Monday, July 3, 2017
making excuses for envy
after reading an essay by dennis palumbo on writers and their struggles with envy, i thought to myself, "Not my problem." yes, i don't envy shakespeare or rilke, jackson pollock or matisse, not even the great photographers: brandt and brassai. smugly, i said to myself, "i've done something as well as they." not in total, rather with my shotgun, hit and miss method. somewhere hidden in my mass of material lies a shakespearean phrase, a rembrandt portrait. true, i'd have to dig a bit.
unfortunately, the endless processions of pride didn't last. i started watching lectures on classical composers, and listening to my old modern favorites: phillip glass, steve reich, and terry riley. i could feel something like pain, nausea, a feeling of lack, of failure. not because the sonata by scriabin not wildly inventive, the seascape of debussey not swooning and magical. no, rather due to their overwhelming sonorities, the fact they surrounded me, pouring music and feeling into every pore of my body, not just into my ears.
i remember a rehearsal of the new york philarmonic, shostakovitch's 5th symphony, the chills running up and down my spine. or many years ago as an advanced teen-ager, sitting in hthe living room and watching the darkening sky as tchaikovsky's symphony pathetique carried me on a magic carpet into an ethereal rhealm with no name. yes, i did listen to lots of other 78's: porgy and bess, oklahoma, brigadoon. the delights of broadway musicals were not beneath me.
that said, it was the monumental sounds of the great composers which turned me into a lightning rod. they took me over totally as the clouds flew by outside. and when i listen to their biographies, despite some pretty miserable lives, say the end of prokofiev's life or the struggles of a deaf and love distraught beethoven, i still envy them, probably due to the fact i'd have to have started a musical career at age five. no, i tried piano lessons and couldn't stand practicing. the same with the trumpet. maybe if i'd have had a guitar.
in the end i like to improvise too much. i noodle now with a ukelele and a recorder, i dream of mastering a digital program and making my own symphonies. even then i don't have the confidence i could rival a scriabin piano sonata, or a chopin prelude. the task feels too monumental, like climbing everest buck naked.
ah, i assumed i'd escaped the green-eyed monster, reading books of wise sayings, toning myself down - no puns please - restraining myself to poetry, travel, theater, photography. hadn't i tried to cover all the creative bases and not think too highly of myself, willing to laugh when i tripped and fell? when i visited the apartments of beethoven, schubert, and rimsky-korsakov, did it cross my mind they might be greater than i? even in the rooms of strindberg and dostoyevsky, this didn't occur to me.