Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Aesthetic Vision

There is something that can happen in one's life that is a kind of spark that ignites your energy--perhaps for the rest of your life. This often happens in your late teens or early twenties. I have learned to call it "the aesthetic vision" because that was what it was for me. But for others maybe it has nothing to do with aesthetics at all. Perhaps there is a "mathematical vision" or a "Scrabble" vision? I don't know about that. But I do know that there can be an aesthetic vision because I experienced it.

It was not something that happened all at once and I can't even tie it to a particular experience. It was kind of a holistic thing. But there were two Canadians that were definitely an influence. These two were Glenn Gould, whose Sunday afternoon programs on CBC television were quite a revelation, and Leonard Cohen, who gave a different angle on the vision.

They are both uniquely Canadian artists and both with a rather dark kind of aesthetics. Gould, of course, is renowned as one of the great pianists of the 20th century and probably the greatest Bach interpreter. Here is a sample:

That is a brief extract from a CBC documentary about Gould and I don't think I have ever seen a clip that captures better what it might be like to be inside his head!! It reminds me of that scene from When Harry Met Sally and after she does that excellent rendition of an orgasm in the restaurant, a woman at a nearby table says to the waiter: "I'll have whatever she's having!" After watching Gould play I wanted to say to someone (God?) "please, give me some of whatever it is he's on!" What it is, is the aesthetic vision; something compelling that just seems to flood you with some kind of aesthetic energy. You can sense it in this clip when he suddenly jumps up from the piano and looks out the window. He is not actually looking at anything, he just can't quite contain the energy. And then there is the humming! Here is another clip of Gould, his recording of the Goldberg Variations in which the energy is controlled and smoothed out:

Gould died in the year after that was recorded.

Leonard Cohen is still with us and in fact, had to re-launch his career in 2008 at the age of 74 after his manager seemed to have embezzled all his money! In 2006 he made his first public appearance in many years at a Toronto bookstore to launch a new book of poetry. So many people showed up that they had to close the surrounding streets. Yes, Cohen is much-loved, not just in Canada, but everywhere it seems. I believe he is on another tour right now and at the moment playing concerts in Australia and New Zealand. I first encountered him, again probably through the CBC, in the late 60s and early 70s. At that time he was probably better-known as a novelist and poet than as a singer-songwriter. His early song "Suzanne" was rather a hit, though:

He has just gotten better over the years:

Has anyone (even Bob Dylan) ever come up with a better first line to a song than that one: "Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin."

And he is still releasing albums. In January 2012 he released Old Ideas that included this very dark song:

That was, believe it or not, the lead single from the album.

So, the aesthetic vision. It is something uncanny that one day might just infect your soul. Perhaps that is what he is talking about when he says "I caught the darkness, it was drinking from your cup." But who knows?

All I know about really is my aesthetic vision: it just came to me, over a number of years, that there was something in music that was transcendent. Something that I was going to seek out. Something that I am still seeking...

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