One of the richnesses of my life and collections is my audio collection of great books, readers, and writers. Nightly, I have my pick of ‘who I go off to sleep to’–their voices (more on that in future writing) echoing soothily or provocatively in my ears.
Beside my bed, I have a cassette player (many of these performances are out-of-print and scarce or rare) and a CD player. Last night it was Newman’s voice which, for the second evening in a row, has read to me from the rareish Mr. and Mrs. Bridge recording (with his wife, actress Joanne Woodward).
Presence is such a funny thing. Best experienced, live and in person. I never had that pleasure with Newman, but suddenly at 11 pm last night, there he was! Preserved and as alive and memorable as ever in a role quite different from Hud or Butch Cassidy (he had a wicked sense of humor by the way). Paul and his voice–a key, essential part of who he was–as captured in 1990 AD. Paul dead since 2008 and yet still delightfully, accessibly there five years later for me, personally and intimately. One of those occasional epiphanies that evokes the response of “Can it get any better than this?”
I regard all of my audio recordings (including rare readings on LP by the likes of John Steinbeck, Evelyn Waugh, Bertrand Russell, and Hurd Hatfield) as precious unique artifacts that never cease to amaze, delight, and enthrall. Much of my scarce video collection used to work much the same way, but, of late, life, purpose, and meaning has come down to presences for me, and the experience of presences.
The human voice, whether spoken or printed (the latter which of me which you can read throughout this blog), is the most intimate artifact of all, apart from/in addition to touch and touches of a personal intimate nature. What people truly long for or miss, as the key imprint of presence (along with face).
And so it is I miss Newman, the person and presence he once was. But, luckily and haply, I can remember and retrieve some of that in the darkness and quiet of evening or night as I discover the world of Evan S. Connell’s novel and world, along with the sensibility, tones, and presence of one of the great actors of all time.
ps/ Re. the subject of voice, that is why I have enjoyed and amassed quite the collection of interesting signed books, with oddities ranging from Stephen’s Frye’s autograph in the Wilde screenplay to Woodward and Bernstein’s autographs in All the President’s Men to Newman’s signature in his cookbook, to rare signatures by the likes of Peter Ustinov, Siskel & Ebert, Simon & Garfunkle, Charles Schulz, Sidney Poitier, Michael Caine, Arthur Miller, Somerset Maugham, W.H. Auden, Thor Heyerdahl, Graham Greene, Donovan, Dave Brubeck, Kenneth Branagh, Joan Baez, Robert Altman, Archibald Lampman, Ian & Sylvia, Robert Service, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Gabrielle Roy, Sinclair Ross, Lawren Harris, Mordecai Richler, A.Y. Jackson, Margaret Laurence, Stephen Leacock, Gordon Lightfoot, Marshall McLuhan, Norman McLaren, Grey Owl, Northrop Frye, Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, Bertram Brooker, Laura and Aldous Huxley, Jonathan Winters, Tennessee Williams, Martin Scorcese, Eugene O’Neill, on and on….
I see and feel their presences and have contact with something they once experienced whenever I open any of hundreds of signed I am fortunate to own. Experience, in a similar way, their voices. Voices and imprints of people and geniuses I have admired, enjoyed, and, to some extent in various ways, emulated. their characters, their values, their art and wisdom.
T.S Eliot spoke of the importance of building on the past work of poets. Matthew Arnold and Northrop Frye spoke of the influence, likewise, of past literature, geniuses, and culture. My own interest in the above speaks of my own sensibility, largeness and depths. The various voices and imprints of the great past that reflect my own deepest values, beliefs, attitudes, meanings, and purposes, reflected in my own rich daily life.