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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Thursday, 23 February 2012

Friendship - a mixed blessing

Two friends shaped my interest in music. Richard I’ve already mentioned (See “I Told You So”). X came earlier and our friendship ended unpleasantly, hence the need to hide his true identity.

X dates back to mono LPs. He was widely knowledgeable and became a leader writer on The Times and then The Daily Telegraph. He introduced me to Beethoven, Respighi, Stravinsky, Holst and Elgar in particular, and the evolution of European music in general. But I paid a price. He didn’t like Mozart and my later rehabilitation took some time.

X liked jazz and used to play trumpet along with Ellington and Stan Kenton records. He taught me the rudiments of trumpet-playing and gave me his old trumpet when he bought a replacement. Again I paid a price.

His preference was for the high-note jazz-men, especially William Cat Anderson and Maynard Ferguson (left and right above respectively), and they became my favourites. But it was a very unbalanced view of jazz. Years passed before I was able to appreciate Miles Davies.

Despite the painfulness of our rupture he provided a large early chunk of my musical education. However, as I say, nothing comes for nothing. X was an extremely good journalist, widely read and powerfully opinionated. I was lucky to know him but he wasn’t well liked and impartiality wasn’t one of his qualities. He didn’t care to hear any of my independent opinions. When he pooh-poohed my view that string quartets might represent the most advanced form of musical language I realised he had nothing more to tell me.

Tone Deaf has already shown that music can be a “difficult” enthusiasm. Getting started often requires a kick up the backside. X kicked well and the word “friend” has no simple definition.


  1. One of the the things that worries me most about music which stems entirely from technical ignorance and consequential lack of self-assurance, is having one's preferences derided. There must be something wrong with you if you like that. If someone said that to me about Rupert Brooke for example I wouldn't be worried. But to have an expressed liking for let us say Hubert Parry kicked into the long grass by a besserwisser hurts deeply because I wouldn't know how to defend my preference. I deliberately chose Brooke and Parry as examples by the way because because I hold neither in great awe having due respect for both.

  2. Not suffering fools gladly has never seemed to me an unalloyed virtue; too often I have felt like the insufferable fool. I'm not sure that people like that always realise they are inflicting pain, they are perhaps just interested in expressing their own strongly felt sensibilities more than respecting anyone else's.

    Part of me hates what I see as that kind of bullying, but I have to admit they are good for us, those people, to a point; they demand more of us than simply to say 'I know what I like', and if their demands are not merely negative and destructive they can lead us to discover things we wouldn't on our own.

    But, there are more ways of killing a cat... Did X fall out with many friends - did he have many to fall out with?

  3. Plutarch: For some reason I have never understood, differences of opinion concerning musical taste are often expressed rancorously. Especially so when it comes to pop, but posh fans can be equally dimissive. When you say "wouldn't know how to defend my preference" you are of course not alone. Articulating an opinion, a description or a comparison on musical matters is extremely difficult (hence the bad temper) and is the main reason why Tone Deaf was founded. It affords me the opportunity to try and explain things that are primarily aesthetic with the hope that others too will pitch in, perhaps helping themselves and certainly helping me.

    X resented my (very tentative) suggestion about chamber music because it wasn't an area he had sought to impose on me. I was the student getting out of my depth and needed to be re-coralled. However it was the condemnatory tone of voice he used that made me think we were at an end.

    Lucy: First, using the X pseudonym must seem rather coy but there is a reason; three people were involved in the final act of unpleasantness and I don't feel at liberty to talk freely.

    As to your final question, I think I was X's only friend although, as I have said, with him the word takes on a new definition. I was younger, less well-informed, an inferior journalist and an ideal tabula rasa on which to impress his opinions, not just about music. I was astonished that he continuously sought me out for almost a decade since I seemed to be the one who was profiting.

    He had no friends but everyone who met him remembered him. He was authority incarnate on politics, history, music and literature and had a phenomenal memory - the tool which wins so many conversational battles. He was also an exceptionally good writer and it was inevitable he would end up with a national audience. He interviewed cabinet ministers as an equal and I can never remember anyone getting the better of him. His confidence with women was supreme.

    In my more reflective moments - especially when I've over-stepped myself - I can't help feeling he had even more influence over me than I've acknowledged. I envied his social confidence and there is no doubt I have tried to duplicate it - with varying degrees of success. It is because of him I have prized articulacy above almost everything else, preferred the particular over the general and often bullied people into more active conversation than they would have liked. He was, as you say, good for me because there aren't too many exemplars of that sort around. However, the ending - horrible as it was - was inevitable and I am glad I am not still jousting with him in my declining years.

  4. Did you ever hear any of Dizzy Gillespie's recordings? He didn't sing well, but he certainly knew the horn, inside and out.

  5. The Crow: Dizz was also a high-notes specialist (and a wit). However he was also a bopper. I enjoy bop but only in half-hour stretches; the appeal is primarily technical rather than emotional. But you've given me an idea for a future post (with links).