I came across this little piece that I had painted long ago, before I ever showed my work to anyone. It’s a small little thing, barely 2″ by 3″ in size, but it’s a paintings that I consider one of my favorites. It’s not because of anything in the painting itself, although I do like the way it works visually. Actually, it’s because I see an entire narrative in this piece and it always comes back as soon as I see it, even after many years.
I call this Guenther Hears the Boogaloo Softly. The story I see here is a German soldier on patrol in the second World War, in a wintry forest, perhaps in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. He is separated from his group and as he is alone in the forest he suddenly hears a sound from deep in the woods, echoing softly through the frozen trees. It is a piano and it is like nothing he has heard before. It has a loping bassline that churns and pops and over it is a tap dance of notes that bounce and roll on the rhythm. It’s American boogie woogie. Somewhere unseen in the forest a piano is rolling out boogie woogie.
Guenther is transfixed and holds his breath to better hear the music that enchants him. A siren’s song. He loses all thought of his mission and his duty. He is engrossed by the music.
I don’t go any further with this scenario in my mind. There are obvious directions the story could take. Guenther might allow the music to transfix him to the point he doesn’t hear the American patrol coming upon him. Or he might throw down his weapon and flee. But most likely, he would return to his patrol and if he were lucky enough to survive the war, the memory of that music would haunt him for years, sending him on a search to recapture the sound of that moment in the forest.
I see it simply as a being about the transformative power of music and art, about how they unify humans despite our differences. When we hear or see something, we don’t do so as a German or an American, as a democrat or a republican, as a Christian or a Muslim. We react as a human to our individual perceptions. Sometimes we cannot shake these other labels we carry with us but there are moments when our reaction is pure. Which is what I see in this little bit of paint and paper, in Guenther’s reaction to the piano.
Such a little bit of paint yet such a lot to say…
Here’s a little taste from one of the kings of boogie woogie from the 30’s and 40’s, Albert Ammons.