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“Is it not strange that sheep’s guts could hail souls out of men’s bodies?”

—Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

“The purpose of art is to shine light into the depths of the human heart.”

—Robert Schumann

Ellis Moonsong: Are your eyes misting over?

Melinda: This song, it’s meaningful to me. It was playing the night I met someone.

Ellis Moonsong: So are they tears of sorrow or tears of Joy?

Melinda: Well, aren’t those the same tears?

—Woody Allen: Melinda and Melinda

Tears of Sorrow Tears of Joy: Minor Mode and the Movies

A smile forms on my face without my willing it. Shivers run through my body. Tears of sorrow and of joy well up and flow down my face. A delirious ecstasy fills me.

These are the telltale signs that I have been taken to a land where there is nothing but courage and heart. Taken home. Taken to the third way. (1)

The cause of this is always a person who acts with those very qualities of courage and heart—in real life or in a movie or a novel or a poem.

Or it can be a piece of music that expresses these same sentiments.

But this music must be in the minor mode. It cannot be in major.

This is because minor responds with courage and heart in the face of the mysterious and tragic nature of life.

Courage and heart are missing from major because major by its nature is an evasion of life’s difficulties. It takes you to a land of warm breezes and cotton candy. It is running away from life itself and is a living death.

Major and minor are not friendly allies that happily complement each other. They are enemies.

It is amazing that changing a progression or chord by half a note immediately changes our course 180 degrees. Major and minor are two completely different lands—two completely different ways of experiencing life.

You can get a taste of this by these two versions of Silent Night.

Silent Night in major

Silent Night in minor

Minor can be misused by those who see the tragic nature of life but then simply wallow in it and get stuck saying “Isn’t life sad” and “Isn’t it awful that . . . .” They give us pathetic sad music with no courage and no heart. This misuse of minor is truly a dead end. At least those in major are having a good time.

Once again there are three ways:

1    major mode: pleasant escape—the first way (1)

2    minor mode that wallows in life’s problems—the second way of pathological rebellion (1)

3    minor that faces tragedy and death with courage and love: the third way (1)

Bob Dylan’s All along the Watchtower states the problem perfectly and offers—in minor of course—the third way as the solution:

There must be some way out of here said the joker to the thief
There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth

No reason to get excited, the thief he kindly spoke
There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I we’ve been through that and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants too
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl

For someone with sensitivity and intelligence the first way is like going through life asleep. But at the same time Dylan with great kindness cautions us not to waste our precious time here on earth in the false hopelessness of the second way: “But you and I we’ve been through that and this is not our fate so let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

Since the second way is a cul de sac, for the rest of this article I will use the word minor to mean minor of the third way: responding to life’s difficulties with courage and heart.

Minor embraces all of life boldly. We stand on a cliff in a gale and say: death do your worst. And death has no choice but to exit for the day.

And so true minor instead of being sad is ecstatic.

Minor is courage. Major is running away. Minor is heroic. Major is bluff and fakery and triumphalism.

Major is playing it safe. Hiding out. It is death by sunshine.

Minor says goodness is real and worth fighting for. Innocence is worth protecting. Everything matters. Everything is life and death.

Minor opens the heart and is filled with love. Major puts the heart to sleep.

Minor is moving and intense. Major is shallow and bland.

Minor is true happiness because it is living a real life.

T. S. Eliot said: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” Major is a vehicle for escaping from reality. It takes you to a phony place with only the illusion of happiness.

Major is torture. It is a mockery, less than ersatz, a fantasy land, a life lived vicariously, an abdication, an assault upon reality itself.

Life in major is no longer a mystery. It becomes trivial. A joke. A deus ex machina. A false salvation.

In A Clear and Present Danger (1994) the President’s best friend has just been found to be involved with the Colombian drug cartels and the President’s advisors are suggesting he distance himself from his old friend. But Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) gives a different counsel:

Jack Ryan: I would go in the other direction. If a reporter asked if you and Hardin were friends, I’d say, “No. We’re good friends.” If they asked if you were good friends, I’d say, “No. No, we’re lifelong friends.” I would give them no place to go, um, nothing to report, no story. I mean there’s no point defusing a bomb after it’s already gone off.

