How Candide found musician ian fisher
How Candide found musician Ian Fischer
Candide was at the bottom of a pile of books on the basement floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn. I lived above that pile for a while before I found it. It belonged to my 89-year-old landlord and flatmate, Mildred. The books, the brownstone, and many of my memories of Brooklyn itself (now that I look back on that time) will always belong to her.
I was one of many twenty-somethings that lived in that house over the years on State Street. Mildred began renting out the rooms on the top two stories after her husband passed away twenty years before. She handpicked students and artists who she found interesting. She had a habit of catching us hungover at breakfast or on our way rushing out the door and inciting poorly timed philosophical debates. She used to tell me that her dream would be to work at a university only assigning thesis themes to students that she would pick. She had a question for every answer.
She must have gotten her curiosity from her father, Alvin Hansen, who was a professor of economics at Harvard. He helped create the social security system and was known as “the American Keynes”. He used to send her on trips as a child too. Like the time she went on a bike trip through Germany a month before WWII broke out. Good timing.
After the war, she moved to New York City. She married a man from California who had recently been imprisoned in a concentration camp there for the crime of being born to Japanese parents. Their love was rebellious. They had three daughters in Greenwich Village and then found that Brownstone in Boerum Hill. She described State Street as a “redlight district” at that time and they were able to buy the house for cheap. It hadn’t be renovated since it was built in the 1880’s, so they fixed it up themselves.
By the time I moved there in 2010, it was a diamond in the rough. By that I mean it was the one charmingly rough looking house on one of the most expensive, gentrified streets in Brooklyn. When I first saw it, I thought it was a palace. I was friends with Mildred’s granddaughter, who also lived there, and they found a way for me to stay. I was broke as broke could be, so Mildred let me pay a portion of my rent by doing chores around the house. That’s what led me to the basement and its pile of books.
One morning Mildred and I were trying to bring a little order to the chaos down there when the cat jumped on a table that was comically stacked with hundreds of old, tattered books. I can still see them falling in slow-motion in my memory with the cat scurrying upstairs in the background. One-by-one I stacked them back upon the table and, with each and every book, Mildred had a story. Then there was Candide.
I don’t know if it was the story itself or how well it fit to Mildred’s life and to my life for that matter, but I was magnetized. I took the book upstairs and read it in Alvin’s rocking-chair from Harvard with a smile that I still have when I look back. I saw Mildred in Professor Pangloss and I saw myself in Candide. Voltaire somehow got it right back in 1759. That little book always reminds me that, through the best of times and worst of times, all that we’re really left with is our perception. When we’re at the bottom we could think it’s the best of all possible worlds or when we’re at the top we could want something else. Candide’s conclusion can still put my mind at ease after all these years. Through it all “we must cultivate our garden”. Thanks Mildred.
Ian just launched a Kickstarter to support the release of his new album Idle Hands! Head over to www.ianfishersongs.com/idlehands to get your hands on an early release copy and other beautiful
"...rolling the best parts of American music – including Fleetwood Mac's harmonies, Jason Isbell's charged Americana and the subdued, rainy-day vibe of his Seventies favorites – into Idle Hands, an upcoming album that's politically conscious and globally minded." Rolling Stone Magazine