I’m absolutely fucking devastated to discover that Robert Ashley, perhaps the most profoundly influential composer and storyteller in my life, has passed away. It’s funny, but though Ashley was in his early 80s at the time of his passing, he was a figure I’d never expected to ever actually leave the physical plane: his voice, so unassuming in its surface banality, yet so hypnotic with its subtle emphasis on the wrong syllables and pauses in an ordinary turn of phrase, was one of the only to actively and effectively alter the concepts of what the English language should and could sound like, and felt more like an omnipotent and candid internal conscience than a mere mortal’s utterance. He was arguably the first composer to tackle the unenviable task of creating a form of opera that was suitable for the contemporary American English vernacular, and the results are delightfully alien, yet so comforting. I don’t think that his work has really yet been given the proper due that it truly deserves in this lifetime; here’s hoping that with his unfortunate passing, that will finally change.
I’m reminded of the opening from one of my favorite Ashley pieces, “Tap Dancing In The Sand:”
Sitting here, thinking about life, in all its forms its, one of those days so, far, where nothing fits… Breakfast at, the Holiday Inn Hotel, where I live, ordinarily, especially, where I live in, other places. I look forward to breakfast: six cups of tea plain, three pieces of toasted bread, margarine, honey and, time to think about myself, the coordination of, body and mind that I can do, in a simple form. I don’t, take the tea to the table, I pour myself a, cup of tea, in one place, and carry the cup to the, table where I sit, to drink it. Then I go back for, another cup and, so forth. Six trips more of less. Six cups of tea and, three pieces of toast. I like, the getting up and, down part. It’s a kind of, exercise, of something or other: 1.) Freedom Of Choice, 2.) Freedom Of Movement. I’ve been in, too many, places in my life, where it was all at, the table, and it all was, a kind of discipline, upon me, that especially in the morning, I don’t like. Its too social, or whatever that word is. Let’s call this little song “Tap Dancing In The Sand…” […] According to Cicero, whoever he is, “only people with, a powerful memory, know what they intend, to say, and for how long, they are going, to speak, and in what style and, what points they have, already answered, and what still remains.” We are in the presence of, amazing powers of memory.
Rest In Peace, Robert Ashley. You remain one of America’s most beautiful and gifted storytellers and composers. Your work has made me laugh, cry, and create; your voice has long been one of the few balms able to soothe my most restless, sleepless twilights. You remain without equal. “Sitting here, thinking about life, in all it’s forms it’s, one of those days so, far, where nothing fits.”
Laying in my loft bed, slightly drunk, listening to Joe Frank tell me stories in the darkness. This is good. PS: I’m naked.