On Wednesday night I did a reading at Faust Harrison Pianos on West 58th Street in New York. Erica vanderLinde Feidner, a fine pianist who for years was Steinway’s top salesperson, was the primary force behind setting up this reading. She is friends with Michael and Marina Harrison, who very generously kept their store open past business hours for the event. It’s a lovely store, at once intimate and grand, with pianos everywhere. The pianos at Faust Harrison are scattered all over the showroom, but not in a way that feels in any way crowded or intimidating.
The chairs were set up on one side of the room, with a chair for the reader — i.e. me — directly in front of one of these gorgeous instruments.
The audience was small but intensely attentive. There was something very magical about the reading, too, because my Bloomsbury editor, Annik LaFarge, was there. It was a treat to read aloud from the book — our book — while being aware of her presence. The composer Raphael Mostel was also there, which made the evening special indeed.
After I rambled a bit, then read, I invited people to ask questions. It was singularly gratifying to know I could ask Annik and Raphael to join in with answers. When a question was asked about why I chose not to mention the now-popular notion that Gould had Asperger’s Syndrome, I was able to turn to Annik and ask her for her thoughts on why we chose to leave that out (the short answer: a posthumous diagnosis like that seems, at the very least, unfair to Gould). Similarly, when describing the scene in which, near the end of his life Gould defects to Yamaha, I could ask Raphael to fill in a few details, as he was the one who was there when it happened. Also, the pianist Carol Montparker was in the audience, and she livened up the discussion with her description of receiving one of Gould’s trademark late-night phone calls.
Last night’s reading at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble was mind boggling. There was a line snaking out the door — at least 250 people, maybe more. It was like a miniature rock concert, only more intense (once you get a bunch of book lovers in one small space, there’s no predicting what they’ll do). Once they got in the door, people were jostling each other for a better view of the author, and a half dozen panicked staff members at Barnes & Noble, fearing they would run out of books, were sending vans at the last minute out to other B&N branches to fetch more books. After I finished reading a few passages, the crowd stomped their feet and began the rhythmic clapping reminiscent of what happens in St. Petersburg when the audience is demanding an encore from the Kirov Ballet. They wanted more!
Wouldn’t that have been nice? Here’s what really happened: A small, familiar and familial group, composed mostly of my favorite colleagues — Denise Grady, Erica Goode, Kevin McKenna, Neil MacFarquhar, Steven Levy — scattered themselves around the room. I’d say there were about 30 people, if you count the very nice woman, Jennifer Stark, from Barnes & Noble, who was my host for the evening — and if you count the three eccentric and tattered elderly women carrying tattered shopping bags who planted themselves in the front row and insisted we turn up the microphones. “We’re almost deaf!” said one. The echo in the room, enhanced, unfortunately, by the microphones, was absorbed in part by the warmth coming from my friends in the audience, who seemed to be genuinely enjoying what I had to say.
At one point, two guys in nice suits showed up and sat in the back row. After about ten minutes, however, they left. Clearly, they had shown up by mistake. Or they might have been from Steinway. Or Yamaha. Who knows? The three women in the front interrupted occasionally with questions as they popped into their heads (why bother waiting!), and I stopped what I was saying to answer them.
The most lively part was the question and answer period. The three women in the front asked more questions, of course, all of them good. We covered a lot of ground, and everyone seemed very happy to have come. Afterwards, I signed a few books for my friends. Keith Pinter, a fellow camper from the Sonatas in Bennington, and a true inspiration for me, bought four. That was extremely nice.
The nicest capper to the evening was hearing that a review was coming out in this week’s Newsweek from Malcolm Jones, the magazine’s long-time critic. And The New York Observer has weighed in as well.
They are both raves, and I couldn’t be happier.
Gilles St-Laurent, the musician and conservator from the Library and Archives Canada (and a lovely Canadian in his own right) who helped so much with the book, came to the hotel this morning and together we set off for Quebec (just across the river, that is), to see the special Glenn Gould exhibit at the Museum of Civilization. A number of Gould’s personal effects are on exhibit there: his eyeglasses (eyeglasses, Gilles pointed out, seem so painfully personal); the famous black felt tip pens; marked-up scores; LP’s; various books on the topic of Gould; and films of him playing.
