Claude Debussy was a terrible rock climber
And I’ve not made many genre-defying modern jazz records recently, sorry, dropped the ball a bit there.
So much implausibly excellent art has already been made, sometimes the desire to add to it feels slightly ludicrous.
It’s like looking out at a huge ocean, dazzling and infinite, and thinking “Aha! What this ocean needs is precisely one more bucket of water. The exact bucket of water, in fact, that I brought.” And believing it! Haha.
Here you may say that if no one contributed their buckets of water, where would the ocean come from? To which I might reply cheaply nuh-uh. Didn’t you pay attention in Geography? It’s made by rain and evaporation and stuff.
Imagine being legendary classical music composer Claude Debussy for a second, maybe at the end of his life, looking back on a career of writing transcendently beautiful music, but with the added hindsight of knowing that it will still be revered a century later. Sounds pretty impressive so far. Yet it must be said he was an abject failure at writing Chopin’s Etudes or Mozart’s symphonies. He completely failed to invent rock and roll or soundtrack rave culture. While he was writing Clare du Lune, he totally squandered the opportunity to compose The Rite of Spring. What a massive loser. He also never gave us the DNA double helix model or free soloed El Capitan. He just sat around composing and looking like someone from Bear’s Den.
Claude Debussy, loser.
It sounds totally absurd to do this, yet I play a version of this scam on myself quite often. I can’t achieve everything, yet judge myself as if I should.
I can listen to a great song by someone else and wish I’d written it, even though I actually don’t want to make 80s-ish synth pop. And then I subtly downplay any moments of success I get. It’s the British way.
Occasionally comrades, and here we can lean in a little closer in a conspiratorial fashion, I’ll even wish for others to… I won’t say fail but perhaps not-quite-succeed. I know. Ugly. Embarrassing. Presumably so there’ll be more ‘success’ left for me? Lol. It’s a subtle, even imperceptible thought, but definitely there. I’m getting better at noticing it, bringing it down to the station for informal questioning.
Actually you can play this trick the other way too. Instead of drawing the boundaries of your responsibility so large that you’re a failure unless you create everything, you can draw them increasingly smaller, until you’re in a field of only one. Then you become a genuine world authority at that thing. There is literally no one else on the planet who is as good at being you. You are judged only against yourself, and succeed regardless of the consequences.
That feels comforting, if a little post-modernist for my liking. But it’s useful as a correction when I get too self-judgy.
For example, the last couple of days I’ve been feeling distinctly lacking in greatness. Like I write average songs, and present them badly to an ever-diminishing audience.
Before you feel too sorry for me, know that the few days before that I felt almost god-like, worthy of endless international praise. Sound delusional? Maybe, but that’s artists for you.
What makes it even more absurd is how little credit we can take for our best or worst ideas. Whenever I stumble across something good, it’s not like I know how I did it. I also can’t help it if my brain just keeps suggesting boring, derivative lyrics to me.
When an amazing line pops into my head, it’s totally mysterious to me. Where did that come from? No idea.