David Remnick in his profile on Leonard Cohen shares this coda as Cohen discovers his early career muse, lover and long time friend, Marianne Ihlen, is on her death bed.
In late July this year, Cohen received an e-mail from Jan Christian Mollestad, a close friend of Marianne’s, saying that she was suffering from cancer. In their last communication, Marianne had told Cohen that she had sold her beach house to help insure that Axel [her son] would be taken care of, but she never mentioned that she was sick. Now, it appeared, she had only a few days left. Cohen wrote back immediately:
Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
Two days later, Cohen got an e-mail from Norway:
Marianne slept slowly out of this life yesterday evening. Totally at ease, surrounded by close friends.
Your letter came when she still could talk and laugh in full consciousness. When we read it aloud, she smiled as only Marianne can. She lifted her hand, when you said you were right behind, close enough to reach her.
It gave her deep peace of mind that you knew her condition. And your blessing for the journey gave her extra strength. . . . In her last hour I held her hand and hummed “Bird on the Wire,” while she was breathing so lightly. And when we left the room, after her soul had flown out of the window for new adventures, we kissed her head and whispered your everlasting words.
So long, Marianne . . .
“…once you have understood the song its no longer of much interest. And some of those great songs that you do that you kind of become aware of new things over the years with [those] songs -its the reason why you keep playing them. I love the feeling of a song before you understand it. When we’re all playing deep inside the moment the song feels wild and unbroken. And soon it will become domesticated and we will drag it back to something familiar and compliant and we’ll put it in the stable with all the other songs. But there is a moment when the song is still in charge and you just cling on for dear life and you’re hoping you don’t fall off and break your neck or something. It is that fleeting moment that we chase in the studio.”
“The song is heroic because the song confronts death. The song is immortal and bravely stares down our own extinction. The song emerges from the spirit world with the true message – One day I will tell you how to slay the dragon.”
“In the end I am not interested in that which I don’t fully understand. The words I have written over the years are just a veneer. There are truths that lie beneath the surface of the words. Truths that rise up without warning like the humps of a sea monster and then disappear. What performance in song is to me is finding a way to tempt the monster to the surface. To create a space where the creature can break through what is real and what is known to us. This shimmering space where imagination and reality intersect – this is where all love and tears and joy exist. This is the place. This is where we live.”
(All quotes by Nick Cave from ‘20000 Days on Earth’)
An influence from early on, watch and listen as Neil Young explains how he follows his muse. Its all about the music. Its only about the music…
Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells the story of Coyote who is so in tune with its surroundings that it dances to everything, from the rustling of the grasses to the rotating wagon wheels. The others think it drunk and crazy but Coyote is aware, awake, listening, feeling, dancing, living to the sounds of life.
Alfonso Cuaron in talking about his latest film, Gravity, said that there is no sound in space other than the sound the astronauts hear inside their suits from the vibration of their movements. His challenge to Steven Price, the composer of the sound track, that while using no percussive instruments he was to immerse the viewer in the environment of the astronauts, in every experience they faced. Here is an example of one scene that is done to great effect. If you have seen this film, this audio track can transport you back into this particular moment (headphones are great here)
The sound design team’s construction of this film is designed to place the viewer in this filmic space. They literally and with some irony (to me) ungrounded the sound so that any object creating a vibration or sound is traveling all around the viewer. Quite an amazing experience!
Back on earth, when listening to and experiencing the work of John Luther Adams, a contemporary composer, you can also find yourself immersed in a landscape (or seascape) that can be overwhelming, delightful, frightening, calming, awe-inducing, peaceful, evoking dread.
He explained in a recent interview,
“If we’re listening deeply, if we’re listening carefully, if we’re listening with our broadest awareness, both noise and silence lead us to the same understanding, which is that the whole world is music.
…everything we human animals do — everything we think, everything we speak, everything we are — derives from the world in which we live, and the deepest, most inexhaustible source for my work is the world in which I live. And yet, I’m not trying to reproduce anything that I hear or experience in the world. I’m more interested in the resonances that a bird song or a peel of thunder or the dance of the aurora borealis or the noise of the traffic on Central Park West might evoke in me. That meeting of my listening, my consciousness, my awareness: that’s the music that’s happening around us all the time.
I can’t separate my music from my life. Music is not what I do; music is how I understand the world. I hope that if I find myself in a singular place: wilderness, urban, indoors, outdoors, real, imaginary—doesn’t matter—if I find myself in a real place, a true place, and I am paying attention, then maybe I hear something that becomes music. If that happens, then I hope the music floats away, takes on a life of its own, and becomes something else to you when you hear it.”
Molly Sheridan, who conducted this interview for New Music Box says,
“Adams has a careful, considered way of speaking which, by all indications, is quite similar to the way he works in the solitude of the small cabin he calls his composition studio in Alaska. In a pre-concert discussion before Inuksuit was performed, Adams noted that it wasn’t a site-specific work, but rather a site-determined piece. Listeners are invited to find the music in the space, wherever that may ultimately be. This takes his work beyond the idea that it is music that is about place and makes it music that is place. As an audience, we are invited to listen with him, hearing the world through his ears and also our own.”
As Adams continues, how he frames his life’s work, as an introverted creative person, certainly resonates with me.