At first, Gilles and I were denied access to the exhibit because there was a special event happening in the general hall. But I took the book out of my bag and showed it to the guard, who, being a lovely Canadian, allowed us special access to the Gould exhibit. We had the entire thing to ourselves. Once we had made our way past the displays of shoes and jackets, grade school reports, scores covered with Gould’s scrawl, and dozens of random keys (many from hotels around the world), we came upon both CD 318 and the Chickering. The piano looks more war-torn than ever. The lid and case have been scraped and scratched to within an inch of their lives. Gilles said that conservators will be refurbishing the case in a way that doesn’t violate the integrity of the piano as Gould knew it (there is a strict rule against altering the instrument excessively, as the Gould Estate folks want it to remain in the condition Gould left it in).
The more recent dings notwithstanding, it was still wonderful to see the piano up close once again. And there was a bonus: Gould’s faithful Chickering was there, too, cheek by jowl with 318. The two instruments were in such close proximity of each other perhaps for the first time ever. And between the two pianos, of course, stood the pygmy chair. I’d seen it before, but it had been in an elevated in a display case. Now it was on the floor, more truncated at the legs than I had even imagined. It looks like a stout child’s chair. I could only imagine now how low Gould sat to the floor when he played. We lingered at the exhibit, luxuriating in having the place to ourselves. We stayed so long, in fact, that I came close to missing my plane to New York.
After arriving in Ottawa early this afternoon (Porter Air, the only way to fly), I met up with my friend Ian Austen, who is a gifted photographer disguised as a New York Times correspndent. It was Ian who took the beautiful photograph of the piano and the pygmy chair for the front of the dust jacket. Ian drove me out to Kanata, an Ottawa suburb a good 25 minutes from central Ottawa, where the big-chain bookstore, called Chapters, had asked me to sign their inventory. Yes indeedy, this turned out to be the Canadian equivalent of the big-box bookstore, conveniently located next to an outsized Best Buy. In the car, I envisioned a good dozen or two books that I’d be signing. There were four. I was crestfallen, but Ian tried to stay cheerful, “Oh, then it won’t take too long!” he said.
Next came a live interview with the CBC. This time, I wasn’t so sure the host had read the book, but it didn’t matter, because he covered himself beautifully. And I got to choose one of my favorite Gould pieces for him to play for the “extro.” I chose one of the Brahms Intermezzi, which I love.
The big Ottawa event was to be a reading and signing at the National Arts Centre downtown, co-sponsored by Nicholas Hoare, a well respected independent bookstore. When Ian and his wife, Sally, and I arrived, we were greeted by quite the eager crowd. The National Arts Centre had been planning to make it a stand-up affair, with cocktails and mingling. But this crowd would have none of that. They began hauling in chairs from wherever they could find them, and sat themselves down, waiting for the show to begin. It wasn’t at all what the organizers had in mind, but they went along with it. First, a group of young musicians played Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio, for piano, viola and clarinet, and then a lovely man, Paul LeFebvre, a musician from Montreal with a very thick Quebecois introduced me with a few choice jokes (“Gould used to say that Mozart died too old”). The audience was very receptive, loved the reading, and the line for signing the book was long.
Yet again, I was struck by how readily the Canadians accepted me into their circle of Gould reverence. Many people in the audience were older, and told me they had seen Gould play. A few had even been in orchestras that he played with. So I felt doubly, triply honored that they showed up to hear this American ramble on about their cherished icon. They seemed genuinely pleased, and entertained. And many of them thanked me for what I had done.
Canadians are the absolute best. In my next life, or perhaps later in this one, I would like to be a Canadian. I’ve said this on occasion to my Canadian friend Kevin Bazzana, and he usually promptly replies with, “We’d love to have you!”
This time, he responded with this: “I’m glad you are finding Canadians pleasant! Aren’t we just adorable?! When the Simpsons first visited Canada, they got off the train in Toronto and Marge exclaimed, ‘It’s so clean and bland! I’m home!’
I landed in Toronto on Sunday and went straight to a 3 p.m. authors’ tea at the King Edward (Torontonians call it The King Eddie) Hotel, where, by remarkable coincidence, Glenn Gould’s father, a furrier, once had his shop.
The tea featured four authors — three Canadians and me — and we each spoke for about 15 minutes.
We sat in a lovely gilded room and were served the customary delicate sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and scones with Devonshire cream. Now, I ask you: How civilized is that?
