Rats, Wind-Up Birds and Ambivalence

At the end of a weekend alone, I am realizing I was wrong about songs being more manageable than books: I only got a good work-groove going when I had nothing but free time and emptiness before me. My fingers hurt from playing and songwriting so much.

You know, I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with music. Or – well, that’s not quite it. Let me explain a little clearer.

In music, you are operating at the poetic level, meaning a work which is both compact and impactful, and the fact that it is performed is also poetic in the sense that it is more of a physical act than a ruminative one. Prose is ruminative: when you read (or write) you are engaging in a private act, an interaction with words on a page, and you can take all the time you want with it, repeating phrases or sentences at will, stopping at any time. It is like a toy you control.

But music is happening in time, and it is happening TO you. It strikes with melody and rhythm and whatever performance actually carries and transforms it. It is a steamroller, and while you can listen again, you can’t stop it. It’s a little like a rape you agree to, or a roller coaster ride. And while it may make sense, or tell a story that concludes, it doesn’t have to, and might be a little disapointing for it. Are you interested in a message at the end of a boxing match? No. You just want the action, and the orgasm.

So that’s music. Even at the creation end.

But prose is all sense, no matter how poetic it may be. Unless, maybe, you’re Kathy Acker or William Burroughs or Virginia Woolf or fill-in-the-post-modern-blank. I love these writers, but their writing rarely appeals to the need to make the sense that The Talking Heads were so bent on stopping.

So there are times in music where I feel like I’m drowning in an experience I can’t control. To stay feels like a decision to live at an animal level, which is very very exciting, but unnervingly subconscious. Actually, now that I’ve written that, I realize it’s the opposite of that: it’s life at a hyper-conscious level, unmediated and uncontrollable as a rapids.

I’m probably over-simplifying this. But it has to do with why I have always circled through different art-forms throughout my life. Each one opens up a world for me, but then I need to explore that from another angle and then another. Music and prose have been the two forms that recur the quickest. And music has been the one I return to without thinking about it, without deciding: absent-mindedly I just pick the guitar up and there it is again.

So – funny – I’m at the mid-point of the Novel Song project and realize I’m taking pieces from narrative-sense novels to make poetic-sense songs and hadn’t noticed I was connecting the two competing poles in the creative life. Talk about subconscious living.

Today, I was going through my supposedly-finished song from Sarah Schulman’s powerful RAT BOHEMIA and realized I was still changing it — at an animal-level, something wasn’t settled yet, and I kept shifting certain chords and certain words around, certain rhythms: something still had to settle enough for the animal in me to feel comfortable. Maybe I finished today, it’s hard to tell, I won’t know until I play it again later and find out if my guts are at home. It’s based on the sections KILLER IN LOVE. It’s a story about lesbian passion, which, I guess, may sound confusing on my male voice. Well, that’s the folk tradition, right, not to respect gender in the singing?

If you follow me elsewhere, you know I’ve gone back to Haruki Murakami’s THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE, which I was dead certain had no song in it. THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING hasn’t wanted to be touched in a while, and I don’t know when it might return. Nothing is the way I expected. In some ways, I feel like the lead character in WIND-UP BIRD, floating through a world that throws odd inscrutable information at him when it wants, then disappears until some unknown logic brings it back. Something wants to reveal itself, but it’s not up to me just now.

Of course, maybe if I wasn’t working a day-job for a living it would be different. But then maybe I’d be so enmeshed with my subconscious/hyperconscious world that I wouldn’t be able to make any sense to you.

Don’t care. Need it. And need help to do it.

© Dudley Saunders