“Things fall apart.”
So begins the New York Times review of the Guggenheim’s Ad Reinhardt exhibit. It’s about art preservation, about “the moment when it becomes clear to the eye that a thing of beauty, while always a joy, will not last forever, at least in its original form.” It gets a bit academic, but the central questions are interesting. How do you arrest gravity? How do you freeze time?
Part of the pleasure of walking through a museum is the knowledge that a favorite painting will be there, right in that same place, year after year. In "The Catcher in the Rye," Holden Caulfield talked about visiting the Museum of Natural History and how that Eskimo was always there in that display case, sitting by the hole in the ice, having just caught his fish. Holden himself is different every time, for better or worse, but the Eskimo never changes.
Perhaps with the same longing Holden expressed, Ad Reinhardt made himself available to repair the surface of his fragile paintings, or even make new ones as substitutes. The exhibit focuses on one black painting that received extensive reworking, and then extensive poking and prodding by preservationists. But instead of working against gravity and time, maybe it's better to let go. That’s what I like about balancing rocks. It’s an odd little hobby, not initially inspired but greatly encouraged by the work of Andy Goldsworthy. Here's one I made last weekend at Linear Park.
You stack rocks on top of each other, finding just the right ones to make it look as impossible as possible, then you step back. It might last two minutes or two hours or two months. I’ve had some last the better part of a year, through the wind and rain and sleet. Then one day you look out in the backyard and they’re gone.
So what does any of this have to do with music? Well, the 8/6 and 8/9 edition of Mystery Train opens with a couple songs on the theme of falling apart, including Bettye Lavette’s version of the Willie Nelson tune “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces.” Here's the second verse...
Well, I sure thought I had it, but Lord, it looks like it had me
Cause the thing I thought was heaven was just falling debris
I may not be crazy but I sure got a hell of a start
Somebody come here and pick up my pieces
I think I'm fallin' apart
Patricia Barber follows with “Pieces,” which is more literal...
There’s a piece on the chair
A piece in the hall
A nice piece of me stuck to the wall
Divide and conquer
The jigsaw in you
Has left me asunder
all over the room
But, hey, at least that Eskimo is still sitting there.