(Written 20 April 2012)
I am suffering from weltschmerz, a condition my father often had when we lived five awful years on the wrong side of the Gowanus Parkway at Third Avenue and 48th Street in Brooklyn—before we returned home to San Francisco in 1951.
Much of this feeling stems from my perception that all is not quite right with the country I love: the United States of America. There are many articles in the press and opinion journals about the current or inevitable decline of the USA, and a lesser number of writings refuting this.
Certainly the press sells papers by the implicit motto “if it bleeds, it leads”, and this is only a reflection of ourselves. There seems to be a wretched excess of such “news” in recent months. Perhaps my years have accumulated too much of what the press presents and I have grown sour.
As an antidote I have spent part of this day celebrating the USA through listening to words and, mostly, music.
I have celebrated with Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, James Earl Jones, and Abraham Lincoln, among others. These are some of the many people who speak to me of the America I love.
I read again Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, part of which is spoken in A Lincoln Portrait.
I reminisced on my many listenings to Bernstein’s West Side Story, about which I have written. Yesterday I viewed a film on the life and work of Bernstein which celebrated his loving investment in the musical education of Americans, especially the young.
I mentally reviewed the work of George Gershwin whose joyous music buoyed me in my youth, and even still: Porgy and Bess; his Piano Concerto; Rhapsody in Blue which I played inexpertly on the piano at age 15; and others.
Other people and occasions travel through my mind as I continue to struggle to regain my balance under this cloud of weltschmerz.
These memories, and the music and words I listened to, did help, but I still am searching for what there is now in the USA that is similar in nature to what I have written about here. When the youth of today are my age, what will they remember to make them grateful to have spent their formative years in the USA? What memories of public figures and what music will bring tears to their eyes?
Perhaps some young people will respond to this, teaching me to see what they may see as a positive answer to this question.