The Well-Tempered Clavier
By Mark Grube ~ Posted Tue, 10/28/2008 - 3:57pm
"To me it means molecular harmony. To my father, it means a broken sewing machine. To Bach, it means an experiment in writing for every available key. To Bach's wife, it means money to pay his wig maker. Who's right? Individually, we all are. Generally, none of us are."
Those lines are from David Mitchell's second novel "Number 9 Dream." The main musical obsession of the book isn't Bach, though. It's John Lennon. The main character, Eiji Miyake, often looks at life through the lens of a Lennon song. He even meets John in a dream and they discuss the tune that gives the book its title. Lennon compares it to another song, describing them both as ghost stories. "'She' in 'Norwegian Wood' curses the listener with loneliness," he says. "The 'two spirits dancing so strange' in '#9 Dream' bless the listener with harmony. But people prefer loneliness to harmony. That's why you hear 'Norwegian Wood' in elevators."
Mitchell's book is something of a ghost story too. Eiji spends much of his time pulled between memories of a dead sibling - his sister Anju - and the strange dance of a blossoming romance. His would-be girlfriend, Ai, prefers classical music. That was her quote about Bach. We can look at a piece of music in different ways, and we can look at each other in different ways, as Eiji discovers one afternoon...
"Ai looks at me in a strange way. I see her face as a very old woman, and also as a very little girl. Slow seconds come and go. I have never looked at anyone this long, this close up, in silence, since my who-blinks-last-wins games with Anju. If this were a movie and not McDonald's we would kiss. I think. Maybe this is more intimate than kissing. Loyalty, grief, good news, bad days."