Friendly Universe?

Four o’clock. A universe friendly or unfriendly, asks Einstein. So did 19th Century American writers from Emerson to Melville and beyond. Moby Dick constitutes a monument to thoughts about the cosmos. When I played bass with Satin Love in the late 1990s, I tried to solve this intellectual problem myself by intensive reading. At one point I read Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Jude the Obscure back to back to ascertain the truth about the friendliness of the universe. They contradicted each other. I followed these with The Sheltering Sky and As I Lay Dying, both of which were pessimistic, and they influenced my mood while I was playing with the band. All the while I was listening to atonal music such as Schoenberg and Penderecki, and Webern and Berg. In fact, I dreamed recently about the Lulu Suite by Alban Berg. All this cacophony I learned and heard inside my head through my adventures with the disco band, accompanied by the ideas of Thomas Hardy. We took a trip to San Francisco in September 1997, and I was a wet blanket all the way. Lying in bed the last night, I heard Webern’s Five Pieces for Orchestra and wondered how I ever got to this place so far from home. I had insomnia for the whole trip. When we finally got home I went to bed and slept like a dead man. Life seemed as chaotic to me as the atonal music I constantly heard. Was the universe friendly? I don’t know, but the band I was in was definitely unfriendly…

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