“Dance me to your beauty
With a burning violin...”
Leonard Cohen, “Dance Me to the End of Love”
I’m sitting here alone this evening listening to my old pal Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies sing “Powder Finger” from the Caution Horses CD, possibly my favorite album of all time. I love Margo, as readers of this blog will have heard over and over ad nauseam. Not only that, I love her haunting voice and her band and her music. And I owe her. She’s given me so much comfort and happiness over the years that I am completely at a loss how to calculate the debt in Soul Dollars, but it’s a big one. And she’s always been there when I’ve needed her the most. This is not a bad trait to discover in someone you adore. So thanks, MT. I’m naming my firstborn daughter after you. Unless of course you’re the mom, in which case we fall back to my old favorite Demi Pamplemousse to avoid confusion.
Listening to Margo makes me think about beauty, particularly as found in music. I can easily rattle off a dozen artists and works that certainly exemplify beauty, if not actually define it. Besides Margo’s music, Hilary Hahn Plays Bach leaps immediately to mind, an album of which I’ve spoken before. I have a choral version of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” that brings tears to my eyes (artists unknown). Nanci Griffith and John Prine do a duet of Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” that also causes my allergies to act up. Madeline Peyroux’s cover of the epigram to this entry, “Dance Me to the End of Love,” is as warm and rich as the hot chocolate that for some reason you can only get in Puerto Rico. And so forth.
So when I find new beautiful music, I have to share it, and I found some last Sunday as I was listening to “Saint Paul Sunday” on KSJN, the wonderful local public classical radio station. “Saint Paul Sunday” is a weekly radio show done from Saint Paul every Sunday. I tell you this so you’ll know when it’s broadcast if you’re blond. The host is Bill McGlaughlin, who is another old pal of mine in that I’ve listened to him for years and he’s brought me lots of joy, much like Margo. Fortunately for all of us, however, I’m not madly in love with him like I am with Margo. He has always seemed to be a pretty likable and interesting person for a guy though, and I hereby add him to my “People I’d Like to Have Lunch With” list. (If you’re new to Hulles or have a memory like mine, so far the list consists of Bill and Freddie Mercury.)
Last Sunday, the featured artists were a group called “Anonymous 4.” I had never heard their music before, but I had heard of them repeatedly since they seemed to be the darlings of the last Minnesota Public Radio pledge drive. I figured they were just sort of a glitzy folk quartet that had escaped from “A Prairie Home Companion” and sought political asylum on the classical station, so I wasn’t very excited about their show prior to its being aired.
Little did I know that they are really angels. I believe in angels. I don’t believe in the kind of angel that looks like Nicholas Cage, one who acts like God’s own secret agent and goes around helping people by whispering the winning lottery number in the ear of the person tragically dying of some exquisitely painful esoteric cancer who is leaving behind a wife who looks disturbingly like Ellen DeGeneres and a family of thirteen scruffy waifs, all of whom oddly enough seem to be about ten years old except for the littlest girl who doesn’t just tug at your heartstrings, she yanks them right off the brackets. Where was I before I started working on the movie script? Oh yeah, angels.
I believe in the kind of angels that can sing. Billie Holiday is probably the Queen Angel. Anonymous 4, however, have to be tied for the Princess Angel billet. They are four women (or castrati; I’m not sure I heard the answer to that question if Bill asked it) who have the sweetest voices ever. They sing a cappella music that seems to range from Gregorian Chant-like hymns to revival-meeting anthems to real no-shit folk music. I could probably say that better if I knew more about the kind of music they perform and if I’d heard Bill’s entire interview with them, but I don’t and I didn’t. What I did hear of their music, though, was frighteningly beautiful. I was blissed out listening to it, as Carmen used to say. If I ever meet them, I’m sure I’ll fall madly in love with all four of them. Unless they’re castrati, of course.
So do yourself a favor, give your viscera a beauty makeover tonight by listening to Anonymous 4. You won’t regret it, unless you have the soul of a clerk. And you don’t, because you read me. I’ll send you a certificate suitable for framing that says you don’t have the soul of clerk, if you’re ever accused of it. In fact, I’ll get Nick Cage to hand carry the certificate up to Saint Peter himself if you happen to get hit by a beer truck on your way home tonight, God forbid.
Anyway, I guess my point is that I revel in the ineffable beauty of music. It seems to me as if it is the very marrow of the bones of life, and I’m so grateful for it. In fact, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to state that I could not have survived without it, it’s that important to me. So thank lots to whoever is in charge of this musical beauty stuff -- probably some muse whose Greek name I could never pronounce correctly. Whoever it is deserves a raise and an extra couple weeks’ vacation. I’ll send them a certificate too, if they want.
This leads me to remark that, because I feel what I do when I listen to Margo or Hilary or Anonymous 4, I’m not entirely comfortable with the theory of natural selection as a complete explanation of why you and I are here. It seems a little too far-fetched to me that random mutations over the millennia have somehow endowed us with a means to discern and delight in the splendor of a glorious sunset, e. g.. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the ability to appreciate beauty in both nature and art is really what separates us from Chicago Bears fans. Thank God for that.