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July 11, 2010, at 7:38 am — Arts and Culture | Music | music blog / / / / /

A Musical Thing

Soundtrack to this post: “Awake My Soul” by Mumford & Sons, from Sigh No More.

Now my heart stumbles on things I don\’t know.

The theme here in the butter-pear wilderness this week is success. I’ve discovered, through the combination of deep ponderings and being a recent college graduate, that success is one of the strangest concepts to ever come 0ut of a human mind. I’m sure others have had the same uncertain relationship with this slippery expectation. In terms of music, success typically means that someone is paying you big bucks to make your music, and you can buy your record at Best Buy. However, being the emotional-honesty-purist and societal skeptic that I am, I would beg to differ.

I’m of the mind that musicians should seek only personal creative success, which can be defined through experiences. These can be as simple as hearing back something you’ve done and truly realizing that you would buy your record if you were not you. Is that simple? I don’t know, I’m too simple-minded to figure… or maybe that is generally complicated. Can you actually endure an out of body experience and listen to your own work without a tainted ear? I guess the problem there is that you will always know that it’s you you’re listening to. Regardless, I digress… the feeling of true personal creative success is a step above satisfaction. You can be satisfied, but not happy. You can also be happy but not satisfied.

I recently had a conversation with my father while home for the fourth about this very thing. While he was working hard and pushing on more than needed, someone had said to him, “you’re never happy with your work, are you?” My dad replied “I’m happy, I’m just not satisfied.” At the end of our conversation, though, Dad and I decided that the proper way to phrase his thinking was “I’m usually happy with my work, and I’m often satisfied with my work, I’m just not done working.”

There is a strange assumption that comes along with “success” that you’re done. For example, in music, you have a long career of riches and romping, and then your record label asks you to make a “greatest hits” record. I’m sure many famous musicians have met that request with a big “Woah! Woah! Hold on! I’m not that old!” The thing is though, I don’t think success as an outside standard for an artist can really be achieved… only personal creative success can be achieved: you can be happy and satisfied with your own music, and damn does that feel great. However, if you’re done, then why did you start in the first place? Art is not a means to an end, it’s art. I just recently read a great quote from an author that Incubus’ Brandon Boyd utilized in a letter to fans about his new unexpected solo album, it says:

“Art, like love, is what makes the world fresh and new. However, this revitalization cannot be said to be art’s purpose. Art revitalizes precisely because it has no purpose except to engage our senses. The emancipating jounce of inspired uselessness.”

To top this article off, I will turn to the genius of Alan Watts. In one of my favorite speeches of Alan’s he first makes the statement that the best composers in music are the ones who create the most beauty, not the ones who conduct the fastest and are the first to reach the end of their piece. He then describes the system of success that Western culture has created: You’re in middle school with the intention of making it to high school, high school with the intention of going to college, college with the intention to get a better job and make more money for stuff, etc. He discusses how this process is seemingly a race to an end, when that’s not what life is. In fact, racing through life, moving up and up in “status” until you retire is precisely the opposite of what we should be worrying about in life. Talking of reaching the end of this race (retirement) he says, “but then you realize that it was all a musical thing… and you should have been singing and dancing along the whole time.”

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