I asked for coffee, and was chided by a fellow author who sat beside me: “How can you drink coffee at teatime?” I’ll confess to having no good answer for him. Feeling irredeemably American, I switched to tea — with milk, of course.
Verne was there as my guest, and he had brought a guest of his own, Jim Hayward, an audio engineer and longtime friend of Verne’s.
I had been instructed not to read from the book, but with Verne there in the audience, I couldn’t resist reading a few passages about him, and his synesthesia. People seemed to really enjoy it.
On Monday morning I went straight to CBC to tape an interview with Andy Barrie, a Canadian icon whose show, Metro Morning is Toronto’s long-standing #1 morning show. When I entered the recording studio, Barrie greeted me with a huge smile and patted his copy of the book like it was an old friend. “I love your book. Really love it,” he said, and with that my fears of how I might be received by the Canadian media dissolved on the spot. Not only had he read every word, but he reminded me of a few things in the book I had forgotten about. This, I found, was a pattern that would repeat itself with each subsequent interview.
Next came Toronto’s classical music station and, like Andy Barrie, the people who interviewed me, Jean Stilwell and Mike Duncan, were unusually generous with their praise of the book. Stilwell started out by saying that when she first saw the book, she thought to herself, “Oh no, not another Glenn Gould book,” but then when she started reading it, she couldn’t put it down.
Next came a book-signing at the annual BookExpo Canada, which just happened to be taking place this week. The place was crawling with booksellers, and I was one of a few dozen authors who stood at their publisher’s booth, madly signing free copies of books to anyone willing to wait in line. Apparently, it’s a tradition at the BookExpo to do that, and people are said to actually enjoy standing in the long lines. I enjoyed signing the books, and imagined to myself how nice it would be if people were actually buying them.
I had dinner that evening with Verne and his wife, Lillian, and Lorne Tulk (Gould’s sound engineer on many a CBC production) and his wife, Mel. We went to the Mandarin, in the northern reaches of Toronto, near Verne’s house. The Mandarin apparently has the largest buffet in all of North America, offering not just Chinese food, but also every imaginable cuisine under the sun. I, for instance, had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Go figure. We spent much of the meal discussing and dissecting an inscrutable interview that Verne and I had done earlier in the day with the music critic from The Toronto Star.
On Tuesday morning (i.e. today), I had yet another wonderful radio interview, this time with David Peterson, the non-fiction books editor at CIUT, the University of Toronto radio station. We chatted for a good twenty minutes, and once again I was blown away by how closely he had read the book.
Mary Kenedi, the pianist that CD 318 tried to run away from in Ottawa many years ago, then picked me up to meet some folks for lunch. But Mary had an idea: she wanted to take me first to Michael Remenyi‘s store, around the corner from our appointed lunch spot. He has the Steinway agency in Toronto. He’s a lovely man, and when we walked in the store and showed him the book, he seemed surprised. “What? A favorite piano?” he asked. “Gould played on junk! He didn’t have a love affair with a piano!”
Oh yes, he did, we assured him. And he started to take a closer look at the book.
The most amazing moment came when Remenyi asked me whether “Muriel” was in the book. I was shocked. “You mean Muriel Mussen?” I asked him, and he said yes, Muriel Mussen. I had tried for years to find Muriel Mussen, had called every Mussen in the phone book during a trip here in 2004. Remenyi, it turns out, knew her well, and had some wonderfully colorful stories to tell me about her. I listened intently, all the while kicking myself for not having found him while researching the book. Miss Mussen would have been a far more three-dimensional character had I spoken with Remenyi. But I decided to chalk it up to the “oh well” category of missed opportunities and try not to obsess. Remenyi asked for 15 books for the bookstore portion of his store, which was an honor, to be sure.
Lunch was at what felt like a real English pub, called the Duke of York. I ordered, appropriately enough, Shepherd’s Pie, and a half-pint of local lager. Besides Mary, the lunchmates included: Faye Perkins, who works for the Glenn Gould Estate, and Brian Levine, with the Glenn Gould Foundation. And Adria Iwasutiak from McClelland & Stewart. The conversation was, surprisingly enough, not too Gould-centric. We did talk about how incredibly receptive the Canadian media have been toward the book, and how relatively disinterested the American media have been, and what we can do to change that.