Thursday, July 23, 2015

No secret to me

Each individual piece of art that has ever been made is uninteresting to most people.

It's a strange way to look at it, but accurate. I can easily wander around my workplace and find people who couldn't care less about Bob Dylan. Indeed, it's just a handful who do care. Van Gogh? Mary Oliver? Caravaggio? Ursula K. LeGuin? Drawing from a pool of 40 or so culturally involved library workers I can rest assured that we would get nowhere near a majority interest in any of those lions, and would do no better with anyone else. And no doubt the fractional percentages of interest we do get in, say, F. Scott Fitzgerald, would drop significantly in the backroom of a library in Indonesia.

Nothing made by the hand of man has been loved by most people. When it feels like everyone around you is fervently talking about Downton Abbey or Game of Thrones or Gone Girl, take a breath. Look around. It's just four excited people, loud in the way of people in a group, feeling the numbers on their side. Twenty people scattered around those four have busied themselves, trying to make a little space to breathe. They don't care. They love something else.

There is always something else.

This morning I woke up with a line from a song in my head. It's one of my favorite songs ever. Getting up has been so hard for me lately. Something about this song today helped me get up, this line:

Just don't make me go through this again.

And then as my eyes clear the song comes to me:

But oh, it's one more tune,
I can't figure out.
Just don't make me go through this again.

And I can wake up.

Who knows this song? It is not famous. My friend Grape wrote it.

I love it like I love Nowhere Man or Karma Police or River. It is not due to my personal relationship, to my great affection for the artist, though I have those. I just love it. We are free to pretend that that is a normal thing, because it is. Grape wrote a masterpiece. Masterpieces are not so rare, but that doesn't make them any less wonderful. The famous ones are the tip of an iceberg. Almost no one will ever see most of the ones that have been made, the thrown away manuscripts, burnt paintings, songs that were never recorded, books that couldn't sell their paltry 1000 print run and faded away, scribbled poems, transcendent home movies. There are millions and millions of them. They may or may not find more than a single person to love them, but the beauty and wonder and feeling they evoke in a single person cannot be diminished.

What makes art a viable commodity anyway? If two percent of an audience loves it we can make it business, but if only half a percent loves it we can never send it around. That's just money talking. That's just the disease of culture, the weakness even in the heart of democracy.

Here is your Internet. Here is your Publishing industry. Here is your library. Dig deeper, but you cannot get there. Much is buried. Most is lost. Have friends. Listen carefully. See the graffiti under the bridge. Hear the song in the cafe. It's all around you. 

It's no secret to me,
That what I'm missing,
Is the very thing I wanted out of life.

It's all around you. And all the wonder and heart, it's all yours alone.


  1. Hey! I remember that song! Thank you for the kind words, and I understand your point about art and tastes, etc. It's an interesting issue partly because what we like to a large degree defines who we are, but I'm not sure that's entirely true or really fair. I remember once being at a friend's house, around 15 or 16 years old, and one of his friends who I didn't know much at all asked me if I liked Journey. I expressed no enthusiasm, and he responded by making a fist and basically asking my other friend for permission to punch me. Oy! If I knew he took it that seriously I would have said, "Yes, I love Journey!" My friend rescued me. There's another one: David Byrne on a panel with Questlove and someone else. Anyway, they were discussing music and David Byrne said that he had forced himself to say he liked classical music. Though he likes some, it's not what he prefers, but he kept that to himself. I thought that was an interesting point. Well, those are my thoughts for today. Thank you again for the compliment. I'm glad you like my song.

    1. When were you hanging out with Journey fans at age 16???

      Wait, I'll go back.

      Do you ever play these songs? But maybe this isn't the place for that discussion.

      Yes, it's a kind of discussion I go back to over and over, probably because there are these beautiful answers that wildly contradict each other.

      And now a tangential reminiscence. I am only 80% sure this all checks out with reality.

      Jay and I are hitchhiking from AZ and make it to a gas station at the fringes of L.A. You don't know Jay then and will know him only briefly, but, oddly, that knowing will correspond with all the rest of my knowing him too. It must be the summer after you graduate High School. The above song isn't even a dream in you yet. You kindly drive out to pick us up. It is late. We are at a gas station where a Journey concert has just let out. Throngs of Journey fans are at that gas station. Journey. I could care less about Journey, but later, when We Are the World comes out, the Journey singer stands out to me, and I say to myself "He has a good voice!"

      A week or so later after you pick us up we all go to Ventura to camp and see the Grateful Dead through the weekend. Ventura.

      So what does all this mean. Not much generally, so it goes in the comments. More to Grape and memory, it is crony talk.

      Yes, I love that song.

  2. Yes, that really happened! I remember vividly because I drove my parents' station wagon out to a remote part of LA to find you and Jay. One of the two of you was wearing a robe? I vaguely remember a concert nearby. Ha! And believe it or not the pizza place where we ate during the GD shows is still there!

    I agree that the Journey guy has a good voice. I wonder how he would have interpreted "One More Tune"?

    1. I suspect not as good an interpretation as Adele's and Patti Smith's!

      I almost mentioned that station wagon! Blue? But I thought I could be dreaming it from other adventures.

      Really, do you get pizza there?


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