the fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Greg Sheri­dan

ONE of the most en­joy­able as­pects of art is the way you can lose your­self in it en­tirely. For me, this al­most al­ways re­quires it to be imag­i­na­tive art, although his­tor­i­cal bi­og­ra­phy and me­moir can work the same trick. But the sense of in­hab­it­ing an en­tire world so real you be­lieve it im­plic­itly, you al­most touch and taste it, is a plea­sure like no other.

It is not just self-for­get­ful­ness — art as Zen. Rather it is ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion in a vivid and en­thralling world. This I think is why The Lord of the Rings is such a pow­er­ful read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence if you get it young. When I was about 16 all my friends and I read Tolkien’s tale of the hob­bits, and Mid­dle-earth’s strug­gle against Mor­dor. I re­mem­ber the big­gest and most alarm­ing fel­low in our school rugby team re­count­ing how read­ing of the Dark Rid­ers late one night made him too scared to go to the bath­room. He had to read an­other 50 pages to sum­mon up the courage to leave his bed­room.

An­other chap, not a foot­baller but cer­tainly a lout like the rest of us, as­ton­ished me with his de­vo­tion to the book. I asked him why he liked it so much. ‘‘ Be­cause when you’re read­ing it, it’s just like you’re there.’’ A lot of us bought the early rock in­stru­men­tal Mu­sic In­spired by Lord of the Rings, by Bo Han­son. It was an ethe­real and be­witch­ing al­bum, but I found to my sur­prise I didn’t like to play it while I was read­ing Tolkien. It dis­tracted me.

Do you ever as­so­ciate a piece of mu­sic with a piece of lit­er­a­ture? When I went to work at The Bul­letin mag­a­zine in the late 1970s, co­in­ci­den­tally I fell in love with An­thony Pow­ell’s A Dance to the Mu­sic of Time, and com­pul­sively read all 12 vol­umes. I con­fess there were times when I should have been out chas­ing scoops but was in­stead at­tend­ing, imag­i­na­tively, bo­hemian par­ties with Milly An­dri­adis af­ter the Hun­ter­combes’ ball.

I would sneak off to Cahill’s base­ment restau­rant in Park Street op­po­site the old Bully head­quar­ters and read Dance, one of the long­est nov­els in any lan­guage, by the hour, hyp­no­tised by Pow­ell’s sonorous, baroque sen­tences. Not to men­tion the ri­otous com­edy.

My grasp of pop­u­lar cul­ture was not al­to­gether com­pre­hen­sive at this time. Cahill’s played, ev­ery lunchtime and for most of the day, a sound­track that seemed per­fectly suited to Pow­ell’s in­tri­cate com­edy. This time I did want to have that mu­sic — so re­flec­tive, so med­i­ta­tive — in the back­ground while I was read­ing. I asked the cashier what it was but he couldn’t help. I mem­o­rised the mu­sic so I could imag­ine it while I read Pow­ell at home, though in truth I did most of my read­ing in cafes. I did, how­ever, try to read Pow­ell be­fore sleep­ing in the hope that I would dream my­self into his world.

Only many years later did I recog­nise the mu­sic — the back­ground for me to Charles String­ham’s sting­ing epi­grams and Hugh More­land’s mor­dant so­lil­o­quies — as the sound track to the God­fa­ther films, a dis­cov­ery I found quite per­plex­ing.

But it is not through mu­sic but paint­ing that Dance most ac­tively mixes its artis­tic gen­res. It wasn’t for many years that I saw a print of the Ni­co­las Poussin paint­ing that gave Pow­ell his ti­tle. It left me cold. I briefly kept com­pany with a pro­fes­sional art critic who re­ally couldn’t un­der­stand how I read Pow­ell at all with­out know­ing the paint­ings to which he re­ferred so fre­quently. And so it turned out that I had missed a whole layer of mean­ing in Pow­ell’s books. But re­ally, things like this are more im­por­tant to the au­thor than the reader.

A work of art has no right to as­sume spe­cial­ist knowl­edge in the reader, only that level of cul­tural lit­er­acy that used to be as­so­ci­ated with the con­cept of the ed­u­cated lay­man. Cer­tainly Poussin’s paint­ings could be a bridge too far for a pop­u­lar nov­el­ist. But Pow­ell, great master that he was, ex­plained any­thing that was nec­es­sary about the paint­ings he re­ferred to.

The most suc­cess­ful as­so­ci­a­tion of mu­sic with non-mu­si­cal art, though, is through film and tele­vi­sion, when the eyes and ears can work si­mul­ta­ne­ously to a sin­gle ef­fect. If you are a cer­tain age you can­not hear the theme song for Bo­nanza with­out vi­su­al­is­ing Hoss and Lit­tle Joe, nor of Hawaii Five-O with­out re­call­ing: ‘‘ Book him, Danno!’’ Such TV shows don’t rank with Tolkien or Pow­ell. But they share an artis­tic am­bi­tion, the willing sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief, and a rev­erend place in the as­sorted jum­ble of the baby boomer’s mind.

the sight­geist

jon kudelka

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.