Following my interests this year has taken me on a winding road of the humanities. I ended 2015 delving deeper into the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which led me to spend quite a bit of time with his operas. I was familiar with some of the music from the operas of Mozart, but I worked to acquaint myself with the major operas in their entirety. Turns out that the Spring season of my local Michigan Opera Theatre is ending in May with Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. I was excited to purchase some inexpensive tickets to performances of four different operas at the Detroit Opera House.
One of the upcoming operas I have a ticket to is Verdi’s Macbeth, with a libretto adapted from the Shakespeare play of the same name. This fostered a desire to become more familiar with some of the plays of Shakespeare that I wanted to know better. In reading and watching a dozen or so of the Bard’s plays, and reading about those plays, I was led in the direction of more of the “classics” and “Great Books” of the Western literary tradition.
To make a long story short, this rekindled interest in literature has inspired the creation of a new blog. This new WordPress site is about books, and I would love to invite all of you to take a peek at it. Great Books of Old Stream is what I came up with as a name. The “Great Books” part is probably obvious where it originated from. The “Old Stream” part is open to your own interpretation. Thanks for any time you can spare to visit.
Sadly, I learned that keyboardist and composer Keith Emerson died this past week from what the coroner has determined was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was suffering from depression and anxiety mainly over some nerve damage in his hands hampering his ability to play keyboards. It seems that depression got the best of him and he committed suicide. He was 71 years old.
Emerson was part of the progressive rock super-group named Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I am regrettably a very latecomer to the ELP party. The band formed in London in 1970, with Keith Emerson on keyboards, Greg Lake on bass and vocals, and all sorts of percussion played by Carl Palmer. I really don’t know what rock I have been living under, but I had only heard a few of the songs of ELP that would play on the classic rock radio stations. Things like “Lucky Man” from their 1970 debut album Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and “From the Beginning” from the 1972 album “Trilogy”.
Clearly you could throw a rock out your front window and hit someone who knows more of the history of Emerson, Lake and Palmer than I do. I feel shortchanged that I only knew the shorter radio-friendly tunes. I have for so long missed out on some of the longer, more adventurous tracks this group recorded. Keith Emerson was a very technically accomplished keyboard player, and a big fan of all sorts of music of all genres. He played piano, early Moog synthesizers, Hammond organs and made full use of all sorts of cutting edge keyboard technology available to him. With the instant gratification of streaming music on Spotify, I have been able to explore so much more of the output of ELP. The 1971 live album version of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” was a find for me to write about on this blog a year ago. Only 11 days before Emerson’s death I was writing about Piano Concerto No. 1, Opus 28 (1961) by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera and found the ELP version of the fourth movement on their 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery under the title “Toccata”.
The more listening I do, the more surprises and gems I uncover. Clearly those three listened to everything they could. There are versions of things as widely varied as “Hoedown” from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, to the Scott Joplin “Maple Leaf Rag”, quotes from J.S Bach and honky-tonk blues piano. I even caught a quote of the Dizzy Gillespie bebop tune “Salt Peanuts” in the middle of Emerson’s keyboard solo on “Tiger in a Spotlight” from Works Volume 2 (1977).
Depression is a horrible disease, a truly painful experience for anyone who suffers from it. If you, or someone you love, seem to have symptoms of depression, stop fooling around with my humble attempts at a blog and get help immediately. There are so many more treatment options, pharmacological and otherwise, than there were even 15 years ago. Seek some sort of therapy and treatment before it progresses to suicidal thoughts. Suicide is a tragedy for both the person we lose and all the people in their life, left behind to grieve.