Earlier today, I found myself googling around for things about my father, a semi-pleasure I succumb to maybe once or twice a month. The search began, as it usually does, with a desire to hear a song of his. He wrote many songs, I’m told, but the one I know is from a 1975 New York City Community Choir album, a live recording called Lift Him Up. About a decade and a half ago a friend of my mother’s found an old copy of the record, a true-blue 33, and gave it to her along with a converted CD. (In the 90’s these were miracles.) On the back of the worn album jacket, beneath the title of his song — “Where Do We Go From Here” — is my father’s name, perhaps predictably misspelled.
I’ve got other things of his, a tie, a pile of corny stationery, a shoebox full of cassette-taped choir rehearsals, but the song is a piece of writing, a finished product; it made its way to ears other than his and mine. For possibly shallow reasons this makes it more important to me than the other stuff. I found it on YouTube and listened to it as I paged through results.
It’s a tough search to pull off: we have the same exact name, and he was never alive at the same time as the internet, at least as we know it now, so it usually takes a little wading past my own weird footprint — the blog posts, the tweets, the disclosures of bad public-sector salaries — to get to what I’m trying to find.
There’s almost never anything new. He went to high-school in Queens, taught some people to play piano, once played and sang backup for Bette Midler on Broadway. This is what I always find. This, besides the things I saw, is what I know. But today, thanks to search term tinkerings I won’t bore you with, I found something else. A blog post mentioning my father, by name, in an almost offhand first paragraph about the “great musical experiences” in some stranger’s life.
The post was from ‘09, but the blog seemed still to be active, so I left a comment. Just in case:
A few hours later, the blogger wrote me back. I don’t know what to do with the story he tells, except to share it here. To add to the little deposit of search results for “Vinson Cunningham,” ones that have to do with the foster child who loved gospel music and wore a map of huge veins across the backs of his hands. Is now some pictures on the wall and some strands of genetic material (in me, in my daughter) and a few scattered pieces of the internet.
According to Doug from the Bay Area, Vinson Cunningham (at what must have been 19 or 20) was also something like this:
I. A nice person can be inconsiderate, but I don’t think a good one can.
II. A good person can of course sometimes display inconsiderateness in specific instances, but, to be sure, these are instances in which his goodness, qua goodness, has failed.
III. There are many nice people who are also oblivious people, or thoughtless people, and permanently so. But goodness requires an intelligence, an insistent awareness, that makes it wholly incompatible with the little crimes of ignorance of which inconsiderateness consists.
IV. The good can’t stay stupid.
V. This, I think, hints at the important distinction between inconsiderateness and selfishness. And illustrates the quiet danger of the former. All selfishness is inconsiderate, pretty much by definition, but inconsiderateness seems to me a wider, wilder terrain. I don’t think anybody’s ever charted, or seen, its true borders. That’s the point of it, how indistinguishable it is from other things.
VI. So what must we do? Study ethics, study people, study ourselves. Get smarter. Root out, one by one, the inconveniences we inflict upon the people in our lives — first by recognition, then by repentance.
VII. And what I think I’m trying to say, ma’am, is that not knowing that you’re supposed to move toward the middle of the train car so we can all fit in — and, obviously, you don’t — isn’t really an excuse for anything, not in the moral world.
VIII. Not if you want to be good.
IX. I’m sure you’re very nice.
X. Seriously, though, please move.
there is a way in which i am just like Frida Kahlo and just like George W. Bush
listening to Tom Petty while being me is the most advanced form of cultural tourism
Maybe three months ago, a violinist moved into the apartment directly above mine. I’ve never seen the person — or, more accurately, never put a face to the sound — but every night I hear the instrument’s soft whine as it seeps down through the stucco ceiling and into my bedroom.
Because they’re spare, and unfancy, and somehow energizingly unchanging, her(?) practice sessions remind me of a low-church liturgy. First come scales — the major, the minor, the modes, each modulated up and out into dog-whistling near-infinity. Then she plays a piece (the piece, is how she probably thinks of it) all the way through, sometimes twice in a row, mistakes be damned.
Next — and here’s where my admiration begins — she plays only the hardest passages. Multi-measure melisma, the on and off ramps for blur-fast arpeggios, whatever; she drowns herself in the worst of it. Slowly at first, to diagnose the problem: then faster and faster until it’s fluid, until it’s beautiful, until it’s right.
Then, with new, earned confidence, she plays the piece again.
This drama usually unfolds while I’m dreading, or avoiding, my writing. And because I often (still, unfortunately) interpret experience as a kind of communication, as a hint as to the meaning of things — because I guess I think about myself a lot — I take the whole stupid thing as a rebuke.