Real goth….

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You don’t know goth. Goth is not some skinny 16 year old with black nails and their entire life ahead of them. Goth is the unflinching embrace of the knowlege that “in the midst of life we are in death” as the book of common prayer puts it. I experienced true goth last night on the upper East Side of Manhattan.

My friend Jeff turned 50 last Saturday, and to celebrate his wife took him and a small number of his friends to the Carlyle Hotel, on Madison and 76th for dinner and to see Woody Allen play clarinet with a jazz band. This has become a kind of touchstone New York experience over the decades, and given that Jeff has in the thirty plus years I’ve known him always been a hardcore Allen fan I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d want to see it with.

It was a small room and filled with the subdued and intricately maintained wealthy people that populate Allen’s films, minus the introspection. Whatever people were expecting, it could not have been the “entertainment” offered near the end of the evening, when most of the band left the stage, leaving Allen and and band leader, a rotund banjo player, to pick out a sepulchral, halting version of Stardust:

And now the purple dust of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
Now the little stars, the little stars pine
Always reminding me that we’re apart
You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a love that cannot die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by.

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely nights
Dreaming of a song
That melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
Ah, but that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song

Beside a garden wall
Where stars are bright
You are in my arms
That nightingale tells its fairy tale
of paradise where roses grew
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
my stardust melody
The memory of love’s refrain.

Ah, but that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song

Beside a garden wall
Where stars are bright
You are in my arms
That nightingale tells its fairy tale
of paradise where roses grew
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
my stardust melody
The memory of love’s refrain.

Through out the night Allen had been playing the clarinet in a way that left in doubt whether he was an extreme stylist or just past it: broken, asperated notes that only hinted at the underlying tone, melodic order without much flow, and flurried solos that dropped in and out of the music. Here the tune was alternately limping and sliding, filled with silences that signified regret, longing, the collapse of life into death. The song is used as a kind of radiant resolution in Allen’s Fellini hommage Stardust Memories, so his playing it here was the only nod in the set to the people who came to see the “Woodman”, as one groupie called out. But this was hardly playing to the crowd. For the majority of the set he was hunched over, eyes shut, confering with his bandmates in muted whispers. This moment was no different. He looked inescapably mortal, and sounded it.

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