Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
The latest found object to change my life is this Vulture interview with Quincy Jones. As someone on Twitter put it, “It’s like Quincy Jones just got a note saying he was dying tomorrow and this would be his last interview.”
In other words, Q isn’t speaking through a filter this time. Lettin’ it all hang out.
Aside from a little veiled gossip about Hillary Clinton and some snarky darts aimed at Michael Jackson, The Beatles, and many others (everyone is described as “motherfucker,” including Ivanka Trump), the most righteous thing he talks about (beyond America’s genetic racism) is the pathetic state of music today. Everyone’s out for a quick buck and they don’t care about the art. As he says, when you have money on your mind while making music, “God walks out of the room.”
He talks about how John Coltrane knew his musical shit and was always studying. He carried around a copy of Nicolas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, culling from it a study almost verbatim that became “Giant Steps.” Coltrane was learning from Alban Berg. Q: “That’s as far out as you can get.”
In other words, the great artists of the past learned from past masters. Today they don’t bother. Maybe they sample a loop from someone who did his homework, then rap over it as if that’s some kind of accomplishment, but they don’t know their Slonimsky. No more of that 10,000 hours bullshit, right?
And from a particularly cynical point of view I can almost understand, Why do the work when you can make gobs of money without doing the work?
Which describes our era pretty well, I think.
It’s the same with writing, and I’ll even plead guilty to a certain extent. I’m definitely not as well read as I should be, especially in the Greek and Roman classics (though I do like me my Stoics). I see from the recent book, Why Bob Dylan Matters, that he was up on that stuff. Virgil, Ovid. In the head, we’re not much different from the people of that era. Life and death are still a mystery. We still need to eat, sleep, and have sex. Plenty of relevance in their thoughts, and we can still learn from them.
But, as in music, which does have objective rules and principles and a massive backstory, you get the feeling most of our writers today are thinking about money when they write the books that get on the bestseller lists. You know what happens when they sit down to pound out that stuff, right?
God walks out of the room.
[Image via the Canadian Film Centre.]