Major tries to distance us from suffering and death. But the bomb has already gone off. Minor is like Jack Ryan: head straight into danger and up the ante. Give death no place to go. Let death jump off the cliff. We stay standing tall on the cliff facing the gale.

A. E. Housman makes the same point in his moving poem Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries:

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

Geoffrey Burgon put this poem to music for The Dogs of War (1980) and Gillian McPherson sings it beautifully:

Every day is a day when the sky is falling. Every day we can hide from life in major. Or we can be fully alive in minor.

Major is fairy tales. A cover-up. A lie. Minor is beautiful tragic ecstatic love-filled reality.

As Kabir says:

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think… and think… while you are alive.
What you call “salvation” belongs to the time before death.

If you do not break your ropes while you’re alive
do you think
that ghosts will do it after?

The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten —
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.

If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire.

So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is, Believe in the Great Sound!

Kabir says this: When the guest is being searched for, it is the intensity of the longing for the guest that does all the work.

Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity. (2)

Minor is Edmond Dantes.

In The Count of Monte Cristo (1998), Edmond Dantes (Gerard Depardieu), unjustly imprisoned in the Chateau d’If for 18 years, escapes. Impersonating a priest he rides on horseback to a small chapel on a hilltop, breaks down the door, and enters:

Dantes: I’m not a traitor to man or God so I’m warning You. You didn’t see fit to exercise divine justice, so I’ll do it my way. I shall be ruthless and devastating

Exiting the chapel he encounters Brother Barnabé:

Barabé: I’m Brother Barnabé of the order of Saint Francis. I live a hermit’s life in the hills and this chapel is my oratory. I’m surprised that a priest with such a fine horse should stop in such a wretched place to seek God.

Dantes: I don’t seek God. I came to warn Him I’m taking His place.

Barnabé crosses himself. Dantes takes coins from his pocket and lets them fall to the ground.

Dantes: For repairs to your door. Pray for me.

The music of Bruno Coulais and the words of Edmond Dantes are one. And they are in minor. They have to be in minor.

Minor is Orpheus descending and Orpheus rising and Orpheus bringing Euridice all the way back to life this time and not losing her.

Minor is the glide path guiding the airplane of our souls to the land of courage and heart—without which life on this planet would be meaningless and despairing.

Of course a case could be made that music is subjective. This is true in the sense that no one can deny another person his or her loves and hates in music. But let us not let this truism distract us from seeing a more important truth: that each piece of music takes us somewhere with an objective reality. I am focusing on one very particular place—the land of courage and heart. Musically you can get there only in minor.

In the past fifty years the classical tradition has given us Samuel Barber, John Cage, Igor Stravinsky, Carl Orff, Aaron Copland, Dimitri Shostakovich, Olivier Messiaen, Allan Pettersson, Benjamin Britten, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, Harry Partch, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Stephen Sondheim, Philip Glass, Nadia Boulanger, Leonard Bernstein, Luciano Berio, Witold Lutoslawski, George Crumb, William Schuman, and Henryk Górecki.

It might be thought that great music can only come from this classical tradition—that this is the serious important music—and that pop music is less worthy and that music composed for movies should be dismissed as selling out and going commercial.

But this would be a huge mistake!

The only important thing is this: does the music take you to the third way?

Just as there can be stupid deadly pretentious art films and brilliant moving popular entertainments, just so there can be stupid deadly pretentious classical music and magnificent pop music and movie music.

Of course most music for the movies is a bad joke—formulaic and manipulative. It is just added on as if without it we would not know what to feel. It is stupid and heavy-handed and is barely music at all.

But some of the greatest music of the past fifty years has been composed for movies.

And in fact music composed for movies is easily the best way to enter the third way musically.

There are several reasons for this.

First: great movies must perforce have a great script and a great director. This means that the composer is entering an already enchanted land. A very gifted and sensitive composer can enter that world, soak it up, and return with music that is exactly the same in depth and feeling as the screenplay and the director’s vision. The music is not added on. The music is the film. The film is the music.

