[Alan Rich passed away April 23, 2010.]
I am Alan Rich, writing about myself which is my second-favorite subject. Music is my first. I discovered writing about music, finding the words to translate the experience of hearing music and reacting to it, soon after I discovered music itself. A friend at college showed me Donald Tovey’s Essays in Musical Analysis which, in spite of that academic title, described music in wonderfully imaginative, lively language that still related to the sounds themselves. I immediately decided that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. (A career in medicine, which was what I thought I had wanted to do, had become less interesting day by day, to my parents’ horror.)
I go to concerts and operas and try to share the experience of the people around me in the hall; that is still the best way to experience music. Second best is hearing music alone, at home or in the car or wherever. I can’t abide the steady musical diet, music as wallpaper. I know people who have to leave the radio on even when they leave the house; “it activates the atmosphere,” they explain, or some such. At 83, almost 84, I still keep some space free in my head to get excited by a new experience…even for something not necessarily all that new. Last week I heard a really beautiful performance of Debussy’s “Sacred and Profane Dances” at a “Jacaranda” concert in Santa Monica, music I think I know pretty well, and it just blew me away. Maybe, if I had had that music, or something else from that period, running on my home Muzak all day the day before, I’d have missed the wonderful stinging harmony of that live performance.
APRIL 6, 2009
A couple of recent anniversaries may have escaped your notice. On March 23, 2008 the City of Los Angeles issued a citation addressed to me, one of those “Whereas” documents beautifully lettered and illustrated, taking note of my fifteen years of writing about classical music, at the LA Weekly along with my books and other contributions. Two weeks later the management of LA Weekly – not Laurie Ochoa and the local staff but the Phoenix-based bean-counters who evaluate every word in their chain of papers against the income they produce – fired me, along with most of their other cultural writers.
A week later I was hired by Bloomberg News, which distributes a certain level of cultural coverage to many worldwide publications and draws upon the deep pockets of New York’s billionaire mayor. I wasn’t happy with the level of writing, or the range of subject matter, that Bloomberg’s imperial leadership defined as cultural coverage, but it was a job. Just around the first of the year, Bloomberg shut down its cultural coverage. I asked whether that included an end to John Simon’s theater reviews. “Oh no,” my editor informed me, “his name is on the sides of buses.”
Next came LA CityBeat, a small but respectable journal largely surviving, as does LA Weekly, on escort advertising and similar diversions. Four columns by me (over eight weeks), and that paper has now been shut down. I hate to think of myself as any kind of journalistic jinx, but my collection of scalps does look rather large, including as it does the New York Herald-Tribune and World-Journal Tribune, out here the Herald-Examiner, New West and California magazines and now this current crop.
So here I am, 84 and still in command of my facilities — I passed my eye-test at the DMV last week, without glasses! — and, depending how you call it, either un- or self-employed. Under expert guidance, I’m in the process of learning how to channel the one thing I still can do (and still want to do) into a way of maintaining a place in the local cultural scene. My motives are not entirely selfish. In this city, which is in a state of impressive cultural growth, it is just plain wrong for there to be a single critical voice. The growth here can only be maintained through discussion, controversy and breadth, maintained by educated writers – not one writer and a couple of incompetent stringers, which is the situation at present. I have been the other writer here for the past 20 years, and I would like to continue. The city needs me to continue.
I’ve begun this blog (or Blogue, or Website), called “So I’ve Heard” (or, more accurately, http://soiveheard.com), very nicely designed by my friends David Weiner and Angie Lee. It has several components. “Home” is the weekly newspaper: reviews of musical events, of new discs and DVDs, of current cultural events. I’ve been sending out “new blog” notices every week, but you can assume that I will attempt to add new copy once a week without prior notice. There’s room, lots of, for your comments, and for mine in return. That possibility for ongoing conversation puts us far above the daily newspaper. “Alan’s Alley,” the next column over, is more like a quarterly, at least so far; it’s where I maintain a mantra of my permanent passions and preferences – but subject to change, of course, a Desert Island but with shifting sands. (If this sounds as though I’m not sure about the content of this section, and am hoping for suggestions, you’ve read it correctly.)
The blog is hooked onto some arrangement with that excellent cornucopia known as Amazon.com, and there are instructions for making them aware of our connection. So far, in the less-than-two weeks we’ve had this arrangement up-and-running, I’ve already taken in something like twenty dollars. Remember, Amazon isn’t just for books. I’ve been buying my razor blades from them for years. Keep in touch — Alan