Difficult Listening Hour: Johnny Rotten, György Ligeti And a New Timothy Andres Track

PUNK ROCK?“If you spit at me one more time, I will macerate your fucking face,” John Lydon said, glaring at the front row of audience members at Public Image Limited’s packed Music Hall of Williamsburg show on Wednesday night. (Exact quote via the better-at-note-taking-than-me Steve Smith.) It was a moment worthy of a complicated, half-page sentence in a Henry James novel-containing as it did both an articulation of a point as well as its ironic subversion.

Lydon, formerly Johnny Rotten, has been trying to get his audience to stop spitting and pogo-ing like it’s the Summer of Sex Pistols for over 30 years now. “Don’t be a media-trained, dull donkey,” Lydon told Williamsburg’s spitters several songs later (quote approximate, since Mr. Smith didn’t use it!), despite the fact that the spitting had, apparently, ceased. And so the effect was that Lydon’s ire-so redolent of Sex Pistol-ness in its extended, abrasive resentment-gave the young-uns in the audience a flash of what those audience-taunting Sid Vicious-era shows might have been like back in the day. We were being asked to remember and forget history at the same time. Lydon’s really good at this sort of business.

Close followers of PiL were required to do something similar. Because Lydon has never succeeded in keeping the same band together for more than one or two records over the years, his “band’s” catalog doesn’t always cohere, sonically. The early post-punk, dub-heavy soundscapes with Keith Levene’s guitar scrapings were as thoroughly avant-garde as later albums like 9 and Happy? were alt-pop oriented. Fortunately, PiL’s current lineup proved adept at making cuts from the uber-strange Flowers of Romance (which is super-slept on) flow into the more commercial selections. I’d make a mental note to check out the forthcoming DVD of Wednesday’s show-though until then, here’s a video from PiL’s Coachella set earlier this summer.

Next week, New York gets another late period work from an old, hard-as-nails motherfucker-one so old he’s actually dead. You might actually know György Ligeti’s music from Stanley Kubrick films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (four different Ligeti pieces are incorporated in that mind-bending score) and Eyes Wide Shut (the haunting, plinky piano music). Ligeti’s apocalyptic, debauched, absurdist opera, Le Grand Macabre-written in the 70s and revised by the composer in 1997-will get its premiere New York City staging at the New York Philharmonic’s Avery Fisher Hall for three nights, on May 27-29. (Student rush tickets for the final two nights have just been made available, presumably because it’s sometimes hard to sell apocalyptic, debauched, absurdist operas to the usual opera crowd-though that should only encourage you.)

Besides being a badass who programmed Ligeti’s only opera, Philharmonic conductor Alan Gilbert has been trying to cool it up on YouTube over the past couple weeks. He’s playing Guitar Hero, here, with the Death-like character, Nekrotzar, from the opera, I guess?

This all risks silliness and requires a lot of background knowledge, of course, but what the heck: I support this letting down of classical culture’s delicately-coiffed hair. Also, Gilbert has the Philharmonic sounding pretty damned luscious and brilliant in this, his first year on the job. Here’s another preview video with the two singers who will play the couple that spends the whole opera screwing in a grave.

And here’s a longer, overall look at the production, to be directed by Doug Fitch.

On the basis of these videos and my previous fandom for Ligeti’s micropolyphonic jams, I’m really hoping this comes off well.

But while we’re talking about the olds: one thing I often think about, when I look at all these great works by venerable, established types is… hell, when does one finally transform from being a frustrated and confused young to being this good and authoritative? Obviously a lot of inspiration and hard work are required, but what else? I suspect some of you might have wondered the same sort of thing from time to time.

It’s a question that 24-year-old composer Timothy Andres addresses on one cut from his gorgeous new Nonesuch album for two pianos, Shy and Mighty. In the piece “How Can I Live in Your World of Ideas?” the composer answers his own question by dropping in little snippets of Beethoven and Chopin amid his own writing, as a way to get himself pointed in the correct direction. It’s kind of like that David Shields book about appropriation in the service of learning how to create, but a lot more beautiful and a whole lot less annoying. Give the track a streaming listen below, and then, if you like it, think about buying the whole album.

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And, either way, have a graceful and good weekend–whether young, old, or caught in between, OK? Or at least don’t spit on anyone.



Seth Colter Walls has a day job.