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Love one another and / or die

February 4, 2008

W.H. Auden, being English, became very embarrassed when people sang to him in private. By all accounts his embarrassment was particularly acute when a young Allen Ginsberg howled his rude musical settings of William Blake poems to the older poet.

Speaking of howls… Stevie Howell used to be several musicians in a band called The Gamines. Recently The Gamines seem to have continued to multiply, and become a loving army called The Heart Beats.

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Now, The Heart Beats realise that even though you can’t sing to Auden, you can simply sing him.  Today I invite you to go to The Heart Beats’ myspace page where the first sound you’ll hear is the exquisite introduction to Stevie’s setting of Auden’s poem “The More Loving One” (full text here. Correctly exquisite, because like most of The Gamines / The Heart Beats’ music that I’ve been lucky enough to hear, it’s lovey-rich and waifish-delicate all at once. And that surely the point at which a gamine is enlivened with a heart beat. The charming arrangement is lush without killing you. Or, it loves without loving you to death, which is of course the exact arrangement that the poem requires.

So, Auden. “We must love one another or die”, as he famously wrote in “September 1 1939”. Auden had two habits: the habit of presenting a big idea in a single line of poetry, and the habit of then regretting this idea, or its presentation. Perhaps that’s just another strain of embarrassment makings itself felt again. So Auden tried out a revised version of the poem that concluded “We must love one another and die”, but the implication of that line is so horrific that he simply lost faith in the poem.

(Here’s Auden during the Spirit Salon photoshoot):

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Given Auden’s habit of regret, it’s probably for the best that his most precious pieces be taken into care by loving others… which is where adapters like The Heart Beats go about their duties, performing adaptation-as-adoption. And that’s one of many things I could say in praise of The Heart Beats and their songs… I suspect they’ll retain something of the gamine in their personality, too, because what’s love without trouble? And like me they’re making a good amount of water-themed songs. If we have our way, music in 2008 will take place mostly underwater.

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