When the night is so still

Wenn die Nacht am stillsten ist von Arezu Weitholz
Wenn die Nacht am stillsten ist

By Arezu Weitholz

The night (2001)

In the end it is all about the moment. How the moonlight falls through the blinds onto the parquet floor. How a car passes by. How quiet it is again. You breathe. I sit by your bed. I wear the color, that you like on me so much, a middle grey anthracite.

I could play some music, I could leave. Put on my coat, go out, back home and not think about you for a few hours, fall asleep and call tomorrow to see if you made it. Even right now, it is one call  – please, tell me, and I will call an ambulance. But we never talked about things like this, didn’t we? Emergencies did not happen in your world.

The lines of the light look like empty sheets of music. The fridge is humming in the kitchen. There is a picture of Arvo Pärt hanging over your bed. In his music it often is as quiet and orderly as it is here. Once, I saw you in the living room, sliding around on a cleaning-cloth, because you didn’t want to dirty the freshly cleaned floor again. You looked cute, like a clumsy duck. And I had to think of mum. I never told you about her. She had knobbly skin on her knees from polishing the marble floors in our house. You could see them through her nylons. I could have told you about the Haldol patients, dragging their feet through messy lounges, in which the tv was always on. I could have told you about the neon light. About the dust on the books and the violets in the garden in front of the clinic. About mum’s empty face. About her floral nightgown. She was tied to the bed with thick grey slings. For you, a mental hospital is out of the question. You would never forgive me. You would go mad.

Mum couldn’t bear the thing with dad, and I never told you about dad, because you were always so upset, when something wasn’t perfect, happy, joyous or light.

Your forehead glistens, you hand is clammy. I am counting the beats under your skin. One, two, three. Unfortunately I do not know, how to measure the pulse.

I get scared, when somebody feels something, you said. But they were always here, feelings. Just like stray dogs, they ran after us, but you said: One has to be factual, otherwise one is like an animal. You looked sad, when you told me about your liberation strikes, that’s how you call them, meaning, that you say something really mean to another person. To hell with your intelligence, damn your Heraklid! War is the father of all things?

You lie here and breathe. Is that supposed to be fighting? In your world, people fight for recognition, for positions, for power. Your weapons are your brain and the weakness of others. That is not fighting, that is Kindergarten. Fighting is something different. It is something quiet.

There is a woman, suffering from depression for years. Every morning, when she gets up, she feels a weight, that one cannot measure, because it is invisible. Every waking moment, she tries to not think of something, because it cannot be thought. She lives with bones that hurt and a thick fog, that rests itself over her thoughts. Most of the time she is alone. She is waiting. For something to change, for something to happen, maybe even for herself to die, but she is not killing herself. She stays alive, even though life doesn’t mean anything to her anymore. Do you suffer from depressions like this? Do you even know, how difficult it is, when you really have to fight? Against everything? For nothing?

For you, everything was okay this morning. You got dressed, the sun was shining, we had breakfast. Your brain must have thought and concluded and then you informed me: “Over.” You were friendly. I even got the impression, it put you in a good mood, this “over”.  And then? How did your day continue? Did your shitty Heraklid lead you into the bed you’re lying in now? Why? Is there a war raging inside you, only I do not get it, because I do not have the insight or I did not read a certain book or I did not understand it correctly? Because I did not understand you correctly? Because I am not factual? But it’s you, who isn’t himself at the moment. Almost unconscious. Barely there. Tell me: What is a person, that is barely there? Finished? Bored? Or is this meant to be ironic? A paramedic would be the most factual thing that could happen to you. He would measure your pulse, perform a gastric suction, set up an IV, and if you are unlucky, he would commit you to the next mental ward. B follows A, and C follows B. Did you not think this through? Or were you just curious and wanted to know how it feels, letting go?
Boy, Daniel. You always wanted to avoid it, this moment of maximum weakness, and now it is here. If you could see yourself. How fragile you are, and how beautiful. Your book towers are watching over you. There’s a dog barking outside. And you? You breathe.  

Everything must be grand because we are small, that’s what you said, and then we listened to your music. Your pop music, about which you never tire to talk big words. Words that people read and do not understand, but think, how clever you must be. But salvation is no endless loop in a techno song. Can’t you hear what that really is? Broken chords!

