Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Philip Glass

I am without musical ability or understanding- something I hope to address in the next few years. My folks tried, piano and guitar lessons, trumpet in grade school band. But I never got past Every Good Boy Does Fine. It never clicked. As I've gotten older I've wondered about it- am I just not wired for it? I suspect that's it. I don't remember music, I can't seem to hear lyrics in the midst of it. But I haven't given up yet, and hope to try lessons again before long.

Last night on NPR, Terry Gross interviewed Philip Glass. I had only fleeting memories of his work, music that seemed impenetrable to me. Memories that were wrong. I loved so much of what was broadcast of his work, and look forward to hearing more.

And the conversation about his new memoir, Words Without Music, struck me as strongly as his music. At 78 it's easy to see him as a hugely accomplished and successful, and just assume it was always like that. But he drove a NYC cab up until his mid or late 40's. He worked all kinds of jobs, plumbing, electrical, moving company, studio assistant for his longtime friend, the sculptor Richard Serra (who's work I love). And finally the cab. All things I can appreciate, and to an extent, identify with, having done carpentry, laid tile, poured concrete, and built canoes further into my 40's than I had hoped. I tell young folks all the time that multiple income streams is the key to an early art career, maybe made easier by Starbucks new education policy, if you can embrace your inner barista.

Near the end of the interview, Terry Gross asked (something like), Don't you ever want to write a simple melody and a lyric to go with it? And he responded that of course he did, he was always struggling to simplify, to be more direct, but he had to follow where the music took him. Or something like that…. or is that me mixing my own struggles with his answer?

It seems that the struggle is a constant. Lately I've been feeling like painting is really hard. Damn hard.  Maybe another similarity with music- the level of concentration required. But if I look at it honestly I realize it's my own fault, turning from what I know how to do, to trying new things, new ways of handling paint. New ways of thinking about making pictures. It's where the work is taking me.

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