This has been a season of synchronicity. In all the deification of Steve Jobs — we don’t have too many heroes from the business world nowadays — I learned of his love of Bach. Then a friend brought me a copy of beat poet Charles Bukowski’s “The Last Night of the Earth”: ditto. After Tomas Transtromer, poet, musician and psychologist, won the Nobel Prize, I bought his book “The Half Finished Heaven,” in a translation from the Swedish by Robert Bly, and guess what?

(I wish I could read Swedish; I sent a letter to a friend there, using a Swedish-English dictionary, and according to her it read so absurdly that it snapped her aunt out of a long-standing depression. She would never explain to me what was so funny.)

The acausal principle here is the vital importance of music to people in a wide variety of endeavors. Of some relevance is Transtromer’s thought about typical interviews: “Everyone asks me about the influence of work (as a psychologist) on my poetry. Why don’t they ask me about the influence of poetry on my work?”

To begin with Jobs, from “Return to the Little Kingdom: How Apple and Steve Jobs Changed the World,” by Michael Moritz: “I had been listening to a lot of Bach. All of a sudden the wheat field was playing Bach. It was the most wonderful experience of my life up to that point. I felt like the conductor of this symphony, with Bach coming through the wheat field.”

When Jobs was older and in failing health, he liked to compare Glenn Gould’s recordings of the “Goldberg Variations,” one recorded at the age of 22 and the second recorded near the end of his life.

“They’re like night and day,” Jobs said after playing them sequentially one afternoon. “The first is an exuberant, young, brilliant piece, played so fast it’s a revelation. The later one is so much more spare and stark. You sense a very deep soul, who’s been through a lot in life. It’s deeper and wiser Gould liked the later version much better I like the earlier, exuberant one. But now I can see where he was coming from.” (From “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson.)


I am indebted to filmmaker Michael Lawrence (“Bach and Friends”) for the above quotes. He has just released a “Steve Jobs Tribute” based on clips from his documentary “Memory and Imagination: New Pathways to the Library of Congress.”

The Bukowski poem “Classical Music and Me” recounts his first encounter with classical music, which he thought “was for sissies,” and his subsequent infatuation with it, spending most of his meager funds on recordings. Like H.L. Mencken, he writes two- or three-word synopses of the great composers: “and if you listened to Bach long enough you didn’t want to listen to anybody else.” Tributes from an unusual source.

Of Haydn, Bukowski writes: “Haydn was love turned loose into sound.” Which brings us to Transtromer and his poem “Allegro,” one of the most moving descriptions of the power of music that I have read, in translation or original. It ends with the lines:

The music is a house of glass standing on a slope

Rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.

The rocks roll straight through the house


but every pane of glass is still whole.

Mencken’s Haydn: “A seidel on the table a girl on your knee another and different girl in your heart.” And his Bach: “Genesis I,I.”

Christopher Hyde is a Pownal writer and musician. He can be reached at:


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