augury doggerel

Monday, September 22, 2003

Slowly I Turned

My friend Dan introduced me to interesting music in about 1980 when we still lived in and around pestilential Niagara Falls and you had to drive to Buffalo or Toronto to find a good record. I haven't lived there in years and Dan no longer lives anywhere, which, no, is not better than living in Niagara Falls.

I thought about Dan recently and remembered some of the music from that time. He was crazy about Holger Czukay. I haven't heard them since they were new, but certain songs � "Cool in the Pool" and "Hit Hit Flop Flop" and "Hey Baba Rebop" � are still in my head and still make me happy. So I scanned the electromagnetographic book-o-tron, and there was Holger Czukay himself, with his own web site.

Czukay was born in � hmm � Danzig in 1938 and escaped with his mother on a German troop train in 1946 before maddened Russians and Poles raced in. Studied under Stockhausen, was a member of Can, then went solo. A pioneer of experimental electronic music and still a leading proponent.

I wrote to Mr Czukay, told him how and why I was thinking about him, asked for the address of his old house, and went to sleep. The next day I had an answer from Holger. His birthplace is not far from where I live now and just a minute's walk from where I lived when I was single. Temporal strangers, spatial neighbors.

I walked out there. The street is narrow and quiet. The buildings look old enough to be his old neighborhood, his old house, though a couple of homes are converted to modern businesses�computers, acupuncture�and the sides of the street are crowded with parked cars. There was a cat on the step and the sound of dishes and cutlery coming from inside. But you can't stand in the street and stare at someone's house and you can't go in.

I walked back to look at my old place, another pre-war home. The balcony my cat fell off and the garden where she hid. My door, my gate, my cobblestone street. The windows we opened to let out the steam of our party and blast the neighborhood with loud music one New Year's eve.

My friend Dan, the one who introduced me to Holger Czukay's music, kept a web site, Waterpower at Niagara, an online history of electrical power generation at Niagara Falls. This was his other mania, local history, the history of the falls.

After he died, the web site stayed up. I would sometimes go back to it. I could click and look. Here was Niagara Falls. Here was hydroelectricity. Here were the black-and-white faces of people he used to chuckle about as if he had known them. And here was his face in color. Eventually the web site went down. It's in the Wayback Machine, but they've lost his face.

I looked and found his wife's name in an online family tree database. Apparently she has married a guy named Chucky. Not Charles or even Chuck, but Chucky. Or maybe Chuckie. The database has since been passworded and I don't trust my memory.

My friend's son, who was small and moonfaced the last time I saw him, is now in his late teens. I found his address buried in an online product review and wrote to him. He said one day his father just finished dinner, sat on the couch, made some strange noises, and died.

Dan's messages about music are still hiding in old newsgroup archives. There's some real overgrown fanboy stuff there: "If electricity and magnetism could sing, it would sound like this. This music is the electrical interplay between the lobes of Holger's brain." Maybe. I'll listen again. But I'm thinking of a John Cage song, the text of which is supposedly based on Thoreau's journal entries on telegraph wires singing in the wind.

No danger that worms will attack. Thrill them to death. Sounds. Mad so long. What more wonderful than a wire stretched between two posts? Buzzing strings. Will be. The telegraph harp. Wind is from the north, the telegraph does not sound. Aeolian. Orpheus alive. It is the poetry of the railroad. By one named electricity. Like a harp high overhead.

I might write to Holger again. Or tune the guitar.


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