Great movies are always of the third way: they go beyond the pleasant escapes of the first way and completely bypass the descent into hell of the second way of pathological rebellion. They are in minor mode and are by definition filled with courage and heart. So music by great composers writing for great movies creates this same sentiment and tells the same tale.

Second: the composer has a very specific assignment. He must understand the overall sensibility of the film and he also must write music for each individual scene. These constraints give him focus and I believe actually stimulate his creativity.

Third: Movies are a business. This requires lots of money. This tough environment produces some of the greatest music ever written. But it is not in spite of the money but because of it: lots of money means the producers can spend what it takes to get the best talent for any given project.

There. I have made my case for minor and for music composed for movies. Now I will let the music speak for itself. Perhaps it will speak to you.

I give you what I consider some of the greatest music ever written.

Perhaps you will respond as I do: you smile in unexpected happiness, you get shivers all through your body, tears of sorrow and of joy well up and flow down your face, you feel ecstatic. You have entered the third way.

Perhaps you discover—to your astonishment—that you already live in that land. Then this will simply affirm you and make you realize you are already home.

Or perhaps you find the land of minor mode is a wonderful place to visit.

Either way I hope I have added to your happiness.

Well here goes:

Giovanni Fusco: L’Avventura

Nino Rota: 8 1/2

Giorgio Gaslini: La Notte

Nino Rota: Godfather 2

Gabriel Yared: The Talented Mr. Ripley

Paul Misraki: Le Doulos

Basil Poledouris: The Hunt for Red October

John Barry: Body Heat

Bruno Coulais: Le Comte de Monte Cristo

Ennio Morricone: The Sicilian Clan

Ennio Morricone: Prima della Rivoluzione :38 to 1:47

Hans Zimmer: Black Rain

Georges Delerue: Vivement Dimanche (also used in 2046)

Jerry Goldsmith: The Last Run

Gabriel Yared: The English Patient

Carter Burwell: The Jackal

Shigeru Umebayashi: 2046

David Shire: The Conversation

Ennio Morricone: A Pure Formality

Michael Small: Night Moves

Maurice Jarre: Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray

Piero Piccione: Cristo si è Fermato a Eboli

John Barry: The Specialist 2:51 to 3:53

Piero Piccione: Cristo si è Fermato a Eboli (Maara Ca Pittia Caco Luppina)

Geoffrey Burgon: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Michel Colombier: Un Flic

Life is always a shipwreck in the making. The sky is always falling. The great movie music in the minor mode neither runs from this nor wallows in it. Instead it says: life is dangerous and tragic but we will plunge in bravely and—with love in our hearts—fight the good fight.

Paul Epworth and Adele were asked to create the title song for Skyfall (2012), a big-budget James Bond movie. They gave us a beautiful piece of music. It is in minor. The words and the music are one.

Yes: tears of sorrow and tears of joy are the same tears.

This is the end
Hold your breath and count to ten
Feel the earth move and then
Hear my heart burst again

For this is the end
I’ve drowned and dreamt this moment
So overdue I owe them
Swept away, I’m stolen

Let the sky fall,
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together

Let the sky fall,
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together
At Skyfall
At Skyfall

Skyfall is where we start
A thousand miles and poles apart
Where worlds collide and days are dark
You may have my number
You can take my name
But you’ll never have my heart

Let the sky fall
(Let the sky fall),
When it crumbles
(When it crumbles)
We will stand tall
(We will stand tall)
Face it all together

Let the sky fall
(Let the sky fall),
When it crumbles
(When it crumbles)
We will stand tall
(We will stand tall)
Face it all together
At Skyfall

(Let The Skyfall)
(When it crumbles)
(We will stand tall)
(Let The Skyfall)
(When it crumbles)
(We will stand tall)

Where you go I go
What you see I see
I know I’d never be me
Without the Security of your loving arms
Keeping me from harm
Put your hand in my hand
And we’ll stand

Let the sky fall
(Let the sky fall),
When it crumbles
(When it crumbles)
We will stand tall
(We will stand tall)
Face it all together

(1) see The Secret Life of Films

(2) from The Kabir Book: Forty-Four of the Ecstatic Poems of Kabir translated by Robert Bly

©   Richard Hobby

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