I’m listening again to Glenn Gould today, as a “focus” or “music for concentration” playlist on Spotify brought across classical vibes that somehow led me to Glenn’s repertoire.
What a beast. In 38:34 (1955 recording) your ears get the full treatment. I’ll be listening to the 1981 re-recording of his famous Goldberg Variations later.
It took me back to my childhood. I was moved to peruse biographical pages and got a quick dose of who the artist was as a person, and more than once, my eyes teared up. I’ll be looking for a few books next time I’m at the used bookstore.
It reminded me of some of the temporary madness I would enjoy during the early years of my musical exploration. I wasn’t introduced to a piano until much later, so the keyboards I went through were many. Cheap instruments just couldn’t handle the beating I would put them through.
Eventually, I was gifted a Technics machine, a KN2000 (1994), and it was a game changer. It allowed me to battle with it for three or four hours a day, until my forearms were burning, fingers pulsating, and it also allowed me to get deeper into composing my ideas, and saving them to disk.
It also kept me from turning anything within reaching distance into a percussion instrument. More than a few times, my mother would scream my name from somewhere across the house, interrupting a mad frenzy of drumming bliss. It was oddly disconcerting.
There were times I had a drum kit, and that was amazing, especially when there was a space I could actually play them for hours on end. These were times I also experimented with singing out loud, drowned out behind the rhythmic cacophony. Oddly, a moment I remember most is when a couple of friends barged in to my humble little “studio” at the back of the garage, interrupting a session of creative abandon. I found it rather traumatic and embarrassing.
I can’t really link up all the moments of jarring breaks in my process, but I do know they added up. I was already intensely shy when I was a wee lad, and while my parents tried to support my musical interests through lessons, I would utterly despise the intimate spaces with a teacher, and possibly my dad in the room — who was paying for it. I don’t know what seemed so unnatural about it, but I shut down, more than once, or I’d fake it through to earn another week away from it.
Leave me the fuck alone, and you couldn’t stop me! Seeya at dinner, maybe. Eventually, lessons were essentially moot because whatever music I was given to learn by rote, I would reinterpret and perform in my own way. Anybody can play a song exactly the way somebody else had made it famous. Boring!
Later on, perhaps ironically, I found a happy place performing on stage. My drumsticks had something to say. My words had something to say. My music was meant for the world, out there. I wanted to heal, uplift, shake up, inspire, elevate and make people think and wake up.
What a strange psychology it can be. Perhaps arrogance or righteousness, but it felt like it was coming from an authentic place. I had tried to compose chart-worthy music, but it was so boring and stupid and unfulfilling. It was further depressing how so few people would ever come out to see me perform. And slowly, it just lost its appeal.
There are so many reasons not to do things in life. We’re reminded a thousand times a day, from a thousand different directions. We’ve made life so complex it’s lost most of its meaning. And perhaps the two most important aspects to life that have suffered the greatest, are our pursuit of our true, artist selves and our intimate relationships.
When did the most profound things get so destroyed?
I don’t blame my mother for screaming at me. She was struggling deeply with her own demons, an unhappy marriage, and had found little fulfilment in her various careers. I don’t blame my father, for he grew up without a father himself, and the disappointment in me was only ever bitter disappointment in himself. I don’t blame my tiny and sparse audiences, because they don’t have time to listen to deep, cerebral, spiritual lyrics and meaningful music *cough*.
And I’ve learned to blame and shame myself less, too. It’s taken over twenty years, but what does that matter?
My point, if there is one to be made here, is that I guess part of me envies the audacity and “frustrating behavior” of a Glenn Gould, for he was who he was, completely. His eccentricities were not subdued or suppressed, and he had the gall to embody his artist self, faults and all. True, he suffered madly in ways, but he put his passion out there, and the world is all the better for it.
I chose compromise, accommodation, and suppression. I chose to be the good, honest, reliable son. I don’t wish that kind of hell on anyone. Yet, it has formed who I am, here, now, and while it isn’t what I’d imagined, it is what it is. I am grateful.
Love your kids. Maybe let ’em be more crazy.