Nov 17, 2009

Individualism: Glenn Gould and Other Heroes


For context, you might need to look at, Saturday, Nov. 14, in order for my comments today to make more sense. But I’m in the midst of paper-grading again, so I’m going to use my long-winded comment to him as the core for my post today. It makes for something like a follow-up to my Sunday thoughts about Maurice Manning’s poems in Bucolics.

Among many other intriguing comments about pianist Glenn Gould, Barbaro (at says, " . . . after a few minutes you begin to wonder if everyone else is playing them 'wrong.'"

Here’s my reply, plus a bit more.

That's a great line and thought. I wonder if you've hit on the measuring stick for all greatness in the arts. There's only one Gould, one Mozart, and so forth. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds good.

Of all the significant writers in the canon, how many sound exactly like a predecessor or contemporary? I haven't done my research, and this is not an objective test, but I bet the answer is "none." Apparently we value the new, the individual, or the unique that much. I’ve always thought something along these lines—haven’t we all, including authorities on the subject of art?—but saying it just then felt like a splash of cool water in the face. Refreshing cool or icy? Not sure--it does raise the bar, doesn't it.

Then, of course, there's a companion issue, one that's contextual and therefore bothers that quasi- and half-assed-New Critic in me: as the saying goes, "You have to get here to get there." Maybe this: could there be Whitman if there hadn't been Wordsworth? Academic scholarship might over-do the search for influences on any given artist, but exploring the question somewhat seems reasonable (or necessary?).

Don't people say we had to have Mozart before we could have Beethoven? So, in a related field, I wonder who had to come first in order to open the door to Gould. Or Coltrane. Or Willie Nelson.

I think it's widely accepted that bluegrass grew from Scots-Irish music in order to be re-born as Appalachian music. Yet the banjo itself was born in Africa, or so I read somewhere.

So when students or friends insist upon their free will or individualism, I think, and sometimes say, “Really?”


gothpunkuncle said...

Well... Coltrane picked up thing or two from Bird, Miles and Ornette Coleman, but a composition like "Giant Steps" is pretty clearly his own. Willie Nelson, I would guess, picked the torch up pretty directly from Hoagy Carmichael. (SP?) Glenn Gould was a mutant.

I can probably enjoy both the trailblazer and the legacy. Maybe it's that I can't quite place Manning as either... is that what's keeping me out of his epic poem, Boss? (Sorry. It's God he's talking to, but stay tuned for my new poems where I subvert this technique in a series of dramatic dialogues directed to Bruce Springsteen (HAH!)

Brenda's Arizona said...

Thank you for leading me to Hardsleeper43's post. Interesting what you both write. I never seem to capture the 'trailblazer' in our artists/masters - but when a student is 'out there', it is hard to see the trailblazer in him/her. Now I have learned to look differently !

Banjo52 said...

GPk, Springstein Boss indeed. HAH, indeed. The deity Boss probably needs LEGITIMATE new fans more than The Bruce . . .

Brenda, good luck with that search. I'm not sure I ever succeeded with it. Some very promising, arty young writers have gone corporate on me or just vanished (Yes! It was personal! Yes, it was all about me!). But at least they and I had a few months of imagining things together.

PJ said...

I'm very sleepy so maybe I shouldn't tackle this but it occurs to me that without Mozart we would simply have something else, most likely good and possibly better. I'm more interested in how people respond to the works than the works themselves anyway.

Artistic geniuses like Glenn Gould are often so tortured and their lives so unhappy and I'm no fan of romanticizing the creative process, too many family and friends hurt and damaged. Sometimes taking care of your family is a deeper and more important creative act than being a noted musician or poet. I'll know more when I wake up in the morning.

Banjo52 said...

For response to Paula, see November 26 post.

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