I don't know if any of you have realized this by now, dear readers, but I've been told many times over the course of my almost 40 years that I have a pessimistic, fatalistic, almost soul black view of life. Life constantly reminds us that it owes us only death, that we do not own our lives, we merely rent them, and we are born to die. The sword forever dangles but a millimeter from our necks, ready at any moment to open something that should be closed or close something that should be open.
I don't believe in life, but I do believe in art. I don't believe in art as a means to construct a better world, a world which I clearly believe isn't possible. And I don't believe in art as something loose and personal. I believe that when the chips are truly down, when life is at its darkest, messiest moments, art is the one thing that will understand you in your darkest and most complex hours, and if something can understand you then, it can let you build a modest corner of consolation from affliction in a dark world and thereby transmit to you a conduit back into the light, a place where entertainment once again suffices.
For a number of years I bristled with nearly as much contempt at this elitist notion of 'high art' as anyone I knew, and if I had less contempt than they, it was because unlike most of them, I still actively loved the stuff and could never turn my back on it completely.
But then, Summer 2015, I lost all my bands virtually all at once - the ones I lead as well as the ones for which I was a sideman, while simultaneously the relationship I was in went calamitously south nearly as overnight, along with half-a-dozen other once good friends around Baltimore whom at the exact same time seemed to decide, separately but nearly all at once, that I had to be dropped like hot potato. Was I really that bad to deserve it all? I seriously doubt it. but occasionally I think we all run into the truth that the people who love you most are the same people most likely to turn on you and fillet you like a salmon. Was it true tragedy in the grand scheme? Certainly not, and were this the worst thing that ever happened in my life, it would be a blessed life.
But when you're at an ebb that low, certainly when I'm at an ebb that low, there is no Beatles or Spielberg or even Simpsons that can get to you. Nor even could the mass stuff that self-consciously aims higher: when it gets really bad, even the Scorseses, the Dylans, the Mad Mens, the Coltranes, won't reach you. It's not that all of it isn't great, even transcendent, but not even the Mozarts or the Tolstoys get there either. The choice is either to ride with those who speak with the grave seriousness of your mind's condition: Isaiah and Ecclesiastes, Homer and Aeschylus, Dante and Montaigne, Tallis and Gesualdo, Hamlet and Lear, Purcell and Bach, Rembrandt and Goya, Beethoven and Schubert, Dickinson and Whitman, Chekhov and Singer, Mahler and Shostakovich, Turner and Van Gogh, Auden and Larkin, Ozu and Mizoguchi, De Sica and Bergman, Ray and Kieslowski, or ride straight into that void from which no return ticket may be honored. In yet another crisis from which I did not know if I would emerge, the various pop and genre stuff I'd brought into my diet suddenly tasted like wallpaper again, and I'd felt as though I'd whored out everything I loved most, that had given me most, just for a shot at a little popularity that I never got at the adolescent age when you should get all that out of your system.
It would seem that more and more people I know are beginning to feel exactly as I have for a cumulation of months every year for three decades. If the mood is black enough, then the only thing that will ever make sense and reach you is something whose view of the world is as black as the world seems to you at the moment, even if what they tell you is a lie (and I'm still not at all sure it is). I do not speak for anyone but myself, but I listen and watch such things, and I write them, so that I may not die from them. I cannot promise that life will continue, but if life does continue, such things as these will always fill whatever life is left to us with meaning.