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Post details: Imagine and Tonic

Imagine and Tonic

Stretching the rules is the essence of beauty. The trick is not to abandon them completely.

No one understands this better than a patron of a blues alley. Jazz may be anchored in classical tonality, but as it sluices past chromatic horizons, it restlessly forays into different keys and scales. After all, there is only so much beauty that can be evoked within the confines of a single key. A good pianist may take an innocent phrase in say G major and spike it with an E-flat major 7th chord on a whim. Sure, that chord has no business in the G major key, even Johann Sebastian Bach couldn't come up with a solid justification, but if you stick it there anyway, the sky will suddenly swing its color. The notes will tickle your ears and their echos will jive on the trail winding along the crest of the Zingy Mountains, that eternal continental divide between the lively and the boring. Such is the power of a little twist. It is a preview of a different state of mind, sometimes a vista into the harmonic future. Just make sure you won't pack too many zingers into your compositions - since they might tear down your delicately balanced musical structure and deluge its vacated church with an ear-splitting cacophony of lawlessness.

What harmony is to music, grammar is to literature. I think that the best writing thrives in disputed regions where the Great Empire of Propriety gets regularly challenged by invasions of linguistic Vandals and Visigoths. The only difference is that they pelt the ramparts of established structures with gobs of slang instead of diminished chords. But the end result is the same - an army of words rushes through the breach and a free joy ride on a lexical roller coaster ensues. That is why I like novels by Carl Hiaasen or Rolling Stone articles of Matt Taibbi. Their verbal imagination canters effortlessly like a black mustang and if you tag along, sitting comfortably on its bucking back like a curious fly, your mind may discover ravines and promontories you never knew existed - all rendered in vivid colors and served at a breathtaking tempo. If it wasn't for the literary cowboys, we'd all be reading moldy sentences strained together by meticulous monks from the times of Good Ol' King James.

Human behavior has its grammar too. It is called politeness. And I would not recommend completely abandoning it either. Without it, uncontrollable hordes of loutish sociopaths would rule the Earth, littering our concert halls with their loud and off-key burping. But just like any other set of rules, etiquette is amenable to creative bending. An occasional misdemeanor can be quite charming. I love people who can skewer a manzanilla olive with their steak knife in the middle of a formal dinner and transport it non-chalantly into their oral cavity, right in front of the rolling eyes of gasping schoolmarms. They are the 7th chords of the social order, the trailblazers who will hop over the fence without hesitation and cut straight across a meadow if need be. To them we owe our diamonds - for on this planet, the precious stones are rarely found alongside the well marked trade routes. They are usually hidden out there, in the wild land of chance and the rule breakers can lead us to them.

Many, many summers ago, an officer of the British East India Company sat idly in a shaded corner of a local watering hole and pondered the vagaries of the British Empire. A glass of gin in one hand and a glass of tonic in the other, he stared blankly at his choices. And although his Mamma was telling him time and time again that nice boys do not mix their drinks, something inside him snapped. The elbow of Lady Fortuna nudged him gently in the ribs. With a sudden blast of resolution, he emptied the contents of his gin glass into the tonic and kicked the resulting potion down his parched throat. And blimey and crikey - did he like it. And so did generations and generations after him.

So here is to all those who tirelessly stretch the rules we live by and in the process put sparkling bubbles in our daily drinx.


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