Cold Mountain - The Sumner Brothers
I've been on holiday. A few days in Brittany. NW France. On the way back a Fog descended on the Airport and nothing could land. Eight or nine hours watching people do their thing. Sticking it out, listening to the news, hearing the plane go over a couple of times, and then finding out it had gone to another airport. Not having any money left, and the children crying from hunger and boredom. The Airport staff saying that we have to find somewhere to stay tonight as the airport closes, and the airline has no responsibilty. Some people stoic, some venting their frustration, everyone meeting themselves in the unusual circumstances, wondering what will happen, what to do.
I've been reading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. American Civil War. 1864. Body and Soul stuff. Gut wrenching and beautiful.
There is a passage where the Drunkard Stobrod is asked to play his fiddle to ease the passing of a Girl burned close to Death by a stove explosion. He plays his six tunes and she asks for another.
- I don't know no more, he said.
- That's pitiful, the girl said. What kind of fiddler are you?
- Bum and shoddy, he said.
That brought a quick smile to the girl's face, but the pain of it showed in her eyes and brought the corners of her mouth down quick.
- Make me up a tune then, she said.
Stobrod marvelled at such a strange request. It had never entered his mind to give composition a try.
- I don't believe I could, he said.
- Why not? Have you never tackled it before?
- Best go to it, she said. Time's short.
He sat thinking for a minute. He plucked the strings and returned. He set the fiddle to his neck and struck the bow to it and was himself surprised by the sounds that issued. The melody he spun out was slow and halting, and it relied on drones and double stops. He could not have put a name to it, but the tune was in the frightening and awful Phrygian mode, and when the girl's mother heard it she burst into tears and ran from her chair out into the hall.
When he was done the girl looked at Stobrod and said, Now that was fine.
- It wasn't neither, he said modestly.
- Was, the girl said. She turned her face away and her breathing grew wheezy and wet.
He was given a dollar by the girl's grateful father for easing her passing.
Stobrod put the dollar in his shirt pocket and left. Time and again as he walked back to camp he stopped and looked at his fiddle as if for the first time. He had never before thought of trying to improve his playing, but now it seemed worthwhile to go at every tune as if all within earshot had recently been set afire.
I thought that I don't know any music that fits my imagining of the bleak, hopeful, vigorous music that Stobrod began to play. Affirming Life and Death equally.
Robert Johnson, maybe.
The thought was like a prayer.
I finished the book yesterday, and a couple of hours later I got a Myspace friend request from The Sumner Brothers
I clicked and heard the hiss of tape, slightly over-recorded guitar and the raw voice:
When he came down the stairs
told me "he's dead"
it's hard to love a man like you love your Dad
I want him back
I want em both back
Yea I know it's too late
everything i love's gonna be taken away.
It's times like this that remind me to hope.