Barry Fitzgerald was just so goddam cool. One of my favorite actors ever, and that brogue of his is so exquisite, and every time I hear him speak I wish I could write with the same poetry that he can say a sentence or two, or a fragment of a sentence, or even one word with just a hint of a trill that fades past the last syllable like tenor sax players used to let a melody trail off, pads closing, just air. The people he’s trading bits of dialog with speak a hard American English, the consonants end words like a window slamming shut, and you can really hear the germanic underlying our common tongue, hard and unyielding. Fitzgerald’s gaelic is pure melody, with all the gaelic guttural ch’s and gh’s merely hinted at…when the Irish crossed the Atlantic those disappeared, I suppose because English has no use of them, with its solid, punctuating consonants that turned an Irishman’s ch’s into k’s and the gh’s into sad little puffed F’s. Barry Fitzgerald scarcely hints at them. That’s what gives Irish English that melodiousness, I think, that sound of flutes softly talking, gives it that twitter and laugh and those words and passages that glisten….because it’s only the soft and melodious Gaelic sounds that make up the brogues you’ll hear at a wake or in a bar or an old movie full of cops and priests and gangsters. Like Barry Fitzgerald now, as this movie rolls, talking to a grieving, bitter mother. Her words are hard, angry, unforgiving. Hate–a hard, hard h, the long vowel unyielding, the t almost spat. I hate her, she says, I hate her, like a boot stomping on a wooden floor or a hammer pounding a nail into a wall. No you don’t hate her Barry trills, aspirating the h’s ever so slightly, the simple sentence as much breath as sound, ’tis no time for hatred. The Good Lord will see to her soul. His Lord is almost a lard, its r ever so slightly aspirated that’s almost impossible for a non-Irishman to replicate or even hear. The mother weeps inconsolably, and Barry Fitzgerald, sighing, says now now…..letting it trail off into nothingness, his hand on her arm finishing the sentence. She turns away and weeps and weeps, the lens shifts and she’s weeping off camera. Barry Fitzgerald sighs and turns and shuffles off. Sweet Jesus, he says, sweet Jesus.
(from an email to John Altman, 2006)
Music and language probably evolved together. I think they’re inexorably linked. To use language without music seems a shame. Not words so much, but structures. I think to really write well you have to think beyond straight narrative and use, abuse, and play with the very structure of language. Certainly abandon all restrictive grammars. Although you have to know grammar (else you wind up like that bass clarinetist who could play free but didn’t know “Giant Steps” and was excoriated on stage by Roland Kirk.) What Bird did with harmony is possible in prose.
But fuck it’s hard.