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« Free Reads -- Barnes Foundation | Main | NEA Smackdown »

September 25, 2002

Glenn Gould

Friedrich --


Arts & Letters Daily, pointing out that the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould would have turned 70 today, includes a pinata of links to Gould sources and sites, here. Among the offerings, Robert Everett-Green's short appreciation in the Globe and Mail is a standout, here.

Have you ever gone through a Gould phase? It's hard not to become a Gould fiend once you catch the bug. He was intellectually brilliant (classical-music performers are usually about as intellectually keen as actors and painters are), was an entertaining and enlightening critic ("The Glenn Gould Reader" shows his brains and writing chops off well), and, according to people who know these things a zillion times better than I do, probably the greatest performer of contrapuntal keyboard music who ever lived. In his performing and his writing he was a real philosopher of music.

His two versions of "The Goldberg Variations" are legendary. Of his other recordings (the Wife is a longtime Gould nut and has been my guide here), I especially love his version of Bach's English Suites and his album of pieces by the Renaissance composers Byrd, Gibbons and Sweelinck.

The Canadian film "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould," written by Don McKellar, directed by Francois Girard and starring Colm Feore as Gould, is a fab intro to Gould (it stays very close to the facts), and an interesting film in its own right. It attempts to give a multi-perspecitival, nonlinear, musical account of Gould's life -- ie., Gould seen entirely in Gouldian terms.

Gould, by the way, died at 50, as complete a physical wreck as Elvis was at the end, and probably as drug-dependent (although Gould apparently used prescription drugs only).

Amazon has a good intro-to-Gould page, with many links to books, videos and recordings, here.

By coincidence, I happen this week to be leafing around "American Normal," a book about people with Asperger's Syndrome by Lawrence Osborne, which, despite its title, has a chapter devoted to Gould. (On sale here.) Did he or didn't he have Asperger's, which is often described (apparently semi-accurately) as a mild form of autism?

Gould was a beyond-quirky character, with more than a little of the idiot-savant about him. He dressed in wool even in summer, abandoned the concert life as soon as he was able to, subsisted largely on arrowroot biscuits, hummed while he played, and preferred to interact with people over the phone -- a behavior package apparently highly suggestive of Asperger's.

According to Osborne, the question has become a highly-charged one, with some Gouldians and members of the Asperger's community saying "no question," and many other fans (and even some Asperger types) saying "no way."

In one passage, a Gould scholar named Dr. Tim Maloney, who is convinced that Gould indeed had Asperger's, says to Osborne:

He was on his own planet. No one else really mattered to him. He was alone. He loved being alone. According to him, and he said it countless times, the artist had to be alone...And on Manitoulin Island, you know, he used to sit on rocks for hours and sing to cows.



posted by Michael at September 25, 2002


One should check the Amazon link to "American Normal" again. It has information from one of the autistic people interviewed for the book. He says that the author distorted everything he and his friends were trying to say, which casts doubt on the reliability of the rest of the book.

Posted by: amb on October 20, 2002 10:01 PM

If you go to the Amazon link you'll see that the auhtor denies any distortions in American Normal and another reviewer points out that Asperger people are often literal and pedantic - ie obsessional about irreelevant details. The book seems reliable to me.

Posted by: Jason Mack on November 3, 2002 12:23 PM

Jason -

I'd be willing to bet that you've never had any damaging-but-false information about you published in a book. How could you, or any other reader, know that I do NOT have a job in the library system, for example? This isn't nitpicking - I've been on long-term disability for eight years, yet this book falsely says I have a job, which makes me look like I'm engaged in disability fraud.

There was no fact-checking, at least in the part involving me, my wife, and our friends. We never had a chance to see what was written about us until the book was already printed. We're in the middle of this huge hassle with the publisher about getting the many factual errors corrected.

Because "the book seems reliable" to you, that does not make it accurate...

Posted by: Dave Spicer on November 16, 2002 8:01 PM

Dear Dave

I think you're exaggerating a bit. Osborne doesn't say or imply that you're engaged in disability fraud! He doesn't make a big deal about you "having a job." ( Reading it, I actually assumed you didn't...) You don't make any fact-orientated arguments or statements which could be miscontrued, and in any case it doesn't affect the overall argument of the book. I can't see what you're so upset about. People don't care about trivial details. After all, people are always unhappy about their interviews because they inevitably see themselves differently from how a writer will see them. I thought you came over quite sympathetic in his chapter. But going on and on about it makes you seem less sympathetic...even though Osborne depicts you as a basically nice guy. That's just my personal impression, take it or leave it.


Posted by: Jason on November 16, 2002 8:55 PM

Jason -

I just ran across your reply.

My point in complaining about the inaccuracies in Osborne's book is that, since there are so many of them, the credibility of the entire book has to be called into question. And if you feel I'm exaggerating the significance of all this, look at the "gotcha" Osborne put at the top of page 171, where he misquotes me and then makes his righteous-sounding reply - not to me at the time, when his misunderstanding could have been cleared up, but to the readers of the book where his version of what I said cannot be challenged. Perhaps such matters are "trivial details" to you. They aren't to me.

Osborne and I covered a lot of ground in his interview, and he was exposed to a lot more information at the training session he attended near Asheville. He chose not to record what he heard, instead taking notes and reconstructing statements and conversations afterward. This technique didn't work very well to preserve the accuracy of what he was told.

If saying all this makes me look "less sympathetic" to you, then so be it, but at least take a look at
and decide based on that. Deal?

Posted by: Dave Spicer on December 2, 2002 1:54 PM

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