Saturday, June 7, 2014

Elodie Lauten 1950-2014

Here are some scattered impressions of mine on someone I deeply respected and admired. 

A European life led in America. An experimental  electronic composer who loves baroque and whose work’s finest singers otherwise sing Handel and Purcell. An East Village radical who is classicist in her music's feeling and deeply polite and mannered in the conduct of daily life.

Someone who could look at the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, a gay, Jewish Bohemian of the Left and see not just the humanity but the classicism in it, Someone who could see Ginsberg’s late work, often unheralded and unappreciated, as exemplary in depicting a daily life, a humble life despite his fame, that was in fierce touch with the spiritual, that affirmed the transcendent in every waking hour.

Given that she was avant-garde, she was traditional and classicist, but she had to be avant-garde first and continue to maintain that allegiance to the avant-garde, If she had just said, I am traditional now, I am classicist now, after being avant-garde it would have been something different. Even if the sound was melodic and lyrical, the route she took to it was rigorous and mathematical. And as Willa Cather famously said "The end is nothing, the road is all"...

She had the devotion of friends, neighbors, and performers who all invested their time and energy for one performance of one work, Waking In New York, on Sunday, June 1. She almost died three months before it, recovered to start putting it together then back in the hospital with a terminal diagnosis, gave orders that no one in the evidence was to know, so their response to the work would be pure. And it was. Many  in the audience, other than her friends, did not know  Elodie as a composer, in some cases did not even know Ginsberg as the writer of the poems. They responded to the affirmation of where they were, the mention of the post office where everybody squabbles and Christine’s Polish restaurant and the local churches and sounds and street life, knowing that for a brief time it had been rendered transcendent.....

Yet happily Elodie even in her last days was aware of the performance of the opera, of its great success, and of how so many people had combined their talents to make it happen. 

The opera was called "Waking in New York" band this could mean both, waking up, seeing the day and a wake as in after a funeral. Ginsberg woke in both senses. Now Elodie has as well.  Her opera made me think, why did Ginsberg live in the East Village. When he wrote Howl, the neighborhood, not even named that yet, would have bee an unexciting place, full of Ukrainian and German immigrants, more like the Greenpoint of twenty years ago than the West Village with its cafe culture and tradtion of great bohemian poets. Like Elodie, Ginsberg moved here in a sense as he did not want to be famous, even as their art produced work which on its own terms called for recognition and honor.