HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE
I am an artist. I have known many other artists in my life and let me tell you, we are not like accountants or lawyers or plumbers or scientists.
Artists are dreamers. We are moved by images, songs, shapes and almost anything and everything, and so we know, understand and appreciate their power. We are also attuned to the unseen, which makes us — in the eyes of non-artists — strange and irrational. To some, artists are extremists — too emotional, too intense, too lofty and too insistent. But because of this, artists are usually held in awe and often in high esteem by others who believe we have the ability to create things out of thin air.
Artists, especially those who succeed in creating a decent body of work, must be able to traverse constantly between heaven and earth. Heaven is where the Muse of inspiration lives, but earth is where the money must be earned to keep the Muse happy.
The Muse is an irresistible Goddess. Sometimes it is a ravishing virgin who coyly beckons; sometimes a demanding mistress who must often have her way, and it can be difficult. Either way during such episodes when an artist is moved by inspiration in a deep way, there is no alternative but to say “yes” to what the Goddess wants. Otherwise, he will suffer deep consequences. Saying “no” is tantamount to creative abortion. And when that happens, the Muse stops calling, and the heaven where an artist resides can dissipate.
I have always been a busy artist. I write music, books and articles and I perform. I also do photography. I have known the Goddess for quite some time now.
About 12 years ago, when I was weary of writing songs that catered to the taste of recording companies, or the so-called “market,” I felt like I was dying a slow death. I felt less and less like an artist and more and more like a trained animal performing tricks to get a few crackers.
While I knew that physically I could keep doing this, I felt empty. My heart was not in it. I was getting depressed and felt alienated.
It was at that point that I decided to finance a project where I would simply write music as I pleased, arrange the songs to my taste, and record them by myself and for myself. I titled the album, “Ako Lang.”
To hell with the market, I thought. It was a personal album and I wrote songs that did not necessarily conform to radio play formats; the aim was simply self-expression. Some of the songs on the album are so personal, I am the only one in the world who can probably sing them with honesty (e.g., a song about my own family with their names on it). I had a great time working with musicians I liked and admired and who I allowed to get creative when they interpreted my songs.
The effect of this project on me was therapeutic. If I hadn’t done it, I believe I would have fallen into a deep emotional hole, alienated from my own creativity. And since then, I have vowed to do things by and for myself once in a while. I owe it to myself to feed my own soul. I learned one thing from that episode and it is this: when the Muse is happy, I am happy!
Throughout the life of an artist, there are streaks of inspiration and these can run for a long while. Thus, there are years when an artist can be very productive, where he or she produces a great body of work. But there are also dry periods when an artist feels that the Goddess has stopped calling and no longer wants to engage in creative romps.
For others, the creative run can be a flash that burns out in a short period. But the euphoria brought about by that streak, short as it is, is too good to forget. Thus, an artist resorts to many different ways to get the juices flowing again. Alcohol, drugs, sex and the insatiable quest for peak emotional experiences somehow help make some feel alive. For many, to be emotionally moved in a great way, or be dramatically and physically “altered” by peak experiences, is the only way to feel the presence of the Muse.
I do not belittle that, even if it is not the only way to summon the Muse, and it is hardly my working style, but many artists do subscribe to it. Edgar Allan Poe was a drunk, and it sure helped him become a great artist! Paul Cézanne said, “A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.”
The big events that artists go through in life do inspire them to produce great work. Anytime an artist feels alive, it is food for his creative soul. It is not surprising, therefore, that many artists have produced their best work during times of great turmoil, whether social or personal. An artist who died recently wrote the most beautiful love songs even if his love life consisted of a string of romantic disasters. My political involvement in the ‘80s led me to write many songs with social content.
Over the years, my Muse has learned to adjust to me as I have learned to adjust to her whims. My muse knows I do not like alcohol or drugs or anything that screws up my mind. She knows which buttons to press with me.
At one time in my youth, she may have been like a wild, demanding woman who needed a lot of emotional attention before she gave me the inspiration that I sought. But now, we have come to a modus vivendi. She has promised to keep the tryst going for as long as I am eager to do so.
Am I saying I have trained my Muse? In a way, yes, but I still wouldn’t count on her to be consistent. After all, my Muse is a woman. And like with any woman, I must continue sending her flowers, talking to her, and keeping the music playing if I am to keep having my way with her.
There is a way to keep the music going and that is the constant practice of art. Through the years, I have known that the Muse does respond when I am persistent. Henry Mancini played the piano every day. And so many artists do their thing on a daily basis. It’s called “showing up.” Thus, I am not intimidated too much by deadlines because I just need to show up and do the work, and most of the time, the Muse provides what I need.
It’s the first rule of creativity, and an important factor for the courtship of the Muse to succeed. It is also the first rule on how to live life, whether one is an artist, a lawyer, an accountant or whatever.