yo musiclovers, greetings from Prague where I am on a great assignment that I can’ tell you about. today me and laura bush are 63, which I can’t relate to at all, but time doesn’t care whether you relate to it or not. Claude Levi-Strauss is dead at 100. I remember running by a plate-lipped Cayapo Indian in the Amazon in l975 his thesis that the cooking of food is what made people civilized, and he thought it was bullshit.
Most of his writing I find incredibly pompous and pretentious, which French intellectuals think they have to be. Foucault is even worse. But Tristes Tropiques is a beautiful book and had a big influence on me when I was heading to Brazil 35 years ago. Levi Strauss understood what was happening as I would soon. Between 1900 and 1950 more than 90 tribes and 15 had disappeared. He was one of the first
to raise the alarm about the growth of a “mass culture” and a modern “monoculture,” and to challenge the notion of progress. There are only progresses, with a little p, he said.
Prague, where I have been for a week and am leaving tomorrow unless I get to meet Vaclav Havel, is a most charming and romantic city, with bitter November mists swirling around its baroque splendor. Especially this side of the river, Prague 1; the other side where the old city is seething with tourists. I have never been anywhere where you can get bored in your hotel room and step out at eleven and within a few blocks find numerous little dives with great jazz and gypsy music. The bohemian scene in Bohemia (bohemian comes from the gypsies who came to Paris from Bohemia in the early 19th century) is not surprisingly highly developed. Saturday I went to a tiny place called the Latin Art Cafe Ibsulon where students and other impoverished young people were dancing to first a Moroccan flamenco guitarists with a guy slapping a box between his legs, then a Peruvian-Colombian band. The next night I checked out the Popo Cafe Petl where a hot band called Gitans was playing. Prague is a world capital of Romani music, and in this band I could hear the sounds of Rajasthan, Russia, Cuba, Brazil, and blues, but it was a local band playing the local joyous music of the Romani people. Then yesterday I dropped in on a bar called Umaleho Glena at eleven p.m. for chicken schnitzel and a beer. Fabulous beer in this town too. I went down the stairs to take a leak and heard beautiful bossa nova further down in the basement. A five months pregnant young woman was singing Ary Barroso and other sambas and bossas with a really good guitarist. Neither of them had been to Brazil, but nothing was lost in translation.
I also took in the 1 p.m. daily concert of classical music at the Lobkowicz Palace, and realized that music, the most elusive and ephemeral of art forms, is the greatest survivor of them all. Nazis, commies, savage capitalists, and people of all stations have all listened with delight to these beautiful compositions of Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi and Dvorak. As Dostoevsky said, beauty will save the world. If we can only save the beauty, which is bleeding fast. Music doesn’t even need sheet music to be preserved and transmitted. Once you have the tune in your head, it is there forever. Prisoners in the Gulag, Ojibways in the infamous missio9nary boarding schools, kept themselves sane with music, which if they had no instruments, they could play in their heads. It is what has kept me sane all these years, too.