Knoxville: Summer Of 1915
This is the very recording I listened to several times a day and night during the last half of my senior year in high school. I don't remember how I stumbled across the piece or the recording, but no one, not even Dawn Upshaw, has been able to match it in exquisite tone, depth of feeling, and grace of intent and execution. This is the soundtrack for Act III of my life, coming this summer to a bean field near you.
Note: Unless the geniuses who uploaded the song have fixed it, they completely mangled the end of Part 1's transition into the strings' descent into Part 2, where it's almost as if the fiddles are the musical embodiment of falling leaves after a late Spring thunderstorm in Eastern Tennessee. Idiots. God is in the details, folks. Even on Youtube.
I can't really put into words what this music means to me, so I'll just let you listen and read along with the text if you want. I dare you to try to be unmoved by the end. Would that life were a movie, one we could write ourselves into.
It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently, and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens, hangars. People go by: things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt: a loud auto; a quiet auto; people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, paste-board, and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squared with clowns in hueless amber.
A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping: belling and starting, stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks: the iron whine rises on rising speed: still risen, faints: halts: the faint stinging bell: rises again, still fainter: fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten.
Now is the night one blue dew. Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose. Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes . . . Parents on porches: rock and rock. From damp strings morning glones hang their ancient faces. The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums.
On the rough wet grass of the backyard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there. They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine . . . with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth, and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening. among the sounds of the night.
May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble, and in the hour of their taking away.
After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.
-James Agee, from A Death In The Family