Monday 31 August 2009

A marbled normality, confused

My dad, an abysmal human being in almost every respect, once told me a magical tale which, for various reasons, was rapidly and permanently placed in the semi-sacred pile marked Do Not Touch.

Sometimes you don’t feel inclined to look at a good story too closely, do you, lest the thing turns out to be untrue? It just feels better and easier to shut out the alternatives and keep faith in the original version. Normally, of course, there should be no fear of being completely wrong about anything at all – and I’ve had many, many opportunities to put this assertion to the test - because the act of discovering what’s right and true is both exciting and a sufficiently rewarding consolation. a story familiar to most fans of classical music, the young Mozart, he assured me, went to Rome and heard a performance of Allegri’s Miserere. At the time, apparently, it was forbidden for this music to be performed outwith the Sistine Chapel - some things are too sacred, it seems. The child genius saw far beyond this, however, and saved the very day. In a spasm of divinity, he memorised the music and wrote it all down, thus freeing it from the strictly jealous confines of the Vatican.

I was young and indecently stupid, but even I could see that this was an astonishing triumph. The piece of music was not only very beautiful, it also lasted forever. Mozart must have been superhuman, I reasoned. It was a joyful story and I needed to hear it again. And again. Details, man, details.

He must surely have been wearing fantastical purple shoes created by wizards and the queen? And he had green flowing hair and a brooch and he simply drew one long breath as the music was sung and then gently exhaled stars from his mouth and they landed on the paper perfectly and..........

Dad: And so when Mozart arrived at the Sistine Chapel.....
Me: Did he have golden wings?
Dad: What? Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.
Me: I saw you with Mrs Hunniford.
Dad: ....all heads turned to marvel at his golden wings.
Me: Good. Good.

Anyway, I was reminded of this when I recently discovered that Barack Obama’s favourite character from The Wire is Omar Little. If you haven’t seen The Wire this won’t mean anything to you, unfortunately. It seems fair to say, though, that it is The Best Thing Ever and that Omar Little is also The Best Thing Ever.

I only found out that Obama watched it whilst “researching” Baltimore - the city in which the series is set – online. This information delighted me and was thus also promptly set aside in the pile marked Do Not Touch.

It’s a tiny example of strange behaviour, common to most people, I imagine, but I didn’t want to read any more articles in case someone, somewhere, said something along the lines of “see that thing about Barack Obama liking Omar Little? Entirely untrue – guy doesn’t even watch the show”.

It just feels good to know that America is in the hands of a man capable of liking Omar Little. (Less good to know that I still indulge the art of dishonest non-discovery.)

Stripped of childish embellishments, however, the pared down Miserere story remains untouchable. Whenever I come across something that seems about to suggest that the tale is apocryphal I simply try to blank it or put my fingers in my ears and hum loudly. Unedifying, perhaps, although it sometimes feels very necessary - because it’s nice to avoid disappointment and because some things need to be true.

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