A good friend stopped by the apartment yesterday for a glass of rosé (okay, a bottle) and a bit of catching up. I pulled out my trusted Martin D35 and played a new song – “I Won’t Miss You” – that will make it onto the upcoming EP, and I asked for his thoughts. Through the years I’ve gotten invaluable feedback from this practice; a living room debut with some work-in-progress tune still half baked. Maybe it needs another verse or change in tempo. The suggestion yesterday was about dynamics: perhaps bring it up a bit here, take it back down there. The song is suddenly immeasurably better.
(Note to artists of all stripes: inviting criticism is essential. Know when to accept it; know when to stick to your creative instincts.)
Where does the creative flame come from; Van Gogh’s glowing starscapes, T Monk’s jumpy piano rhythms? A magic well of inventiveness deep inside our grey folds of neurons, peptides, and proteins? Neuroscientists see synapses sparking in the anterior cingulate cortex and left inferior parietal lobule when artists get their grooves on. That reveals the brain regions being aroused, but what does it tell us about the true source of inspiration? Is it chemical, physical, …. some kernel of protein pre-programmed before birth?
The Gods of Song
The Law of Conservation dictates that energy, whether thermal, electrical, mechanical, or other, can neither be created nor destroyed, simply transformed (first postulated by Émilie du Châtelet, a brilliant mathematician and close companion to Voltaire. … ah the French and their love of entangled affairs!). Can creative energy be governed by the same law?
Imagine that the gods of song lord over the reallocation – but not creation or destruction – of all musical creativity. They glean the energy burning off musical dynamism – the teenage frenzy at a Beatles concert; the rapture of baronesses swooning at a Mozart recital – blend it with other tuneful emissions of emotion at any given moment, recycle it, distill it, reshape it, then gaze down from upon high for the best possible artist at that particular moment to reinterpret it.
This process steps through a lot of conversions, as does power from original source to your wall outlet, but the principle of conservation remains inviolate, honoring Madame de Châtelet’s original premise. No mystical origination deep in the limbic system at debut, no final extinction in the cemetery-of-song at end.
As a creative you need to keep the receptors up at all times. The gods above are constantly surveying the flock for the perfect agents of delivery: who to best capture these water lilies in Giverny, the stars over Saint Rémy, to take this newly formed bundle of musical melancholy and write something tender about love lived and lost. The energy is floating in the ether. It just needs the right channel for conveyance. And that just might be you, if your creative soul is pure and open to divine inspiration.
A final note that I’m not the first musician to believe in the gods of song. You can find interviews with some of our greatest lyricists, the Dylans and Caves and Cohens, who claim that the process is as mysterious to them as anyone, that when inspired they are just a medium for the message and spill it out. The key? Stay inspired, live deeply, keep the heart open to joy and pain and all emotions in between, and always keep that figurative brush and palette close at hand.