HE PROBLEM with the tune is it doesn't give a person any warning. Comes in without fanfare on that first note, yellow bolting in from a field of white. Now it was never intended that way. Even in the rendition that's caused all the trouble, a careful listener can practically feel the care with which Benny forms his embouchure, the tentative increase of his breath until the first moment of audibility comes about and follows itself along, almost independent of Benny and even of the clarinet. It's a tune meant to tumble gently through dim rooms and fog the vision of people stuck in gazes, to make streetwalking passersby stop and scan the cloudy night sky, to build up and sustain images of blue-lit ivy-covered garden fences, the cold revealing lucidity of quarter moons sowing bare honesty between the shiny filmed curves of foot-distant eyes.
Benny shuffles his feet but the note keeps strong and clear, bellies into resistant air. It ascends like a B-52 and descends like a broad oak leaf, in the moment between stalling and trembling against the skin of atmosphere which preceding notes have thickened and moistened artificially, trembling and throaty like the first words from a dry morning mouth unsure as yet of its continued ability to resonate.
Another note, having left the clarinet and Benny's influence, stumbles.
Another note, having left the clarinet and Benny's influence, stumbles. The tune turns to glare at it, swings downward and back up again as a whole. Its face darkens, its great brow furrows. The dew in its eyes frosts over and, bringing to bear all its years of history, Star Dust swoops into a swagger, prowls up and down the hallway stamping its suddenly weighty feet in protest against this identified faulty component. A tune feels shame and equal pride, and the pride and shame are legendary.
Are you sleeping? Have you drifted off at your desk in the midst of some appropriate problem, calculating in low light, solving, smoothing the kinks of confused relations? Something wakes you (it’s not the tune– the tune is lying inaudibly in wait for you, rubbing its spine against the doorframe with increasing impatience). You swallow air, your heart is racing and must slow to match your waking pace. It pounds, and you know the time it will take to pace itself is the time it will take you to find your place again– you know all the pieces, the springs and switches and the tiny wheels, the cogs and resistors, must be back in their slots before the problem you’re facing can even be defined, never mind resolved. Open a window– the air will help to clear your head.
In the hallway Star Dust growls low, presses its nose to the bottom of the door. It builds itself and coils its energy, but holds back for now. The tune depends on nothing and no one, not anymore– it moves by its own power, possesses form and mass, a body– and if you could hear and understand you would recognize now just by the sound of it that Benny is long dead, his clarinet put up indefinitely. A tune has limbs and nimble fingers, and in its frustration may use them.
Open a window– ah, but the night is foggy and the air oppressive. Perhaps you’ll find some comfort in the diffuse glow of the street-lamps.
In the other room the record has come to an end, the source scratches and she lifts the needle and lets it rest. The tune shudders at the door but abides. It breathes and, drawing breath, tugs gently at the edges of your consciousness. You are not aware of it yet, busy at your desk again or bathing arms and face in the mist, but it draws and draws and then its cold breath is on your neck.
A tune has a past and an eye for the future, and it finds you in your ignorance and cures you. Listen– it’s lingering. Is that a real nightingale or a sense-memory born decades ago? It’s dawning on you now– your metaphoric awakening comes too early for the literal morning and this is not lost on you, one who worships meaning and ultimate order. It’s dawning on you now– the background shuffle is the brown of her eyes, Benny’s long-silent clarinet drips out the deep shiny soft-but-hard-edged blue-green of her voice (stop yourself here– the character of your review has already turned saccharine and can easily descend into that sentiment, that solipsistic poetry you so resent).
This gentle prose- if Star Dust would shake and roar and tear the room apart it would be one thing, but the tune is infinitely more patient than you and knows it- the tune’s will won’t hesitate to disassemble your own. It wraps itself in the costume of her familiar voice, paints its soft yellow face in voltaic blue-greens and sprays from its high ends flecks of oil-red, blood-spray of an infected melody. It sheathes its tail in erotic purple curves of mist whose fractured blue confuses your vision. A tune is a framework for improvisation, and it knows the face you’re seeking.