, pitch black outside), stopped at a little truckstop in the middle of bleak Chinese nowhere; sky, air, and snow-covered ground all the same shade of milky grey, several huge nuclear silos pumping out unthinkable amounts of grey radioactive smoke into the surroundings. This really was a horrible, horrible corner of the world.
Maestro was on the same bus as us, though of course, with respect to protocol, cannot stoop low enough to talk to anyone in the orchestra, except, perhaps, the concertmaster (who is only allowed to agree, even when not on duty). He made a huge stink to our Chinese organiser about the frigid temperature of the bus. “We aren’t DOGS!” he kept on repeating, growing more and more aggressive, without letting the organiser finish a sentence. (To be fair to Maestro it was cold on the bus, but he was still being, for lack of better words, a total asshole.) It’s usually a certain type of man who is attracted to being a conductor, think about it — this burning desire to be the leader of a massive group of musicians playing the world’s most melodramatic and loud repertoire. Behind every conductor is a nit-picker, a control freak; and our Maestro was the kind who seemed to be fighting all of his demons with every single tiny battle he couldn’t stop himself from picking. I turned on my cattle-mode, my passive German mode, and watched him with simple curiosity, lazily, as if it were perhaps a theater piece. Because that’s all it was, really. All this drama, how embarrassing for them! Busride became absolute sauna in revenge for this altercation. I was okay with it, I had no choice but to be, the sweaty heat really mellowed me out. And in some weird way, it felt good to just submit to the ridiculousness of the situation. Who says every situation exists just so that you could form an opinion about it, who cares if what’s going on is right or wrong: the only thing more silly than this fight would be to get upset over it.
Arrived to massively grand hotel in Bumblefuck, China — all I really knew is that we were somewhere else between Kyrgystan and Mongolia — and took well-deserved sweaty shower. So far, all the bathrooms we’ve seen have a huge open windowpane to the rest of the room, with a curtain only on the outside, so effectively the person who’s left in the room has to decide whether or not they want to watch you shit and shower. So much for privacy. We are sharing hotel rooms on this tour which, ordinarily, isn’t so comfortable, but luckily this time around I was sharing with my real-life flatmate, one of the oboists. Though, when you think about it, never being alone for more than two weeks, even in your bedroom, and on top of that, with some stranger who is likely to be insane, an alcoholic, or at the very least as testy of an exhausted jerk as you are, can be a really stressful part of tour life. (Not to mention the difficulty of tour masturbation contributing greatly to the aggressivity of the hook-up game in the first few days of a new project.)
Ate very gemütlich lunch with Horn Player, who was drinking warm white wine furiously, two timid attractive Hungarians who I didn’t know existed, and two Russians, who were also indulging in a little afternoon pre-concert drinking. United by our common enemy, we make fun of our shitty Maestro for hours. I was alot of fun, and it was nice to see how everyone was mellowing out on tour. We all knew it was a godawful orchestra, and the best thing we could do was spend our paycheques, have a good laugh about it all, and try to enjoy being in China. Learned the Chinese word for Rice but when I said it to the waiter she brings giant bowl of greasy tripe soup. Hmmm.
Talk of mutiny continued since we hadn’t received our third installment of money. Dark stories spread about how others had not been paid from this orchestra in the past. I immediately felt stupid to have agreed to have the money bank-transferred instead of cash-in-hand, but hoped for the best.
Dinner came only after the concert yesterday, which took place in some kind of basketball stadium with communist flags everywhere, children in red, and soldiers sitting on children’s stools. It couldn’t have been more than 10 degrees on stage. Before the concert came several speeches, presumably from city officials, and some kind of kitschy movie about tourism in the area. We learned that we were being billed as the Berlin Philharmonic, which came as a huge surprise to everyone, conductor included (supposedly). I found it hysterical that we were being billed as one of the best orchestras in the world, though other, more serious types were not so amused.