Speaking of August Kleinzahler – and even if we weren’t, we should be – did you know that Kleinzahler is not only a humdinger of a poet, but also a dilly of a musicologist? The man who wrote Sleeping It Off in Rapid City also wrote Music: I – LXXIV.
Music is about likes and dislikes. Specifically, what Kleinzahler likes and dislikes as far as music is concerned. Music is also about personalities. The personalities, or lack thereof, of the music makers, and, at the same time, the personality and delightful eccentricities of Kleinzahler himself, who is sui generis.
The first essay in Music provides the reader with taste of what’s to come. Entitled simply ‘Music I’, it’s about Liberace, who, the reader is informed, was born Wladziu Valentino Liberace. A musical prodigy, Liberace not only had a photographic memory, he was also – very obviously – gay. And as Kleinzahler puts it, “He was outrageously gay and campy and funny when homosexuality didn’t even seem to exist in the United States. In short, he was being very, very bad and getting away with it.”
Kleinzahler goes on to point out how popular Liberace was. “More people watched his show than I Love Lucy or Dragnet.”
From there, the book herks and jerks its way through a vast array of the most unusual of suspects. People such as Darius Milhaud, Betsy Jolas, and Kevin Fryer, who started out in life making furniture. Making furniture is boring, so Fryer began constructing harpsichords. Fryer now has his own studio in San Francisco. Anyone desiring the best harpsichord money can buy goes to see Mr. Fryer.
Roy Fisher, Joe Sullivan, Brian Eno, Otto Klemperer, Rudy Van Gelder, Tom Waits, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash, Ike and Tina Turner, Little Willie John, Spade Cooley, Mick Jagger, and Beethoven all come under Kleinzahler’s colorful musical inquisition, along with a host of others.