An important theme in my new book, The Fate of the Artist
, is the artist's commonly unstable relationship with his art, and indeed with himself. By art, of course, I mean all the arts, including literature, music, etc., in short, the material that writes the dialogues a society has with itself, with its gods and with posterity.
However, the artist does not necessarily always enjoy making the art for which we love him, and naturally we have difficulty understanding why he should not be fulfilled and made happy by his remarkable gifts.
In fact, the artist may one day find himself so at odds with his work that he flees in terror from the life's task he has set for himself. I recently re-watched Ken Burns's film documentary on the history of jazz music. In it, bebop saxophone genius Charlie Parker, having risen to his phenomenal pinnacle of influence at the age of 27 in 1947, was suffering badly from the alcohol and drug excesses that would kill him by the age of 35. During a swift tour to the west coast USA, he inadvertently set fire to his hotel room and found himself arrested and installed in Camarillo State mental hospital. Here in time he came to be allowed to work at length in the gardens. It is generally regarded as incomprehensible that a genius such as Parker could have been content doing that for seven months in a place where nobody apparently knew who he was or what he did for a living. After he came out, one of the first new tunes he wrote he titled "Relaxin' at Camarillo." Many writers on the man and his music have presumed the title to be ironic. But I think otherwise. I have long entertained the thought that Charlie Parker enjoyed being excused from having to be "Charlie Parker" for a while. And in my odd moments of unselfishness I imagine him happily tending cabbages in an endless repeating Groundhog-Day-loop instead of finishing composing his chapter in the history of music. Then we would not have, among other moments, the magnificent Massey Hall concert. But what the hey, rock'n roll was just about to come along and screw it all up anyway.