HomeBlocksFront-TopChris Erskine: What Inspired the Moonlight Sonata?

Chris Erskine: What Inspired the Moonlight Sonata?

At the party, the conversation soon turned — as it often does — to the degradation of the human spirit we’re seeing so often these days.
Some blamed Congress. Some blamed Elon Musk. Some blamed the lack of quality public education.
Me, I blamed the food.
It’s so seldom that we sit down to a meal lovingly prepared. There’s so much takeout food these days, and while I appreciate the convenience of Door Dash and Uber Eats, I gotta confess that I miss buttered carrots. Or rolls flaky from the oven. Or the way the juices from the roast would bleed just slightly into your mama’s mashed potatoes.
There was something divine to all that. It tasted, faintly, of Leviticus.
My son, Smartacus, was noting the other day that when we seek happiness, we are pursuing many of the same delights we had as children.
Indeed. An American childhood is still a magic carpet ride.
I also see many young adults refusing to grow up. Who can blame them — all that credit card debt … maternity bills … college tuition … car insurance? Ewww, adulthood. It’s not always fun.
By the time you’re 22, you’re merely some company’s data point.
True story: When I was a kid, there was a period when drivers left the keys in the ignition when they darted into a store. There they dangled, like jewelry, in car after car in front of Grebe’s Hardware on the outskirts of Chicago.
Back then, no one stole things. My mom often left her purse on the car’s bench seat as she raced the dog into the vet.
In the late-’60s, everything changed. If you left the keys in the ignition, someone would swipe your Chevy. I blame the hippies, particularly my high school pals Cliff and Jan, who smoked a lot of cruddy weed and listened to — oddly for that period — way too much Nina Simone.
Then came ignition locks and screechy car alarms. These days, thieves merely gut your car of its catalytic converter. Or smash a window and grab your laptop without consequence.
Strange times. Strange people. I still blame the food.
FYI, my reading room is a small tavern with a fireplace flickering in the corner. The bourbon is backlit and so am I.
Watch the way the guy in the corner loosens his tie after each slurp. Admire how the woman at the end of the bar pretends not to watch the men.
Honestly, taverns are sociology classes. It’s a great place to repair a damaged id.
The other night, on my second beer, I got to thinking: What inspired the Moonlight Sonata? Where did Monet go to unwind? Were the Beatles even better than Beethoven? Will we ever hear music like that again?
Essentially, where did art go? Or romance? Or the stuff that — like big emotional throw pillows — cushioned the human psyche?
“The Boomers really knew how to write,” a guy named Mike (mid-40s) noted at that party the other day. “No one knows how to write anymore.”
Here’s the solution: I’m hosting a weekend retreat. I’m smoking a nice brisket and bringing in a few chewy Cabs. Suzanne will toss the salad. Smartacus will sorcerer the BBQ sauce.
The guest list includes: Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Elton John, Jimmy Webb and (of course) Bob Dylan.
Their assignment: One more great song.
To write us something we can sing in the shower. To write the kind of song that, if it’s not over when you pull in the driveway, you wait two minutes for it to finish.
A ballad or a jingle … a love song or a march. Would it rustle like old denim? Would Joni Mitchell sing it like a long, liquid sigh?
Simon would offset McCartney’s tenderness. Dylan’s word pictures would marry with Webb’s. Elton would shatter a glass.
If nothing else, it’d be a master class on creativity. We’d repair some damaged ids.
Look, I know modern life is lousy sometimes. To borrow from Mel Brooks, “I hate all the things I don’t like.”
Still, why give up on beauty?
Last Friday, we visited an L.A. art museum, just for kicks, just to get off the couch and away from Netflix. The works at MOCA were interesting, yet all edge and very little beauty.
That’s how I see pop culture these days — all edge, no beauty.
Watch the Oscars this weekend. As the show drags into its 15th hour, ask yourself how much beauty have you seen? Which movie themes moved you? Was there even one great kiss?
And where are the dangly little emotional moments, like jewelry in the ignition, that you’ll remember 60 years later: A quip? A smirk? A Redford wink?
As the poet Howard Nemerov notes, the world is full of mostly invisible things.
Here’s to finding a few.

Email the columnist at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com.

First published in the March 9 print issues of the Outlook Valley Sun, Pasadena Outlook and San Marino Tribune.


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