September 27, 2004

Cosmic Debris

I want to keep going on the theme from the last post. The comments were very cool. Even the negative comments are interesting cause at least people are paying attention and it’s getting a response. As long as they don’t outnumber the good comments, of course.

So supposing tomorrow I was offered a six-figure book deal--and my "cosmic debt" was fulfilled. By no means would this convince me that I am a "great" writer. I would not feel automatically christened, as if my entitlement was complete. Success isn’t enlightenment. However, how could I not feel somewhat smiled upon? I don’t believe that it is an arbitrary or random process determining who becomes successful. This stems from my belief in God at the most basic level--everything has a reason, everything has purpose. At the core, down to the DNA, there is a spiritual basis. I don’t mean this in any ghostly, or even transcendent, way.

I would be ecstatic if I was given the opportunity to be a well-fed writer. There is more to creating art than just completing a work. The Beatles were able to complete Sgt. Pepper because they had all the time in the world to do it. They had the money to use string sections and perfect the record. This is much more important in music than in writing where all you need is a pen and some paper. Still, Philip Roth and many others can wake up every morning and work on their writing. I have to spend the majority of my time trying to make a living, paycheck to paycheck. Sure it’s a test of my artistic meddle to see if I can still write in this environment. But ultimately I would like to be successful so I can have the freedom to write and explore what I like.

What is it that makes some people popular and some people not? Often, very good things become successful: The Beatles, Jack Kerouac, Nirvana, Martin Scorsese. I would like to be a part of that group. Somehow great things do rise to the surface. More often, crap becomes successful, so it is not a proof of worth. Success might mean you’ve touched the human soul, but then I’m fooling myself because Celine Dion touches the human soul as well. Though maybe Celine Dion has been very helpful to a lot of people, saved them from suicide, got them through illness and so on--even if she has no depth.

Which leads me somewhere else--there is a great chasm between great art and crap. There are very few Mozarts, Einsteins, John Lennons--while there’s an endless amount of failure. Maybe "bad" artists don’t see it as failure. Maybe they love what they do and are expressing themselves as well as they can. Fine, but John Lennon is just miles above most other songwriters. Was he divinely inspired? John Lennon was more than just "lucky." Paul McCartney is proof of that. Once is luck, twice is something else. I think there is something mystical about the Beatles. Just how great they were, the head of a movement, three songwriters all in the same group, same town, same time. Almost as soon as they broke up they all seemed to lose their talent. The dream was over. Perhaps we all have the capacity to be divinely inspired, but only some know how to channel it. Maybe, but even these channelers have something over the rest of us.

We seem to be living in a time when fewer and fewer artists seem to be touched by God. I think people have become too inward, too self-conscious. Art is becoming an expression only of the self, rather than something transcendent. Look at John Coltrane, personal and transcendent at the very same moment. That man really was touched by God. Listen to Glenn Gould play Bach’s Goldberg Variations and tell me if that doesn’t sound like the language of God. Is this totally arbitrary? Was Gould given genius like somebody else might be given cancer? Mozart was composing symphonies at six. It almost seems like a disorder. It’s not like he had the time to cultivate his genius, he just was a genius. I believe that Mozart was touched by something outside himself, he was possessed. But even this seems passive, like he was a puppet of God, and that in itself seems arbitrary.

On that front, sort of, I find it very strange to what a sour degree brilliant songwriters lose their talent. Paul McCartney, David Bowie, I just heard some new songs by Roger Waters which pale next to what he’s done before, even if it has a nice anti-war message. It’s almost as if they used up their brilliance in their early years. Maybe they abused the privilege. Maybe being that wealthy makes it hard to feel in the same way they once did. Maybe rock music can only be made by people in their twenties. I’m glad that I have fiction writing to fall back on. Prose writers usually get better with age.

Basically, I have no answer to any of this. I’m trying to define divine inspiration and trying to determine if success is divinely inspired as well. I have no idea.

9 comments:

darling maggot said...

i don't think they lose their talent. i believe that as they grow more successful and lead lives more idyllic, these artists know less and less what it's like to be the common man anymore, and that chasm between them and the people they used to communicate with becomes ever-widening as time goes on. the ones that still do have somehow found a way to stay real or stay in touch.

Andrew said...

A quick comment.

"We seem to be living in a time when fewer and fewer artists seem to be touched by God."

How often have I felt this same sentiment. As much as I feel it (in my bones, my soul, whatever), I don't think it's true though. Because we live in this time, we can't see the great artists rising up from among us. I suspect that in 100 years people will lament the dearth of artistic talent and point to our own time as an era where that still lived, giving as examples you or me or someone else (more likely).

It's easy to be depressed about art in today's culture, but I don't think it's true.

tequilita said...

material success (i.e. fame and fortune) is not divinely inspired...no way. i don't think any truly great, transcendent artist achieves it with that as his goal (although, i'm sure they all daydream about recognition). it's the journey. you can feel the truth in a thing...the truth is divine, and sometimes God smiles on us and we recognize it, and the purveyors of truth are rewarded by the masses. at which point they should up the bar, and hire the proverbial string section...the easier it gets, the more is expected...at least, that's the discipline i'd hope to impose on myself if i were ever lucky enough to be a john, paul, george, or even a ringo. but i'm sure i'd probably get tired and soft too. maybe there's a reason the good die young? maybe they worked a deal with the Big Guy. i think the stones are still hittin' it pretty hard, how do they do it?

Empty Drum said...

I agree with you about the Great Chasm between the best stuff and the worst stuff -- it's where the rest of us do our thing! Personally I would consider it a miracle if I could *finish* a damn song and record it.

darling maggot said...

"i don't think any truly great, transcendent artist achieves it with that as his goal (although, i'm sure they all daydream about recognition)."

it's true, he doesn't. there are much MUCH easier ways to get rich. i tell this to every fledgling writer who dreams about ferraris and beach houses.

Natalia said...

I'd disagree with you when you say that there is a great chasm between great art and crap art. I say it's more like a great field. Filled with people that are neither, i.e. mediocre.

I like to tell myself I'm not alone. ;)

Anonymous said...

i disagree, i believe people can loose their talents. i can only write poetry when i'm depressed. which is the worst thing in the world, considering i am nearly happy. i wish i could write a poem right now, but i don't think it would work. i loose my talent as soon as i smile, i could never be famous.

xo. war.

Anonymous said...

As a God-lovin' classical/jazz musician, I know that over the years as "God" becomes less and less liked amongst the masses, the art, music, everything expressive, becomes either less sincere or just bad. I'm being extremely general as to not take up too much space. But, Bach, one of the most brilliant composers of all time, said something along the lines of "Music is meant to show the grace of God, and nothing else."

For me as a human being, I haven't gotten there yet. For me as a musician, I'm trying to get there faster. If I can let him just...take over, you know, it would all be groovy.

I've completely lost where I was going...apologies!

Your blog is very interesting...A friend sent me this link, and I don't even know who you are.

Love,
Kamila

Henry Baum said...

Kamila,

Thanks for writing. Letting you know that I read your comment even though this is an old post. I get the comments emailed to me. I hadn't read this post in a while. Glad to see that it's coherent.

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