|Bob Thompson Music|
I think of Stanley Cavell and Bob Thompson as two halves of a whole. As I discovered in Stanley Cavell's recent autobiography, Little Did I Know, they met by accident in Sacramento. Stanley was rehearsing in a jazz band in the basement of a building downtown, when Bob walked in and sat at the piano and started playing without saying a word. Bob communicated through music with me, sometimes with the lyrics of a song he was playing around the house at a particular time in my life. One was "our song" - All the Things You Are - but we never talked about that fact. Stanley also mentions that Bob was in a suit and coat on a warm day, which was another of Bob's eccentricities. Maybe because Bob meant business when it came to music.
L to R: Bob (typically overdressed) and Stanley
Bob and Stanley had similar modest backgrounds. Bob was from Auburn and his father worked on the railroads and also in the cemetery and Stanley's father had a pawn shop. Bob went on to a music career and Stanley - saying he "needed words" according to Bob - went on to be a Harvard Professor of philosophy and author of acclaimed books such as The Senses of Walden and the Claim of Reason. I guess they are equally "almost famous" or pretty well known in their corners of the world. There have been books about Stanley Cavell, such as Stanley Cavell's American Dream: Shakespeare, Philosophy, and Hollywood Film.
After seeing movies like Follow the Fleet (above), with its Let's Face the Music and Dance scene (above), they would walk to a downtown restaurant to write down the music on a place mat. Both of them were especially taken by Fred Astaire movies, which were an escape from the Depression and a home for sophistication of all kinds not to be found in their home towns. The American Songbook was being born and they were privileged to see it happen and it became for each a subject of their work.
Through Bob I heard that Stanley took a lot of flak for his philosophical topics, which included discussions of Astaire movies, and Throreau's Walden: a book relegated to High Schools but with a location just a stone's throw from Harvard, as Stanley said. This apparent lack of seriousness and self-indulgence represented by the selection of these topics was met by his insistence, as Bob told me, that the Humanities should be in his words "humane." Stanley emphatically states that Thoreau is a writer first and much more than a person who lives a certain lifestyle
As I read the autobiography, Bob seemed to be Stanley's "cool artist friend" or a representation of the road not taken. Even while in the UC Berkeley theater band together, Stanley spent his nights in the library, often sleeping through the night on the tables. Stanley was a music writer and arranger in his own right, and describes in his autobiography, how while everyone was partying on a ship on its way to London, he was composing music and put on a little impromptu show with a singer.
If Bob was the music for Stanley, Stanley was the words for dad's music. They'd talk on the phone for hours and then dad would be like an excited Labrador dog wagging its tail and say, "Guess what Stanley said!" followed by some profound quotation. I never saw Stanley until I visited him in Brookline my freshman year in college but I felt like I knew him from my dad's ecstatic reports and the books I passed every day on the bookshelf at home. I realized later that Stanley was a kind of second or unknown father to me, who completed a whole.
Bob thought the lyrics to Let's Face the Music and Dance were some of the best ever and I don't quite see it. I trust Bob and Stanley's opinion, however, about these words: There may be trouble ahead / But while there's moonlight and music and love and romance / Let's face the music and dance.
I cannot locate Stanley's comments about that song but this chunk of thought, quoted on a philosophy blog, about Astaire merely walking on a train platform (above) will give you an idea:
In other words Astaire was a smooth son-of-a-bitch.
Stanley's inscription to The Claim of Reason says: "For Bob, with whom I first explored the life of the mind." With that I definitely imagine their conversations as they wrote down Fred Astaire songs and musical scores on a place mat.
Spenser Thompson shares anecdotes, music, and videos from Bob Thompson's music career plus thoughts on artists from Duke to Devo.