A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
The dissonance between my physical age and the who of me increases daily. That who is still young but my hair is gray. I am always twenty-five.
Stay with me. This is about music. Really.
The things I notice... patience greater and lesser at once. More endurance with fading strength. Greater perception with weakened senses. Faster-passing days with stronger sensory impressions. More questions with fewer answers. Peripheral interests shed and more ideas explored with depth. More tolerance of those who disagree, but less reticence in speaking out. Less wealth, more richness. Less invention, more expression. Fewer friends, a greater love.
Twenty-five I am because at that age my decision to be an artist was secure. Once more I reflect on Jim Grant's comment that he is a composer when he is a composer, a cook when a cook, a lover when a lover, and I recognize that for whatever I may be in the moment, there is always the composer abiding within. It does not define Jim, but it does define me. And because it defines me, the very weakness of new nonpop in our culture is a personal pain. I have stopped being many things in my life, or at least put them aside. I hike less, conduct less. The last musical instrument built was twelve years ago, the last poem from my pen fourteen past, the last computer program more than twenty. Were technical writing not part of the income I cannot live without, that chapter would close tonight.
The night terrors no longer arrive when I cannot compose, not because they have left, but because they are resident in my spirit. They are not critics, but rather the dark cheerleaders of the soul, the cowled beings who point not backward but toward the abyss. They are comfortable conversationalists, suggesting ways to postpone mortality through art. We laugh and have another drink, and while they nap, my eyes are open wide toward the ceiling.
This thing about Mozart, you see, is really a misdirection, for Mozart's music has not tapped my eardrums for months. Not his, not any of those old ones. There is so much that is new and thrilling and I am not ready to settle down into the easy chair of charming false cadences and string fantasias. The twenty-five-year-old is still engorged with the new sounds coming in, the world of nonpop bursting at the cultural seams with renewed approaches to acoustic instruments and electronics.
And the composer of twenty-five discusses it with the composer of fifty-seven, challenging him to abandon the shabby vestments of his past for new ones. The composer of fifty-seven argues with the twenty-five-year-old that new is not always better, and that depth of understanding can enrich the work without a meer sheen of newness. "No one will listen!" argues the youngster promoting cultural relevance. "No one will care!" argues the gray-haired man demanding compositional quality.
They do not settle this argument, and have not done since the physical man slowly dropped out of phase with his spiritual reflection. The spirit listened to new wave and then hiphop and techno, but the body made driving minimalist panoramas. The spirit rejoiced in the turntable artists, but the body could only create electroacoustic densities. The spirit was a cultural extrovert, the old man increasingly an artistic hermit.
And what does this old hermit do? He rummages through a mental library of his own old ideas, stumbling over half-composed concepts, tripping on mounds of unfinished structures, making his way to where the gems are kept. But unlike the physical world, those gems tarnish and grow dim. He leaves the library through a mysterious opening and enters a cave where in the darkness where glimmer new gemlike ideas which he tries to make into more than a pile. A pile of ideas, a bucket of dime-a-dozens. Now what?
He flails through concept. The young man is bored now, tired of this self-flagellation. "Get on with it. Did you forget how to experiment? Hell, did you forget how to play?" Oh. Yes, perhaps that had slipped away in all the coughing up dusty mental phlegm. Play, yes. The twenty-five-year-old reinhabits the old man the moment the pen hits the paper or the keyboard hits the screen, reinvigorating the ideas and flushing out the sickness, all the while informed by the shapes of life continuing to be lived.
Part of the struggle is clutter, part obligation. How does the composer somehow, in every note and sound and gesture, thank those who have contributed, willingly or not, to the informed state in which he lives? Does the poet, still a slight freckled girl in his mind, know he is thinking of her words? Does the clever composer friend, once & always a pratfalling jester, realize how he has changed another's course? Do the hundreds of artists with whom he has touched orbits realized the quakes and tsunamis their planetary motions have caused? For he can hear each of their voices, sensing and touching and smelling the moments when they were present so they become alive again. And the composer can thank them in the electric instant between concept and execution, and hope they will know, without words, of his gratitude.
It is said that one does not die until the last person who touched your face is gone. Perhaps. But I am still twenty-five, and there are still many years before I need think about that. Yet, and yet -- whose creased face is that pressed upon the young man? How did it get there?
The moon is waxing to become full in eight hours, carelessly pushing aside the Perseids, the meteor shower the young man first saw. I feel the moon's pull.
* * *
In other matters, the composer productivity article has now been in the hands of the editor for more than two weeks. I am glum.
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