Thursday, 13 November 2014
Ryan Adams, Curiosity and a Kazoo Solo
I'm not very familiar with Ryan Adams or his music, although I really enjoyed the concert and recognized some of the songs he played. At one point, Adams was riffing with the audience between songs and sarcastically said he was going to do whatever he wanted on his next album--a 10-minute kazoo solo, for example, because "I don't care."
This remark got me thinking about how artists (musicians, writers, painters, etc.) evolve over time, over decades-long careers, and what keeps them going. In some cases, for example Kathryn Davis (an author and mentor of mine at Skidmore College), the impulse to experiment seems boundless. From novel to novel, Davis' work feels less like she is reinventing herself than that she is tapping into yet another dimension of her prism-like imagination. She somehow maintains a sense of wonder and scientific curiosity--effortlessly! She never seems weary or cynical. In an interview about her book The Thin Place, Davis once said, "The world is a beautiful thing. I mean, it's also horrible, but it will be sad to lose it." This is both unique to her lens (and great empathy) as an artist, and a common thread, I think, among those writers I most admire, whose work always feels energetic and exciting. It is the exact opposite of Adams' "I don't care" sentiment-- a joke, yes, but a joke I couldn't ever imagine Davis making.
I suppose there are artists for whom art becomes a cynical undertaking. Though an example escapes me at the moment, I know I have come across books that I'm pretty confident were published (if not necessarily written) cynically-- written by a famous author with name recognition and a following, they are bound to sell lots of copies even if the book is kind of crappy (the same book, without the name recognition, would never see the light of day). Is writing still a labour of love, a mode of exploring the world, in these cases? Or has it become an obligation, a routine, one the reader can feel? Are readers as astute as I think they are, in knowing when a writer is phoning it in?
I am a very long way from having an evolving, decades-long career in anything, let alone art-making. And I appreciate how difficult it can be to stay curious and empathetic as any kind of artist, considering how difficult it is to make a living, and how nepotistic and insular some of these worlds can be. But why make music, why write, why make art of any kind, if all you feel is the burden of it?
I can't help hoping that, if Adams ever does make a 10-minute track of a kazoo solo, it will be the most haunting kazoo solo the world has ever seen, full of passion none of us had ever realized a kazoo could express.