January 29, 2012

So I listen to Debussy...

I was walking in the shadow of a skyscraper, and everything was gray. My earphones made the sounds of New York City a constant echo, like, if you can imagine, a car horn never completely evaporating in a cave. It was amazing to watch the movement of Midtown, set to the impressionist melody of Claude Debussy’s Arabesque #1. Women in business suits burst through walls of steam that never seemed to stop billowing from manholes in the street, on their way to break through glass ceilings that never seemed to stop forming over their heads. A tourist and his wife took thirty-five pictures of a pigeon eating a hot dog bun. A horse-drawn carriage sat idle on the curb, the ill-treated animal, with a showgirl headdress strapped onto his head, looked at the tourist and his wife with sad eyes, while they snapped away and tried to read an upside-down subway map. It suddenly struck me as odd, how the front of the Plaza Hotel perpetually smelled of horseshit.

I recalled how difficult it was for me to learn that Debussy solo in the tenth grade. The intertwining triplets and eighth notes never quite melded together, and my fingers would ache from practicing the first page over and over again. I would get so angry at my hands, at my nagging metronome, and at the black and white pages always staring back at me. I would listen to the song on repeat while going to sleep, immensely jealous of the pianist I pictured in my mind – a beautiful young woman, with long, elegant arms, moving delicately up and down the keyboard with no effort at all. Trollop.

And it’s funny, because moving to New York was an identical process. I was constantly trying to force a beautiful melody out of the difficult city rhythms, attempting to justify my need for a dramatic change. I would get so angry every time I walked three blocks in the wrong direction, and when a stranger bumped into me in the subway, and when an amazing cover letter landed me nothing more than a two-minute phone call. I would think about the life I was supposed to be living in this grand city, immensely jealous of the person I pictured in my mind – a beautiful young man, standing tall in platform shoes, writing his way to success, love, and happiness. Impossible.

One day, back then, I sat down at the piano, and everything happened. Every triplet landed perfectly between each eighth note, yet not so perfectly enough to sound like I was trying. I learned the song in its entirety within two days, and suddenly the beautiful pianist in my mind seemed like less of a pompous bitch and more like a motivating peer, who I could push off the bench and take her place in due time.

Now, in this chaotic city, I’ve pulled out the piano bench and sat down. I’ve rested my fingers on the keys, but I haven’t begun to play. I don’t know when everything will fall into place, but I’m finally starting to believe that it will. There are times when I still get too forceful and I know I’m trying to hard – so I listen to Debussy.


  1. Love you description of New York City and how it melds so well with this piece of music! I think I'm going to have to put some Debussy on my phone and see how it works with the rhythm of London. Or would you suggest a different artist? :)

  2. The Deb is universally awesome. Although Maurice Ravel, Liszt, and Grieg are pretty amazeballs, too. Impressionists FTW!

  3. tell me the difference from a picture and reality, rock from stone, and me from you...

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