Once or twice lately I’ve been told that my music is “deceptively simple.” I suppose this is meant as a compliment, betraying an assumption that “simple” by itself is necessarily pejorative. I want to insist, though, that I seek to deceive no one.
One of my Chatter collaborators recently encouraged a musician to go onstage in jeans. “I don’t think you should have to wear special clothes to play classical music,” he said. At the time, my reaction was measured. I do like the performance ritual around classical music, and concert dress is part of that. But actually he was right, and I’m ready to go a step further: I don’t think you should have to be a special person to play classical music.
I have long hated the idea of “talent.” I remember hearing a pianist perform some flashy Chopin and seeing an audience member in front of me shaking her head, evidently in astonished disbelief at the abilities of the performer. I don’t want to be “impressed” by music. I don’t want music that makes me shake my head; I want music that makes me nod it. I don’t want to feel separation from the performer; I want to feel affinity, joy, recognition. I want communion.
My early antipathy to classical music exceptionalism was grounded in personal insecurity. I was not a prodigy, so I leaned toward philosophies that did not emphasize early or inborn talent. This was a survival strategy. I have also argued that talent does not exist, and I tend to stand by those arguments. But either way, the truth is that talent is boring. I’m interested in work. Talent tends toward safety and talent wants to be acknowledged. I care about what people do, not how they rate. Now my hatred of “talent” is political. We can no longer afford a musical culture based on invisible subjective hierarchies. I care about what people do. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. It doesn’t matter who your teachers were or what they thought about you. Music belongs to all of us. Go out and do something.
I don’t usually post articles here, and I don’t know if these are real, but Chuck Jones’ nine rules for writing Road Runner / Coyote cartoons are too good. Number three is especially poignant, in light of Andrew’s tweet mentioned above. I’ve always had an inexplicable fondness for these cartoons, since well before I fell for the Southwest, developed a love for canines, heard Hejira or read Rebecca Solnit. Some versions of Jones’ list contain a rule number ten: “The audience’s sympathy must remain with the Coyote.” I hope so.
Whenever I finish a tour, I find myself thinking back on it like the cut scenes that sometimes play over movie credits. I see a medley of fragments: of people and experiences, lines and laughs, weird food and bad sleep, sometimes a free beer or unexpected falafel. When Andrew and I arrived at Project Project in Omaha, our hosts were drinking Miller Lites, prepping the space for the show, and blasting All Things Considered over the PA. In Fort Worth, we played at a house gallery whose owner was embroiled in a legal fight with the city over whether the shopping cart hanging from a tree in his front yard was art, or hazardous storage. In Chicago, we heard about a cigar smoking race where the competition is who can smoke their cigar the slowest.
This of course squeezes out the boredom, discomfort, and disappointment. But actually I remember all of that well enough. The blessing is the people you visit, seeing slices of their lives, catching up for a few moments and flitting on; the blessing is also the bored moments of rolling countryside and rolling patterns of thought. This is where ideas come from. Andrew’s tweet says it all: “It’s tight how on tour you can plan multiple future tours and threaten to quit music entirely forever in the same sentence.” That’s the fertile dynamic right there. On the one hand, ideas are limitless and possibility is infinite. On the other, one day it will be over, and we don’t know when that day is coming. Both of these things are true. Look closely, at both at the same time.
All over the country, art scenes are being held together by the effort, good will, and personal investment of a small number of hard-working individuals. These are the people who produce, present, promote. We imagine them working in concert but often they work alone. “Scenes” are just people, one by one by one.
Time does not exist.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues