“Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God. It is so extraordinarily full of magic, and in tough times of my life I can listen to music and it makes such a difference.” Kurt Vonnegut
For me, music is a mystery, something I’m never really sure that I’m okay with. By choice—I’ve never pursued any sort of instrument and sing only privately—I’ve never become anything resembling a musician, and so I see it as something magical. Perhaps god-like, as Vonnegut makes the allusion to.
Now for Kurt, I’m sure music did not prove anything. It’s worth saying that this was a man who usually described himself as some sort of atheist or agnostic, and never truly ventured into debates about religion. He was a man who had respect for the things people like Jesus Christ had said, while he might not believe in what they supposedly did. [This would be in contrast to C. S. Lewis’s Trilemma of “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord,” and this suits me fine in my mental picture of Vonnegut. He was often a contradictor, he was probably one of the best at contradicting himself or you, the reader, and he was embarrassingly good at it.] But music might have been a magician’s trick to him as well, something that he kept himself from delving too deep into. I’m not certain of this, the man was a writer, an artist, and, in a very real way, a philosopher, so I would not deny him any titles, but I see his comments on it in this way.
God, in a way, is an answer to the question of “What do we not know?” And it’s a question that plagues creative people, I’d say, since it points towards the origins of their works. “What do we not know?” is answered with where I come up with ideas for stories, for poems, with why you painted that picture that way, or why you think that note is fitting for a song. I think to some extent, any creative person comes to a situation where they do not know why something seems right a certain way to them. This is something Elizabeth Gilbert would like us to re-externalize, call it a muse, call it talent, something that I didn’t make up in my head, but something that a little birdy told me. And that would inevitably take some of the stress off (not to say that anything I’ve written has been good enough to stress me out with the question of where it originated).
Music, then, to me, becomes a question, like god or muses, “Where do your ideas come from?” or “Do you believe yourself to be sane?,” one that I do not answer. And it is, generally, a very beautiful thing. Ranging in its beauty, as it can often be pretty in the fact that there is very little beauty in it. It is an odd thing for me to describe, because I find myself looking at it as art in general, and suddenly instead of an observer, I am a novice, attempting to gain ground, strength, and ideas, and suddenly the way I speak of it is somehow wrong.
Don Delillo said this about novelists, “I don't take it seriously, but being called a 'bad citizen' is a compliment to a novelist, at least to my mind. That's exactly what we ought to do. We ought to be bad citizens. We ought to, in the sense that we're writing against what power represents, and often what government represents, and what the corporation dictates, and what consumer consciousness has come to mean. In that sense, if we're bad citizens, we're doing our job.” And while my simplifications are very obvious, I see musicians as not “bad citizens,” so much as the actual people who express what citizenship is, and do so on a more pure level.
As a writer, I am hiding here behind all these words, this language, a concept that humanity thought up purely for communication, and, in so doing, made it much easier for a person like me to do so. A musician, on the other hand, is forced to do the same with sound, not a created concept, but something handed down from somewhere, whether it be science’s big bang giving gifts, or the love of religion’s god or gods.
Now I will admit to being a young, inexperienced, and unbelievably ignorant man, but governments scare me, and when they are failing people, there needs to be that iconoclastic force out there that can make a difference, that can actually change things. This is generally a spot for the arts to insert themselves as necessary for any sort of human society, and when these situations crop up, I fear that what people do not need is another man in a mask, or behind a typewriter, keyboard; a man or a woman, or both, people, with their mouths sealed shut, writing on little pads with pencils.
And I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone other than me, but music appears to be a truer thing than writing. On a bad day, I can use a book as an escape, but it functions only as that, a temporary departure, whereas a song becomes something more, something undefinable. And it seems to me that music is immediately something of culture, whereas novelists, writers, generally have to look back at the past, to issue statements on it, evaluate it, and perhaps explain it.
Music has none of these motives, it is a pure thing, one that, unlike writing, can be produced through a following of certain rules set down, and still be as innovative as when the lyrics and notes were first written. This is perhaps the one thing that I resent about writing—reading is a thing entirely apart from it and so is typing, whereas “playing,” just from its own associations as a word, comes off as somehow more inviting, more necessary. And I guess that’s what music is to me. Not quite as poetically stated as Vonnegut, but I don’t entirely agree with him and I don’t believe that he was being entirely truthful, I would say that he was, in his quote, cheating off a certain way. But I think that’s a post for another day.
6:32PM Wed 8/12/09