I did not attend my first concert of classical music until I was eighteen. The concert was in a small chapel high in the Swiss Alps, and there were so many people packed in under that roof it felt claustrophobic, but at least I had a bench to sit on – I suppose you’d call it a pew. After about fifteen minutes of listening to the music I fell asleep. I wasn’t bored, I was relaxed, and, I suppose, happy (I’ve never been able to figure out how happiness feels). When the concert was over I woke up and was embarrassed to have been sleeping. The audience was on its way out. Have you ever noticed how after a performance the floor is littered with programmes? An hour before, when the concert began, everyone wanted their programme, everyone held their programme with both hands and would not dream of letting it go, but afterwards people leave them on empty seats, where they slip quietly to the floor. That has always made me sad. And so on my way out I picked up one of the abandoned programmes from off the floor. Brahms’s Lullabies – that was the whole concert! Suddenly I felt that perhaps by falling asleep I was the only one who had truly heard the music! Of course I felt this to make myself feel better – feelings are strange that way. I slipped the programme into my bag as a memento of a lovely nap, and left the chapel. Outside it was cold and so starry that I stood there for a while looking up. Of that night, I remember the stars more than the music, but I remember while looking up at the stars I was thinking of the programmes scattered on the floor. I can’t say that Brahms is one of my favourite composers, but one artist I have always loved is Giacometti, the Swiss sculptor and painter; when I look at his work I can see the tension everyone talks about, yet his work has always made me extraordinarily calm, as Brahms did that evening, as if everything, stretched out in infinite silence and space, was part of this big drawing, his drawings were part of this big drawing, which was so big that to see the whole thing would put anyone to sleep – I mean you would lose consciousness. Giacometti, my lullaby. Henry Miller is another artist who can put you to sleep. I often fall asleep while reading him. When he uses that hard word cunt again and again, it finally becomes something soft, so very soft, which is startling because a cunt really is soft, it’s a warm, soft, wet-while-young place, a spot really, given the size of the universe, the way a star is a spot, but there are so many of them – I mean cunts – who can keep track? Henry Miller himself has pointed this out, and so Henry Miller becomes bored and disenchanted and excited at the same time, and that is an interesting thing; if you want to go to sleep but the lullaby excites you, what can you do, I mean really, what can you do? You can listen to Brahms, you can look at Giacometti, you can read Henry Miller, but each will tell you in his own way that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, but the stars looking down on you, even when you think you are looking up. How heavy-handed I feel just writing this, how heavy my hand feels, how heavy my eyes, my very hair is dragging me down, but it is a truth and if you sleep through a truth you will but wake at the bitter end.


 
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Helen Mort | Interview