Posts Tagged ‘Art’

“Scribble, Scribble, Scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?”

April 5, 2017

I sometimes say that the only thing I’ve ever done that was harder than writing the book I’m working on, Street Song, was living out the events the book describes. It’s probably true, but it’s hard to know for certain while I’m still in the midst of it. Writing a book (as opposed to a “read”) is one of the most difficult things you can do. So much is involved and it all has to be organized in an organic way. This book is difficult not because it’s extremely personal, which it is, but because how you present your personal stuff has to be done with a special kind of care or it comes off all wrong.

When I started Street Song I thought it was one thing. Working on it, however, it turned into another and another and another. But then, a book, if it’s any good, is lots of different things. The book is partly my attempt at making sense out of my life, partly a warning to others, partly a long letter of explanation to someone I alienated that I didn’t want to alienate, and partly a plain old job. (We all need something to do.) Hopefully it will give some people inspiration—not because of anything I did, but because of what I saw.

As you’ve always heard, writing a book is an incredibly lonely task. You’re inside your head nearly the entire day—even when you’re not writing—and it goes on for years. In my case, nearly 11 years now.  It has led me to places in my daily life that I never expected to go to, created problems I never would have anticipated, as well as misunderstandings that I haven’t known how to correct. (I often feel at a remove from the world around me and can’t reach across the gulf.) This is not to say that there are no joys involved. They have happened, but they are few and far between. Writing is grueling. The greatest joy for me , I think, is the last pass, after you’ve finished the last draft and are fine-tuning the language and massaging the subtleties. I’m nearing that point. About a year away now—maybe less. I’ll be happy when it’s over.

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Giving Up the Day Gig

February 2, 2014
The Early Beatles

The Early Beatles

We’re coming up on the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show (February 9), and there’s a fair amount of noise being made about that right now. I was one of those who was affected by that night in a major way. I was twelve then. Before the show, I was one way; after the show I was another. I loved the Beatles’ music, and it launched me on a path that I stuck with for nine years.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished a book called Tune In, a new biography of the Beatles by Mark Lewisohn. The book is more than 1500 pages long (which doesn’t include the extensive footnotes and back matter), but covers their career only up to the end of 1962! There are two more volumes in the works. Positively Churchillian. Lewisohn’s goal has been to throw out all the old ideas and myths about the Beatles and to start all over. His research is incredibly thorough and he goes into depth on the world they grew up in. He’s a decent writer, too. (There is a shorter 800 page version, which is more widely available than the 1500 page “director’s cut.”)

The thing I learned about the Beatles that struck me hardest was just how dedicated they were to playing music and not doing anything else. The most common piece of advice given to any aspiring musician, or to any artist, is “Don’t give up your day job.” What I’ve always seen though is that the great ones took the risk. They bet everything on doing their art and nothing else. Sink or swim. The Beatles did this to a degree that I hadn’t previously known. In England, as in most countries, one’s place in society is decided at a very early age. There is virtually no freedom to drop out for awhile and see what happens. (There’s less and less of that here now, too.) Each of the four Beatles rejected a trade or a safe place in society. What they wanted to be—a professional music group—didn’t even exist then. There were only solo artists. So while everybody was telling them that what they were trying to do was futile, they kept at it resolutely. I think that this ultimately was the source of their strength and magic. Hard to do.