I stumbled upon this astonishing 1968 conversation between Glenn Gould and John McClure about ten years ago at the Village Discount thrift store here in Chicago (the one on Clark north of Lawrence).
"Why the hell am I leafing through this stack of LPs?" I would've thought, if my thoughts came in annoyingly self-reflective & grammatically correct sentences. "It's the same shit every time I come here."
The same "Sing Along with Mitch" with the Hitler mustache scribbled on the little blonde kid belting out (no doubt) "On Top of Old Smoky" behind Mitch's eerily large & floating head.
The same Tennessee Ernie Ford record stuffed into the "Jim Nabors Sings the Lord's Prayer and Other Sacred Songs."
The same "Glenn Gould: Concert Dropout."
I slowly lifted the album out of the stacks. I glanced furtively around me. Who will I have to kill? Whose family will I have to kill? Do they have record players in prison?
And then the most terrifying thought I have ever had: Tennessee Ernie Ford. Tennessee Fucking Ernie Ford.
Or worse. Jim. Fucking. Nabors.
I held my breath. I parted the covers. I parted the record sleeve (good sign). I slipped the vinyl toward the light of day.
Glenn. Fucking. Gould!!!
I learned two things that day.
Lesson #1: WTF!? costs the same as Tennessee Ernie Ford, the same as Jim Fucking Nabors, the same as Bread: 79 cents (plus tax).
Lesson #2: The bus trip home is longer when you are clutching WTF!? to your beating heart.
It was a long walk from the bus to home. It was a long walk up the stairs. It was a long walk to the record player.
The needle took forever to hit the groove.
It was worth it.
McClure: Glenn, right here in New York, where we're talking, I know, personally, half a dozen impresarios dying to present you in concerts all across the country, your pick of locations, they offer to pay you any fee that you name....Why do you deny them all?
GG: Because it's not a very enticing prospect, John. It's a very flattering one, I suppose, but it's not an enticing prospect...
McClure: The life of a glamorous concert artist --
GG: -- is hideous, is dead, is part of the past. I think that that has no relevance to the contemporary musical scene. I don't think it even has very much relevance to the contemporary scene as regards performing music. I couldn't conceive of going back to that life. I was part of it for...eight or nine, whatever it was, rather unpleasant years, rather traumatic years, years which I did it because I thought it was very good experience and, perhaps, necessary in the sense of creating an audience which might, perhaps, buy my recordings. But it was an experience that I wanted to be rid of and to shuck off as quickly as I could, and when that moment came, I did it, and I think it would be a terribly retrogressive step to retreat back into the embrace of the concert.
A terribly retrogressive step to retreat back.
Reader, let me assure you: words can change a life. Those words began to change my life. My life changed.
Not bad for 79 cents (plus tax).
Conducted only four years out from Gould's "retirement" from the concert stage, this is the freshest, least "scripted" Gould interview I've ever heard. (Yes, in later years, Gould actually scripted his interviews -- both the questions & the answers!) In fact, interview is the wrong word. This is a colloquy in the truest sense.
As the title suggests, much of the discussion focuses on Gould's decision to "dropout" of the concert world & to devote his energies to recording. At one point, Gould, at the piano, demonstrates how his playing was corrupted by the demands of the concert performance and the "accrued bad habits" he picked up that "destroyed the fabric of the music."
One gets the feeling that Gould is being confronted with genuinely thought-provoking questions from the superbly attentive John McClure, and Gould's ruminations are suffused with his typically joyous, iconoclastic, elegant & impish intelligence and humanity.
Pencil sketch of the two Glenn Goulds by the amazing yuzu1009. Please check out her channel for other works of true artistic wonder: http://www.youtube.com/user/yuzu1009
A special hat-tip to Ricky Lee, of Iliad Bookshop fame (http://www.iliadbookshop.com), who turned the old LP into a shiny MP3. Thanks, Sir Richard!