When i go to write a new piece here on the blog, i follow the tab to “new post”. We were promised a paperless office, a paperless world long ago, but it never happened. It’s funny to keep bumping into that word “post” as though it were the pole in a fence we just banged into.
Technological change is reflected in the way we tell stories. The plot devices for our plays, our novels, our operas, our films change with us. Writers have been faced with this in the films of the past few years. When people can text, you can’t have the same kind of mis-understandings as in the past. Or can you? Against the Grain managed to reformat old-fashioned mail into a text message in Figaro’s Weddings earlier this year.
Not so long ago, mail figured prominently in popular songs.
Remember “Return to Sender” especially when Elvis sings it? Remember these lines?
“And if it comes back, the very next day,
Then I’ll understand”?
What a different world we live in. The whole drama of this song would be over in 30 seconds of texting.
Remember “She’s Leaving Home”? I won’t blame you if you didn’t. It’s the song nobody ever remembers from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band , and my favourite song from that album.
There are two pivotal moments in the song that are built around a written note. We hear that she is “leaving the note that she hoped would say more”, and then in the next verse, father is snoring, while “his wife gets into her dressing gown/ Picks up the letter that’s lying there”, and the consequences unfold.
Maybe Elvis’s letter returned to sender situation has been supplanted by texts, but I think people still write notes, clutch handkerchiefs, and yes, feel they’ve been treated thoughtlessly.
Letters aren’t fully obsolete, and so perhaps it’s not so odd that i am still “posting”.
As I watched and listened to Adam Klein’s Winterreise as filmed by Eric Solstein, I came to a song that has long fascinated me, every bit as powerful as the Beatles tune. It came back into my brain, after I saw Loose Tea Theatre’s Carmen Friday night, sitting in the first row, a close-up perspective that I’d recently seen in Solstein’s film.
You can find Klein’s performance 37 minutes and 14 seconds into Solstein’s film.
Or here’s a lovely stand-alone reading of the song by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Notice the way Schubert’s piano conjures up the gallop of a horse, a possible horn call. It’s so indecently clean, so economical.
Die Post. The phenomenon for this song isn’t simply a letter in a mailbox. It’s a dramatic event: because mail itself was a dramatic event at one time. We still see that drama nowadays (for instance, that Amazon package I was expecting to see Tuesday that was late). But the way the song unfolds feels antique, yet his emotion is so clear. The singer isn’t waiting for a DVD or a book. It’s a letter, and contact with the woman he loved. No, loves, it’s clear in the song.
Von der Strasse her ein Posthorn klingt. From the street, the posthorn sounds
Was hat es, dass es so hoch aufspringt, why do you leap so,
Mein Herz? My heart!
Die Post bringt keinen Brief für dich. The delivery includes no letters for you
Was drängst du denn so wunderlich, why are you so excited
Mein Herz? My heart?
Nun ja, die Post kommt aus der Stadt, And now the post comes from the town
Wo ich ein liebes Liebchen hatt’, where I had a true beloved
Mein Herz! My heart!
Willst wohl einmal hinüberseh’n do you want to again peer out
Und fragen, wie es dort mag geh’n and ask, how things are back there
Mein Herz? My heart
I suppose what I am pondering is pain. Sometimes I wonder, why do people write operas and movies & plays about pain? Why is Written on Skin the great hope of opera, when it’s once again, a tale of men oppressing women? I wish we could get past that, and yes, same thing with Carmen, too. And Schubert’s obsessed singer in Winterreise.
But the songs & operas are haunting precisely because they distill the pain down so perfectly, musical / dramatic vehicles that are irresistible to performers (Klein and Harper and Warner and Hannigan among others) because they’re irresistible to the audience.
The news isn’t filled with happy stories either.