May 22nd, 2015
I overheard a conversation last night at the Altes Finanzamt between two very talented improviser friends of mine.
“Sometimes the worst thing is when people tell you that you’re doing a great job, that you’ve touched them, that you’ve made a difference in their lives. Then you feel like you have to go on.” the older of the two said. He is small, skinny, bald, bespectacled, and so soft-spoken that one must always listen when he speaks. He is a curious and quiet presence, someone amazingly intelligent, thoughtful, and funny, yet someone who seems to wish to go unnoticed, someone who’s only talkative when you give him the chance. And from the first time I heard him play he completely blew me away. He is one of the most creative, skilled, sexy, powerful, genuine, and totally masculine improvisers I’ve ever seen. He is a master of his craft.
“But that’s exactly why you’ve gotta go on! You gotta do it because you HAVE to, because it’s something you have to get out, because it’s something you need to say!” said the younger of the two. She is tiny and thin, short-spiky-haired, and also bespectacled, with a voice that, if you couldn’t understand English, you’d swear was saying “ROCK ON ROCK ON ROCK ON ROCCKKKK ONNNNNNNN!!!!!!” over and over and over again. Her presence is a beautiful mixture of youthful gung-ho, a healthy dash of youngest-child Napoleon Syndrome (hey, it takes one to know one), quick wit and toughness in equal measure, and widsom and passion far beyond her years. She is the mirror of her companion in this conversation, another funny mixture of the masculine and the feminine, a bomb of genuine notice-me energy in a small girlish package. And in keeping with her mirror image, when she plays, or rather, when she totally entrances her collegues and her crowd, she is the most delicate, sensitive, subtle, sensual, truly feminine improviser I’ve ever seen. She is a brilliant genius.
The former of the two is in his early thirties, frustrated, and vaguely thinking of ending his musical career. The latter is in her very early twenties, and, very simply, finding herself with a vengeance, and rocking the fuck on. I struggled to chip into this conversation. Where did I stand in this debate?
I too am sometimes totally broke. And sometimes I still think about moving to Asia and leaving this European hellhole forever. But I don’t really think about stopping music. The people in this conversation mostly make music that is totally unpalattable by most people’s standards, so for me it’s totally understandable that they don’t make money off of it. Professional music-making is, after all, a service for others. Humans everywhere need music to gather people, to add emphasis, to loosen the mind. It makes sense to me that most people don’t want to listen to things that make them wince. At least some people do pay good money for whatever it is that I am selling. All that strict classical training does come in handy.
But am I a sad cynical bastard or a gung-ho gullible fool? I’d say I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m at the age where I’m fighting with my own sense of gung-ho, where I’m moving away from “artist” and coming back to “Shasta”, where I’m not waiting around for anything to suddenly change. I’m gonna have to work at something eventually, and even if it’s not my dream job, I still have access to pretty big money in classical music. Orchestra jobs don’t look that bad, even though even a few months ago the prospect of them was nothing short of terrifying.
What happened to me?
Two things. One happened after I listened in on the preambular conversation, when I realised the power of the accidental passion of my life, writing. I can live without a viola, but I cannot survive without a pen and paper, I would not be the person I am today without this blog. I don’t really know how this happened. I have never been bookish or literary. I am a child of television. I was the kind of student who read the Coles Notes instead of actually reading the books. But I always had a flair for words themselves even if I never cared for books that much. And when I started writing a journal in 2005, I never forced myself to continue it, it went on and on to this day by itself, a testament to a hermetic lonely angry person with big dreams, a big heart, and a big brain, trying desperately to understand and entertain herself in a chaos of constantly changing cultures and brainwashes. There are hundreds of Shasta-Journals in existence. And after hearing my friends’ conversation I could not deny that when it came down to the nitty-gritty deep passionate truth of things, I was a writer much more than a musician.
What else happened?
Last week I tried, and somewhat shakily succeeded, in birthing the project I’ve wanted to do most in my life. That is, using Classical music to make what I think is an entirely worthwhile, unique, palatable, and fun contribution to the world of Art. I did what honest musicians do everywhere; I started a band. We played Strauss with an accrodion, Ligeti with a triangle, and Bach with a trombone. And people really liked it.
And then. Poof. A huge weight of pressure and hatred left my shoulders. My big dreams in Classical music were gone. Having something to say as a viola player didn’t mean anything to me personally anymore. It didn’t matter anymore. I already made what was, for me, the most meaningful artistic contribution to Classical music I possibly could.
I went to a rehearsal yesterday that happened to be with some members of the Radio Symphony, an orchestra I’d subbed with a few times when I arrived in Berlin. I felt nothing when a woman who had once screamed at me in front of a whole dressing room of people appeared in the room. I don’t even remember what she screamed at me about all those years ago, and she probably didn’t either. But I didn’t hate her, I didn’t care, she could be whoever she wanted to be, what business of it was mine. We went through the entire practice in what-was-once-excruciating unnecessarily-nitpicky detail. I felt nothing, I said nothing, except to crack a few jokes. I actually felt something like respect for these orchestral musicians, they were goddamn professional after all.
Then I started to wonder about all this gung-ho, fed into my system by my parents and our American optimistic wasteland. Hold on a minute, is passive really the worst possible thing one can be?
Then I started to think about other things. What does passivity represent? It represents inwardness. It represents release. It represents submission. It represents… femininity.
Then I got really, really confused.
We love our hatreds. They define us, they give us a false sense of our borders, of limitation, of identity. I am me cause I HATE THAT!!! I hate that so much because I AM ME!!! We fear that if we release our hatred we will lose our dignity, we will lose all inner justification for being who we think we are, we will lose our identity. And you do. In the last week so much hatred has melted away in me that I am in freefall, I feel like shit, my mind is all over the place. I don’t know where my borders are anymore, my brain doesn’t know where to go, scrambling to find a foothold flailing through the pathways of irrelevant-and-useless-deemed beliefs. I don’t need to be that good at the viola anymore, I don’t need to hate on classical musicians anymore, it’s just a job, it’s something you do for money, that’s how it works. You work. That’s the system.
So, is finding ways to be feminine, submissive, passive, the other side of the gung-ho coin, really the answer to all of this unrest in my soul?
And the only conclusion I can really reach is…. why wouldn’t it be.