I’m reading a book about Glenn Gould right now. There is a quote in there about the right time to have idols – Gould puts it in the early teens, but something tells me he had a few in his adulthood – that made me feel a little ashamed of myself. I jump from one hero to the next, sucking as much inspiration as I can from them and then moving on.
John Fahey was a hero. I haven’t listened to his music in a year. Anthony Braxton was a hero – it’s been three months since I’ve heard one note he played. Two weeks ago it was Mozart – tomorrow Beethoven.
There are non-musical heroes as well – Shackleton being, of course, the most exemplary:
I was waiting for a friend at the corner of Queen and Palmerston on Friday night. There were two guys outside the Beer Store playing c&w inspired tunes as a duet with accordion and a snare drum. I love accordions, so I was happy to hear the instrument and watch someone play it well. It didn’t happen. The most basic chords and rhythms served as a pretext for twanging away with the voice – singing phony hill-billy bullshit about coffee and horses.
Don’t get me wrong. I love c&w music. I love the accordion. I love simple and beautiful things.
And I know that a person has to have a model.
But as I watched these two guys pack their gear away and walk to their cars (yes, cars), I couldn’t help but wonder: why is the only model for creative young musicians the earnest buffoon?
Are we still yoked to the myth of the noble savage? Are we so post-modern that we cannot enjoy things like refinement, hard-work or counter point?
But we must have models.
Which brings me precisely to the big problem: what do you do when your models outstrip your understanding? When your goals are, simply put, beyond you?
For most of my life I have listened to music that I was able to play (starting from punk and working through to the Carpenters) or music that I could at least imagine being able to play (Louis Armstrong through a phony blues-scale and a lot of faking), but lately I have been enamored with the Bach works for solo instruments: the cello suites, lutes suites, and the sonatas and partitas for solo violin.
What could a regular mortal possibly do with a model like this?