Glenn Gould – Bach: The Goldberg Variations 1955

Glenn fucking Gould.

Anyone that wants to get into classical music, of any sort, eventually confronts Gould. He’s a fucking monster. His praise and criticisms will be sung long after we’re dead and buried and aliens investigate human history because AI deduced that we were the error in its pursuit of perfection. His eccentricities as a person have been told and retold and resold and packaged and repackaged and it’s all part of a balanced breakfast of a classical aficionado. Gould is the Beatles of the classical world. Get that? Dude’s an obsession. Douchebags worldwide have all got some fucking quote or story that appears to give them the edge or the “real story” on who Glenn Gould was as a person. Did you know that Gould drank this? Did that? Sat on this? Wrote on that with this? Was arrested for that? Recorded with, Slept with, Ate, Fucked, Listened, Released, Pissed, Prodded, Puckered, Picked, Pickled, Pestered, Portrayed, Plotted, Pieced, Peaced, And Piecemealed? 

And yet… 

That passion. That pure unrivalled audacity and ardour. His breakneck speeds and that frustrating slowness. His absolute fearlessness. 

So, how about instead of getting down, deep, and dirty into who Gould was let’s get rough, rowdy, and raunchy into the music. Cause if you don’t know Bach from Adam Levine, you’ll listen to this shit and just hear a bunch of piano. Cause in the end, that’s all it is, some dude on a fucking piano. 

So, let’s jump in.

Explaining classical music to people that don’t know it can be difficult for one simple reason: it’s the same fucking songs done by a bunch of different people. How can it be any good? Throw a rock into a crowd and you’ll hit someone that can play a half-decent Chopin. Dime a fucking dozen. And the truth nobody really wants to tell ya is this: a lot of it is horseshit. Just like with any other genre, there’s a lot of bad out there. Then, there are those other recordings, the ones you listen to and lose yourself in. Those few that grab you by the fucking gut, throw you around, and make you feel vulnerable. The ones where you think there must be some kind of mistake. That it has to be impossible for a piece of music, notes and how they’re played, sonic waves in the fucking air, could make anyone else feel the same way you do. Glenn Gould is this kind of motherfucker. There are points, especially at his incredible control as he goes Mach 600 through a minefield with the grace of a ballerina playing Dance Dance Revolution, where my asshole puckers up like a creature tasting lemons for the first time. Picturing some dude sitting in front of a piano, being able to move at those speeds with such precision, is difficult. But it’s not just his speed. Cause lots of motherfuckers can play fast. It’s the clarity of which it’s done. Then Gould switches. He plays slow. Cause he’s young and doesn’t give a fuck. You know this song as fast? Okay, now it’s slow and beautiful and heartbreaking. Now it’s a whole other bag of emotions you never knew could exist because fuck you, that’s why. But that’s not angry spite you hear, naw, that’s love. The deepest love of Bach someone can have. A creepy kind of love. If Gould loved a person as much as he loved Bach, he’d be locked up for it. He’d be that creep that followed you home and carved your name into their arm even though you’ve only ever witnessed them at a distance. He’s someone so completely obsessed with a composition it changed him fundamentally, biologically, spiritually on a molecular fucking level. And while listening to the effects of this, it’s impossible not to be just a tiny bit changed along with him. 

Look, I could wax poetic about so many things Gould has done (Shit, I might even just do that ever now and again). His work as a producer with prophet-like intuition anticipating fuckers like me listening to him on a fat pair of audio cans is almost as inspiring as his tunes. Almost. But at least once a year I throw this album on. I’m not doing this to incite a conversation about who the fuck Gould was or why his shit don’t stink. I don’t see the point of hanging a painting just to talk about how expensive it is. Fuck that. Before all the rumours, stories, citations, and evenings spent gloating over the eccentricities of a man few seem to know, he was just some dude at a piano. That’s it. But what he did on it changed people. It excited. It abhorred. It fucking moved. All the statues, conversations, acknowledgments, comparisons, debates, interviews, dialogues, and silly reviews, just like this one, all come from that place. That sacred area. Where a man touched keys, made sonic waves in this certain way, and evoked masses of people to feel. Everything else is kindling to that fire. All of it is speculation on just how that dude, some human, could perform such a trick and call upon gods and create magic. 

Love him or hate him, the Gould everyone knows doesn’t exist, he’s a fable—more mist than man. What’s actually left of him is just some recording of a young punk playing Bach like a motherfucker. And that’s all that really matters in the end. 

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