Unpolished Thoughts 12/13/2018*
I’m sick of being quiet. Sick of waiting for a free moment with one or two of the people who know me best to share my latest idea, hoping they will be in the mood to hear me ramble for a while.
There are too many ideas and too many of them are being lost because they aren’t going out into the world and bouncing back at me – with stamps of approval or not.
I’m becoming increasingly intrigued with the idea of publishing more, saying what I want to say and finding out who wants to hear it.
Years ago, I remember a conversation with my buddy Jackson Moore, my best friend and closest musical collaborator during the period of my life when I thought that music-making would define my life’s path.
(As it turns out, in some ways it still does define my life’s path, but that’s a story for another day).
I told him a quote I’d heard, by another Moore – Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth – that I was impressed by.
As best as I can recall it, Thurston said, “As soon as the music leaves your head, it’s already compromised.”
It resonated with me deeply because it spoke directly to one of my deepest wounds.
I was perhaps the least technically competent musician in the radically creative community I had become a part of, centered around genius composer Anthony Braxton. This was in the late 90s, when Braxton was still teaching at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, long before he would be recognized as a “Jazz Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts after over a half century of incredible service to creativity.
Braxton, Jackson Moore, and so many others around me at that time were capable of both writing and playing some of most technically and psychologically challenging music I had ever experienced. They had completely set my soul on fire and my mind was constantly ringing with sounds I had never heard before.
Amazingly, despite my lack of technical chops, both Braxton and Jackson would invite me into opportunities to make the kind of music I was capable of making as part of their ensembles, music filled with passion and creativity – and very little precision.
Their willingness to invite me in was an incredible stimulus to growth, and yet, eventually I ran into a painful wall, again and again: I couldn’t actually play the music I was hearing in my head.
I could be walking to the practice rooms to play my bass with a Braxton horn riff in my head. Then my mind would add a second horn in harmony. I could make both horns play a perfect repeating loop – but also diverge at any moment for any irregular length phrase, and still find their way back into that groove whenever they wished.
I could then add a string section, playing long chords underneath, creating a shifting wave-like landscape that would completely rewrite the emotional imprint of the continuing horns above and begin to suggest complete departures from the original sound of my unfolding composition.
I might keep evolving the song as I entered the music building and headed downstairs to the practice rooms, my feet on the stairs suggesting a new rhythm at a different tempo again from the strings and the horns. And I might give it voice as African hand drums, or as an electronic beat. Or I might toss the beat back and forth between the hand drummers and the DJ every few seconds.
Suddenly I might become aware of the momentum and notice that I could get swept away. So I would think, “I need a polarity!” At that momentum I might build all kinds of embellishments sweeping into the sound, a dozen new instruments joining the fray to build and build up to . . .
A single human voice, a soprano holding a long powerful sustained tone that despite its nakedness would fully capture and hold the entire energy of the massive ensemble that was playing moments before.
I was capable of all this in my head.
But sometimes I would then pick up my bass, or sit down at the piano to play, and find the sounds that emerged to be entirely inferior to the orchestra that had been playing in my mind just moments before.
On the worst days, I felt utterly defeated. It was during those years that I thought more seriously than any other time in my life about killing myself.
“As soon as the music leaves your head, it’s already compromised.”
“Isn’t that brilliant?!”, I asked Jackson?
Jackson didn’t see it that way. It actually made him a little angry.
“That’s a cop out,” he said (or something like that, I don’t really remember exactly).
We went on to have a long conversation, but what Jackson had to say was essentially this:
Practice. Get better. Keep going. And put your music out into the world. Be dissatisfied and start over again.
Over time, the music you make will sound more and more like the music in your head – or not – but either way you are making a contribution, something people can touch and feel and respond to.
You are creating the potential for connection and those connections will create new potentials in you.
Actually I still love what Thurston said, but thanks to Jackson, it resonates differently now.
Writing on a daily basis for the past few months has clarified a lot and helped me capture a lot of my ideas that would have been lost otherwise, but I think it’s time to take the next step, even though I’m sure to stumble often.
It’s time to get more of these ideas out into the world. That’s where true creativity happens.
*Unpolished Thoughts is a new idea for me.
It means writing more often and publishing more often without feeling the need to polish everything so much. The emphasis is on getting these ideas out into the world – maybe daily.
We’ll see. – SD