Have you ever been on a rave, and I am not talking about the VIP lounge, where your friends with their correct sneakers hang. I am talking about a party, where at 4 in the morning you notice, that you have been dancing in the mud all the time. That you haven’t looked at your watch for ages. That you look like somebody who has forgotten, how he looks. A rave, where you see the sun rise, without sunglasses. You don’t dance. You stand by the dancefloor, crossed arms, and every now and then you nod approvingly.

No, music doesn’t have to be zechno, that’s not what I am saying. But I say: an orchestra can let the same sun rise in your mind, or a man, who is singing on the street. But that’s too banal or cheesy or stupid, right? You attend parties, because you are invited. Visit concerts, because somebody got you on the guest list. You never go anywhere, where it’s not special or exclusive. You leave out everything that you cannot talk about afterwards. On good days, reality is like a chapter from a novel, that you are writing. All in your hand: the protagonists, the places, what people say, what they think, and most importantly, what all of this means. A catastrophe is a question of narrative, and a happy ending is something for idiots.
In the evenings you silently sit in restaurants and despise people, who want to talk to you – your outfit makes the statement, and whoever doesn’t get it, their loss. Where are they now, your stylish shoes, your shirts? Is this the final chapter? I thought you hate drama? Didn’t you want to blow up all theatres and actors and directors? Even your idols can’t help you now. Your Foucault, your Deleuze, your Bernhard – the book towers remain silent. Nobody writes, no one thinks, only your heart is beating. And I am an ungrateful audience. Can you hear me at all?

You feel sick, when you listen to a love song by the Stones. And when somebody tells you about Brian Jones, about the drugs and their Rock and Roll Circus, you run to the toilet and throw up. You are deaf on purpose. You let something out, but not much in. But you need more that a morse sign for your pop discourse. You need people in-the-know, you need buddies and outsiders, of course it has to be like this! Unthinkable, if everybody could partake. No, we are not like those hippies, disgustingly nice and soft and mild. But your methods follow the same rules as their blabla or the village gossip on the countryside. Just like farmer Tegtmeier or slaughter Becker tattle about their neighbours’ new car, you talk with your selected few about what Tracy Emin wore last night at Fischereihafen restaurant, or who has written what in the paper. People listen to you, recognize their solitude in your writing, even though they don’t always understand all those foreign words – just like everybody feels at home in those movies, in which people are lonely: clueless, speechless and always surrounded by stink, noise and urbanity.

And just like in every group, some individuals think they are more special than the others. Your circus has a pecking order, and you are on top, looking down on everybody else. The others are the infantry, stupid enough to work in record companies, in editorial offices, in television, in marketing, somewhere in those big idea-chopping-machines of the now. They keep the system running, but are only service staff, too stupid for a career in finance and to lazy to work as garbage collectors, that’s what you said, right? Most of them cannot hold a pencil, but want to work “in media”. They danced the Nineties away, round and around the pop-calf with the thousand stomachs and they earned a lot, changed nothing, just repeated. You said, they are the media precariat, people with a Ramones T-Shirt but without a pension plan – small minded townsmen. Why? I what way do you differ from them? Are you not a small service provider, by selling your essays to a newspaper? Are you a better person than the promoter, who is writing a fact sheet, only because you write about something that a small exclusive clientele savors so much? Is everything you do a form of protest? Against what? Or do you see yourself as an artist? Did you fake your articles because of that? But no, you do not fake. You remix, that’s big a difference. You call it “beat the story a bit”. Nobody will notice, and even if they do, you couldn’t care less, because that’s what lawyers are for. You would hide and be back in a year, in a better job with a higher salary. But now it has been noticed. And you haven’t been that indifferent, or I am missing the point, here.

I recall one night last autumn. We were walking along the river Elbe. You like always with your arms behind your back and I like always silently next to you. You asked whether I would die for something great. I have an answer now. No, I wouldn’t. I would live for it.

To die young. What for, anyway? Is that the final gesture? God, what a cliché.  And it is not great. It is a line from a song, that even Kurt didn’t get: “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”

Artists never died like their songs sounded. They died because of mishaps, of small things, of that old age, that you are afraid of so much. You know why so many of them have died in traffic accidents?  It wasn’t them driving recklessly just like James Dean. It’s a statistical matter. For a person who is travelling so much, who is on the road all the time, the probability of a car crash rises. Simple. Not great. What is great, anyway? Getting the very small stuff done, that’s hard enough. Manage that first! Just like Little Jimmy Scott, whom they rever so much at the moment, even Madonna speaks highly of him. He was famous at 15, and then he got pulled over the barrel by managers, he was forgotten, he became poor, and now he has been rediscovered, but not by everybody, only by Madonna and a few Jazz magazines. What does he do? Old and sick and underpaid he is singing in tiny clubs, that only get sold out, when a celebrity talks about him. But boy, how he sings. One could think, he never stopped shining. How can you, being 31, argue, that ageing with dignity is impossible. How can you say, ageing is failure?

