09 May 2013


Character Connection 41

After I decided that May's theme would be May I Have Some Music?, I did a quick scan of my bookshelves for novels with musical characters . . . and came up surprisingly short. Whether it's the print medium that isn't very friendly to sound or just my unfortunate book buying patterns, I don't know. But from the looks of it, my musical interests and my literary tastes don't overlap at all.

I managed to find about four characters whom I'd be happy to feature this month, but whether I will get to them all is the question. All of them will require a bit of rereading, so I'll do what I can and just hope for the best. Today's character is the first one I thought of . . . 

A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess

The little speakers of my stereo were all arranged round the room, on ceiling, walls, floor, so, lying on my bed slooshying the music, I was like netted and meshed in the orchestra. Now, what I fancied first tonight was this new violin concerto by the American Geoffrey Plautus, played by Odysseus Choerlios with the Macon (Georgia) Philharmonic, so I slid it from where it was neatly filed and switched on and waited.

Then, brothers, it came. Oh, bliss, bliss and heaven. I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, my gulliver on my rookers on the pillow, glazzies closed, rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds. Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silverflammed, and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again crunched like candy thunder. Oh, it was wonder of wonders . . .

What can you tell about a person from the kind of music he chooses to listen to? Would you be able to guess the kind of crimes he'd be most likely to commit? I know that predictive analytics can be uncannily accurate, but surely it would take more than just someone's music library to make this call.

Rereading the first few chapters of A Clockwork Orange just to get to Alex's music collection actually made me feel a bit ill. For a while, I was kind of glad that Geoffrey Plautus is a fictional composer, because if he weren't, his music would have had the same effect on me, too, just by association with Alex. (Which, if you know the story, is totally ironic.)

For more context, the scene with Plautus's music is in Alex's bedroom, at the end of the young man's day. Alex is pretty tired, having filled up his evening robbing a store and assaulting its owners, beating up random strangers on the street, raping a man's wife in front of the poor fellow, tearing up the couple's home afterwards, and finally, heaving a stolen car into some canal. So, you know, now he just wants to unwind with good music. And it is surely good music: his library of classical records includes Plautus, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. While their concertos and symphonies wash over him, he envisions what else he could have done to the people he has just hurt, thinks up new violent acts against imaginary people, and gets one last sexual thrill out of it to cap his evening. Yes, it's a little sick.

A little sick and leading to a point. Anthony Burgess was writing against one popular idea of his day (which remains widespread in ours) that teenagers are incited to violence by the music they choose to listen to. Note that Burgess was also a huge fan of classical music and a composer in his own right. Here's the only sample of his surviving work I could find, with commentary from other people who get classical music the way I only get pop . . .

Would you have guessed that the man who composed that piece for cello and piano would have written a character like Alex? If your answer is negative, then you have a better idea of Burgess's moral.

Music has refining and coarsening influences, yes, but it never overrides our reason nor overrules our free will. Someone can listen to good music and choose to do bad things--or listen to "bad" music and choose to do good things. Morality isn't a matter of taste.

Image Source: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess


love the girls said...

"Music has refining and coarsening influences, yes, but it never overrides our reason nor overrules our free will."

No, it doesn't, but that doesn't lessen the material affect it does have on our equally material appetites.

Seductive dress et all likewise doesn't override our reason or our freewill, but only a fool willing remains where there is an occasion of sin thinking his fallen Will will not be influenced by those material acts.

Enbrethiliel said...


I totally agree with your first sentence, but not with your second. I'd compare "bad" music to junk food before I'd compare it to seductive dress--which probably says volumes about how you and I see art.

Or perhaps we just need to define "bad" music so it's clear that we're talking about the same thing. The reason it's in quotation marks here as well as in the post is that I know a lot of the pop music I listen to doesn't have many fans among more serious music lovers, and in that sense, it's "bad." But I also know of a lot of very sophisticated and slick music that made me wonder whether the musicians who produced them had demons on their shoulders when they did. Literal demons, if not literal shoulders.

love the girls said...

Fair enough. When I was in college and out, I tried my best to enjoy classical music. It never went much beyond self flagellation.

Of course I mostly listen to children's music such as the Wiggles and similar, but when given a choice to expand the field I my choices remain twinkle twinkle little star, but with a difference:

Enbrethiliel said...


I went through my own classical music phase in high school, trying to give myself some proper culture. =P I didn't get very far, but most of what I force fed myself brings up the same warm nostalgia now as songs which were actually charting at the time.

Ruth Hill said...

I always get tired of music stereotypes--always hard to judge a book by its cover. I was a music major, so music posts always interest me!

Enbrethiliel said...


I always love it when someone transcends a stereotype. =)

Thanks for visiting, Ruth! =D I'm hoping to have other music-related posts soon.

Introverted Jen said...

I am just familiar enough with A Clockwork Orange to feel that I don't really want to know anymore. That's probably terrible, but holy cow, the tiny bits I've seen of the movie are so violent! (Which sounds like another post for you to tackle...)

As for the music aspect, I do find myself driving more aggressively and having a shorter temper if I listen to a lot of "angry music." But I guess the question would be whether the music causes the mood shift or reflects something going on internally. Great post!

Enbrethiliel said...


I can say that the book A Clockwork Orange changed my life, but I never want to watch the movie! What I could imagine was bad enough . . .

That's a good question about music and mood. There's definitely more to the issue than the idea that "bad music" creates "bad people," and Burgess only touched on a bit of it in his book.