His music is his muse, and he allows the process of discovery to take him where it will.
“My primary relationship with the work is still very much an introspective, lonely, solitary experience. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve always had this kind of bipolar life, but it’s a matter of keeping the internal and the external lives in balance. I can’t get enough of these wonderful performances by these incredible musicians, and it’s nice to occasionally get paid now for doing my work. It’s lovely that some people are taking note and writing about it. But I think as far as the rhythm of my life goes, the balance needs to be very much sort of 80/20, you know, solitary versus extroverted.”
“No one ever told me that I could have a career as a composer. No one ever told me I couldn’t. I just didn’t think in those terms, and I made all the wrong choices every step of the way. I made all the wrong career choices and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I think the music knew where it wanted me to go. By a series of happy accidents, and a few conscious choices and maybe the peculiarities of my own psyche, I kept making all the wrong choices, and that’s turned out to be the best possible thing that could have happened for the music and for the composer. If I’d come to New York as a kid and had been that hotshot young composer, I think that would have been a bad thing for me.”
“I retreated into the woods, and I started listening to birds. I listened for six months, learning the strange syllables one by one before I began writing things down. That for me was the beginning of the life’s work that’s continued ever since. That would have been 1974; I was 21.
As I’m teaching at Harvard now, and I’ve been teaching at Northwestern, I’m starting to understand how unconventional a path it’s been. I wasn’t aware of that because it’s just my life. And I still don’t know what I’m doing, and I hope I never do. When I find that I know what I’m doing, I’ll know I’m doing the wrong thing. For me, it’s this continuing process of discovery and exploration and taking on new things, following the curiosity, the fascination, and occasionally the wonder of creative work. I don’t think that’s something you understand while you’re doing it.”
More about his latest work and what the implications of what the music is saying through him, in Part 2.
My friend Lee introduced me to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds awhile back. I didn’t pay much attention to them until Matt Cardin mentioned him in his ‘A Course in Demonic Creativity’ (which I will be referring to more as these posts continue) and in particular this episode.
Once upon a time Nick was nominated for an MTV music award and his response continues to inspire me and make me sit up and pay attention. I was reminded of this again today when I discovered this clip of a mesmerizing performance at this years Glastonbury festival.
Here is his letter to MTV with regards to the nomination,
“TO ALL THOSE AT MTV,
I WOULD LIKE TO START BY THANKING YOU ALL FOR THE SUPPORT YOU HAVE GIVEN ME OVER RECENT YEARS AND I AM BOTH GRATEFUL AND FLATTERED BY THE NOMINATIONS THAT I HAVE RECEIVED FOR BEST MALE ARTIST. THE AIR PLAY GIVEN TO BOTH THE KYLIE MINOGUE AND P. J. HARVEY DUETS FROM MY LATEST ALBUM MURDER BALLADS HAS NOT GONE UNNOTICED AND HAS BEEN GREATLY APPRECIATED. SO AGAIN MY SINCERE THANKS.
HAVING SAID THAT, I FEEL THAT IT’S NECESSARY FOR ME TO REQUEST THAT MY NOMINATION FOR BEST MALE ARTIST BE WITHDRAWN AND FURTHERMORE ANY AWARDS OR NOMINATIONS FOR SUCH AWARDS THAT MAY ARISE IN LATER YEARS BE PRESENTED TO THOSE WHO FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE WITH THE COMPETITIVE NATURE OF THESE AWARD CEREMONIES. I MYSELF, DO NOT. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN OF THE OPINION THAT MY MUSIC IS UNIQUE AND INDIVIDUAL AND EXISTS BEYOND THE REALMS INHABITED BY THOSE WHO WOULD REDUCE THINGS TO MERE MEASURING. I AM IN COMPETITION WITH NO-ONE.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MUSE IS A DELICATE ONE AT THE BEST OF TIMES AND I FEEL THAT IT IS MY DUTY TO PROTECT HER FROM INFLUENCES THAT MAY OFFEND HER FRAGILE NATURE.
SHE COMES TO ME WITH THE GIFT OF SONG AND IN RETURN I TREAT HER WITH THE RESPECT I FEEL SHE DESERVES – IN THIS CASE THIS MEANS NOT SUBJECTING HER TO THE INDIGNITIES OF JUDGEMENT AND COMPETITION. MY MUSE IS NOT A HORSE AND I AM IN NO HORSE RACE AND IF INDEED SHE WAS, STILL I WOULD NOT HARNESS HER TO THIS TUMBREL – THIS BLOODY CART OF SEVERED HEADS AND GLITTERING PRIZES. MY MUSE MAY SPOOK! MAY BOLT! MAY ABANDON ME COMPLETELY!
SO ONCE AGAIN, TO THE PEOPLE AT MTV, I APPRECIATE THE ZEAL AND ENERGY THAT WAS PUT BEHIND MY LAST RECORD, I TRULY DO AND SAY THANK YOU AND AGAIN I SAY THANK YOU BUT NO…NO THANK YOU.
YOURS SINCERELY, NICK CAVE 21 OCT 96.”
“I’m transforming, I’m vibrating, I’m glowing
I’m flying, look at me
I’m flying, look at me now”