This morning I awoke to a head full of thoughts — not an unfamiliar phenomenon, I must say. During coffee, something drew me to an online collection of interview snippets about/with Syd Barrett — the late psych-pop acid casualty and leader of the original Pink Floyd. Actually, I know exactly how I got there — I caught a random blog comment concerning Floyd’s onetime manager Peter Jenner, a fellow I happen to know (somewhat) personally and whom I like an awful lot. Summary: there was of fascinating stuff on this page, laid out in forensic detail. Check it out if you have the interest.
After that, I decided to vacuum the house, which for some reason always lubricates my synapses. The soundtrack to this chore was, of course, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I started thinking about influences, aesthetics and all sorts of other things. I realized that most artists never fully transcend their influences, but the best of us steal flame from our forebears’ fire — Prometheus style — which in turn illuminates our own creative path. This is a natural tradition, as old as art itself, though it does have a tendency to muddy the business side of things from time to time.
Personally, I have begun to retreat from the au courant, the now, the hip, in order to focus more fully on my own craft. And that’s exactly what it is: a craft. Somewhere between a practical trade and extrasensory perception. Some equate it with spirituality, others magic, others don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. My point is this: there’s a time to soak up influences and check your vocabulary against the common tongue, and there’s a time to put aside distractions and simply go about your business. And that’s where I’m currently at.
On the aesthetic side, I’m comfortable in the knowledge that whatever art I produce will naturally be informed by my influences and previous experimentation. Perhaps I actually have learned some lessons — like, it might seem like a cool idea to put Beach Boys harmonies on a Swans-type cut, but it really doesn’t come out all that that well! Of course, I reserve the right to be contrarian. Meaning that, that even when popular taste matches my own inclinations I could — out of temperament or pique — reject an approach that might otherwise suit me. For example, I refuse to chase the current neo-shoegaze/indie-psych movement around hoping to catch a wink. Firstly, I’m too old for that, and the whippersnappers would have me terribly out of breath. Secondly, I think that a lot of today’s expression lacks clarity of vision. Where is your gestalt? What about your work screams out to be heard? So much of the new psych-gaze stuff sounds as shiftless and non-committal as the generation that produced it. Give me danger, give me drama, give me noise, give me melody, give me sensuality. Look, I’m as moon-addled as the next guy, with a profound love of being enveloped in puffy wafts of sound. But The Goddess requires a Consort, and he better be ready to fucking throw down.
Even approaching midlife, I’m game.
Back to influences (and Syd) for a second. It’s clear to me — and anyone with ears — that Robyn Hitchcock is hugely influenced by Barrett. But Robyn’s done the gentlemanly thing and taken part of Syd inside himself, consumed him, if you will. This is the noble tradition that I spoke of earlier. I swallowed Jimmy Page, for example. (And he tasted like velvet dragons!)
Who did you have for breakfast?
As I get older, it becomes more important for me to create. Not out of vanity or the sense that I’ve got to “leave something behind,” but rather because life is indeed short and I abhor waste. Talent should be refined, tested, refined, tested, refined, tested until you run out of breath. If you’re a creator, anyway. If you’re an accountant (and there’s nothing wrong with that), your path and purpose is different. As it should be.
The craft continues to inform, particularly as one gets bolder about embodying it in all parts of one’s life. I am no longer intimidated by the “marketplace.” What marketplace? I engage where appropriate. I consider my (admittedly limited) audience. I challenge myself to find new ways for my ideas to be formulated and disseminated. I trust my instincts, yet work hard at perfecting my ideas. And I hopefully get better.
Perhaps you take a similar approach. If so, I raise my glass of mid-morning Scotch.