In Favor of Youth
When you were talking below about the levels of art-making, I was wondering why didn't you mention that unnameable something that I'll (mis)name 'the spark of youth'. If you want to actually see it, all you have to do is look at photos of artists in their twenties and then look at photos of them two decades later. Whether they went off the deep end with drugs and self-destruction, or, on the other hand, took great care of their bodies and minds, that wild, 'I can do anything' glow they all seem to carry around matures into something else. Something less wildly, fiercely creative. I'm not saying mature artists can't create awesome art. I'm not sure what I'm saying, honestly. But I do know there seems to be a self-editing process that occurs when we're older. And while that process reflects our growth as artists it also seems to reflect our unwillingness to be fantastically, spectacularly wrong.
Baba once mentioned a quote by a jazz artist that said something like: "When you're young, you're all creativity and no technique. When you're old, you're all technique and no creativity." Beth and I were talking about that the other day in reference to Toni Morrison. About how Toni's books have become increasingly labyrinth-like, to the point where she's written all of the damn _story_ out of the story. I was mentioning Stevie Wonder - how, in his younger days, he would do things with those keyboards that the Moog Corporation certainly never intended. He get everything 'wrong': beats off-kilter, production muddy one minute and then overly bright the next, rambling about God Knows What one second ("Hello, Jesus. Jesus children. Jesus children loves you of America." What, man?!), perfectly lucid the next... etc. etc. Then, in his post-Hotter Than July work, everything became 'perfect'. And so, so boring. Had he become wiser as an artist? More technically gifted? Almost certainly. But he also was no longer willing to record some crazy shit and then leave it in there just because he could. So where does that impulse fit in for an artist?
I remember Rick Rubin talking about his first production, a record named 'It's Yours'. Twenty-five years later, hardcore hip-hop fans like me still listen to that record, in no small part because of the jaw-rattling bass. Years after the fact, Rubin told an interviewer that his (Rubin's) only goal during that production was to "set fire to the speakers." Surely, he exaggerates. There are other elements in the record that required subtlety and diligence. But just as surely, there's some truth there too. I imagine Rubin as a 20-year-old, yelling at the engineer, telling him "More bass! MORE!'" And the engineer was trying to explain (this is true, by the way) that there was already so much bass on the track that it was bleeding out of its own channel and ruining the vocals. "That's your problem," Rick told him. I think they ended up putting null tracks in there just to handle the bass bleed-over. All of that is beyond ridiculous. And yet, these days, Rick produces elegant, slightly boring rock records for grownups and for those unfortunate young people who wish to sound grownup before they actually are. ("And Mama said, 'Take your time, young man. Don't you rush....'")
So, in wrapping up this Great Monologue Written One Foggy Morning When He Really Should Have Been Running, I guess I'm trying to say that youth itself--that inherent and untutored wildness: that willingness (that desire, even) to do whateverthefuckonewants--may be another level of artistry. How to retain it (or some measure of it) might be worth thinking about. Or maybe even the thought is foolish? Maybe, like quarks (or whatever those inconceivably tiny specks of matter are), it's something that cannot be directly observed or even considered because, to observe it is to destroy it. Ah well....
To underscore his point about looking at "photos of artists in their twenties and then look at photos of them two decades later. Whether they went off the deep end with drugs and self-destruction, or, on the other hand, took great care of their bodies and minds, that wild, 'I can do anything' glow they all seem to carry around matures into something else. Something less wildly, fiercely creative," my brother sent me these photos.
But, I wanted to know, what about the middle ground? What about the 40s? Before defeat? After wildness? What about that?
And he said: Forty's a good time. :-) Dare I say a sexy time, even.
This filled me with joy as I am soon to be 40. In the photos I see an interesting nexus between between wisdom, confidence, and continuing daring!