This is not The Greatest Song in the World, no.
This is just a tribute.
The Greatest Song in the World, no, no.
(You can watch it here on YouTube.)
The first time I heard that song I gasped and sat immobile with recognition. Finally, someone had accurately described -- complete with demons and lonesome highways -- that experience, both mortifying and gratifying when you channel the most shining brilliant eloquent something, only there are none around to share.
For example, perhaps I am driving home from work and I'm turning something around and around in my brain and while turning that idea around, I spin myself off into some sparkling tangent in which multiple theories crystalize and in those 1.5 minutes of idling in line, I am able to concisely and eloquently distill this idea into one pithy sentence and the light turns green and I'm repeating the sentence over and over so as to remember it until I can scribble it down just as some asshole comes from the opposite direction, flying across 4 lanes of traffic in order to race in front of me into a McDonald's drive-thru. Now I'm repeating asshole, motherfucker, learn to drive, thank god for brakes, thank god I'm alive with a racing heart. Somehow I make it through the intersection and my phone rings -- my mom, because she's just sensed my near accident with her maternal telepathy -- hi honey, just checking in, how's my grandson? -- and by the time I hang up I've completely forgotten the brilliant blue crystal of enlightenment I was about to lay on the world. So now I'm trying to retrace my mental steps back to that strange, sparkling tangent. But dear readers, we all know that path is open to me no more.
So then I think...oh, I'll find it again. I'll remember it. But that's bullshit and I know it. That idea never belonged to me in the first place. It was just the right combination of my wandering mind, the electric wires criss-crossed over my head and my steel chariot sitting at just the perfect angle to conduct the electric concept down from the ethers and into my opened mind. When traffic and phones and all of my gd mfs caused the concept to become dislodged, it rose back through the ethers in search of a worthier place to manifest.
Once, I discussed this phenomenon with my poet friend Matthew John Connelly. I described a situation in which, while walking through the deserted streets of Albuquerque in the middle of the night and feeling vulnerable to occasional drunken clusters of unsavory men, I began talking to myself out loud. (This is an excellent safety device. It's like a neon sign flashing the words Really, Really Crazy over your head. People generally avoid attacking the mentally ill -- too many variables.) As I'm walking and talking along, the rhythms fell together and I ended up reciting my opus -- an epic poem of vivid images and evocative language that I can never recall nor recreate. Matt took a sip of his martini after hearing my story, nodded his head and said, I've had that. It used to frustrate me. Now I just consider them the poems for myself. It teaches me to temper my ego, since most of my best work can never be shared.
Another way that this teaches tempering of the ego is it that it really brings home the concept that ideas aren't born in the brain, rather they move through the atmosphere. Creativity is not something possessed but channeled. The first time I attended college at age 18, I was a musical theater major. The department was headed by Sheldon Patinkin and I was priveleged to study under Martin de Maat. For Marty's class, your scenes had to be "deeper than this ashtray", you couldn't say no to each other, and you had to let the scene lead you. This -- and the fact that we were on the 12th floor -- was a perfect recipe for opening yourself to the ethers. One day I arrived to class a few minutes late because of work. Marty had me slip into the smallest group with my friends Tom & Jerry (really). Between other peoples' scenes, they leaned over and whispered to me that we were going to be scarecrows posted in a corn field in Kansas and that we were going to try to come down from our poles. We enjoyed the rest of the scenes and went up last, because Marty was kind to the tardy.
I don't know how or why, but the muses must have slid down on raindrops and taken possession of all 3 of us. We became the scarecrows and what evolved was a funny, tender, wistful scene about the struggle between ties to home and the lure of the road and the bonds of friendship. When we were finished we were greeted with 5 seconds of absolute silence, followed by a standing ovation and an incredible level of applause given that only about a dozen people were there. Marty said everyone in the room would always remember that scene and we would never be able to duplicate it. He was right.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
While I was looking for links to this posting, I learned that Martin De Maat died in 2001 -- as I was finally closing in on a degree many years and miles away from the improv classes at Columbia College. This would explain why the phone he had forever was disconnected. Martin De Maat was such a talented, fun, insightful and shining human being. He taught humor, connection and empathy by example. In addition to being his student, I also was in a departmental production of The Three Penny Opera which he directed. He could elicit depths from his performers with his talents of connection and empathy -- and leave you feeling so comfortable with yourself. I suspect Marty was a sparkling light shooting through the ethers and manifesting here for some brief years as a wonderful example of a person and a teacher.
So maybe James Joyce was right. Art is remembering. It is the memory of those bright streaks of brilliance we are occasionally blessed enough to witness.