I would have loved to show you my archive. I collected so much about popstars and their cause of death, and I am not talking about Elvis, Jimi Hendrix or Bon Scott, I mean all of them, especially the ones in the niches, especially those. I watched films, looked at pictures, examined their songs, I wanted to know: Can you hear death? Is it an invisible sound, a color in the voice, just like in Blues music? Something you cannot measure, but feel? Lorca called this duende. He said, duende is something, that isn’t here nor there, it lives in your nervous system, it is a premonition, some sort of demon. Posessing duende meant being christened with black water.

Little Jimmy Scott always sang like this. But why? How could a 13year old sound, as if he had died a hundred times? Everybody, who heard him back then at Atlantic records, thought, that there was an old, sad woman singing. Today he is an old man, his features are fine, his head is small, he is sick, and you would call him a loser.

Once, I lay next to a Jazz musician on the carpet. I had to lie there, because the man couldn’t stand nor sit, and he could speak only very softly. He was about 40 and only famous in his circles. You wouldn’t know him, he was never cool. The carpet was of a greyish blue, and next to our heads there were the legs of a dark wooden table. You could hear New York traffic from afar, sirens, constant humming. We talked about his music. I asked him, if he wanted to die. Why, he answered. Why not, I said. He began to cry.

Your story is a success story without tears. Isn’t it? What do I know about you? I know that you have a sister. That you grew up in a middleclass family with an intellectual background, your mum was a dancer, your father a professor. You were their first child. Clever, but alone. You inhabited your own world early on. Your parents are proud of you today, because you are earning so much money, and you think it’s no wonder they feel like that, because they are so very bourgeois and orderly, you always know what to expect on Christmas. What else? You love old watches, you love the Daytona, or was it the Explorer? Your favourite book is Father and Sons by Turgenev, your favourite movie is Stalker, but you always quote from Heat and Fight Club. When you cannot sleep at night, you clean windows, always beginning in the living room. Is that enough to describe you? No, smaller. The trifles have to be smaller. Much smaller. When eating a chicken, you eat the skin first, never the breast, that’s too boring. When you are nervous, your fingers wiggle. Is this you? Are you chicken skin and wiggly fingers?

You tried and tried to explain to me how to win, how to be strong. You said, never give way, never allow anyone to see your nakedness. And now you are lying here, only the blanket covers your body. If you would open your eyes, you could see me: But I don’t even know, if you listen to me.

Maybe you were right, when you said, that I have been a tragic figure from the beginning. Somebody who isn’t designed for greatness, who will always sit in second row.

My grandparents were farmers, I never told you that. No holiday. No central heating. A top hat, a golden necklace, and empty goat stable. We had tabloids, not newspapers at home. My grandfather was the only one in the village who could have attended grammar school. But first there was the war, and then it was too late. He became a smith, then an electrician. When I travelled to countries, that he only knew from books, he sat in our living room with his old globe and looked, where I was. He couldn’t know, that wherever I was, I still wanted to flee. Do you know, what that is like? Wanting to be elsewhere all the time?
Sitting alongside beautiful people in hip restaurants in New York, wishing yourself away, because you don’t belong there, just like you don’t belong in a university lecture hall, next to lots of lame students, or in a private club in London or in a loud rock-concert, where you might want to be, but have to leave again, because you have to rush to the hospital, because grandma is there, or to the asylum, because mum is there, and from there back to the village, because grandpa cries and doesn’t know how to go on. And then you work and mum gets out and you drive back to the hospital again and care for her, and for a while all is okay, and then the phone rings again, in the middle of an editorial-conference, and you have to drop everything and rush there, because she has the umpteenth nervous breakdown, and then you drive to another mental hospital, and you smoke too much, and you drive too fast and then you talk to doctors and sit by another bed and there are always these strings, these middle grey anthracite strings, with which they fix patients onto their beds. Every time, you told me, how well I look wearing that color, I had to think of them.

Foreign rights: (c) Arezu Weitholz, something@elvislebt.com