I’m often confused by the seriousness by which people believe things. They believe things as if the world is a permanent, flat, understandable, and knowable structure. I’m flabbergasted, aw-struck, and just down right confused by this.
To me, it seems that everything we do, underneath all the pretenses, lies, and forgotten causes is nothing more or less than:
“a-do-ba-dah-ba dee-ba-dah-ba doo-ba-dah-ba-dee” as Sir Alan Watts would say.
When I try to explain this to people they get horribly confused and start asking me for details… as if details are going to get them to understand what I mean. Perhaps they will, but it seems awfully silly from my standpoint. From my standpoint, there is a background obviousness that everything we are doing, every choice we are making is the same as what an improvisational musician is doing.
In the case of the musician, what can be said about how they got to what they are making? How did their creation come to life? Here we will split into two parts:
#1 – The musician certainly didn’t think there was a correct thing to play, except to say that they played what came to them and that was what was correct. Now once they are playing, once the piece has started to gain some elegance and flow, it would seem from inside the piece that the number of things which are “correct” decreases.
The structure which has emerged makes some things which could have conceivably been correct before, no longer correct or at least not as beautiful, as sensical. I think it’s fair to say that if Mozart was improvising a sonata, it wouldn’t be very beautiful for a rubber duck to be squeaked next to a megaphone, a conversation about financial derivatives to loudly carried on, for a Skrillex bass to drop without a build up, or for my own God awful voice attempting to sing Humpty Dumpty to be roared loudly across the room. Are there ways we could fit each of these into a Mozart sonata? With some very crafty work I’m sure… but to just plop one in without any additional revision wouldn’t be very nice.
But it is of course not true that the number of options decreases, rather it is simply that we can see pieces which no longer make sense. From the starting point of an improvisation, every starting point we can conceive of is as good as the next (assuming we are singing to the great sky and not to our social brethren). But of course, there are equally many options that we do not see until we have built some structure!
Now if you understand that everything we are doing is in a sense an improvisation. If you understand it was improvisational for the child to become a musician, it was improvisational for them to pick piano, and it was improvisational for them to play the notes they did, then you can have a good laugh at each and every choice that was made! There is seriousness in my play… If it were the case that I could play a sonata, and it were the case that I was playing one, and as the music slowed down to take a breath, to rest but for a moment before the crescendo, you burst into the room, noticing the state of the music and of myself, and blurted out with your blubbity blub mouth “HERGLE BLERGER RHEEEEEEE RHEEE RHEEEEEEEEEE” it would be rather unfortunate for my sonata, destroying it’s structure and depending on my investment, my mood, and how much you had stored behind your bid for attention I would either be horribly frustrated, lowly and resigned, or hysterical.
If it were the case that this whole interaction was itself part of an improvisational comedy scene, it would make sense for it to be awfully funny. My beautiful creation destroyed by an out of control blub blub.
Of course it could be even funnier. It could be the case that we were collaborators. It could have been the case that Mrs.WigglesWorth, an unimaginably wealth huferl-kin was looking for a male escort of sorts. But everyone knows Mrs.WigglesWorth had the kerflunfkins, and let’s be honest… no one wants the kerflunfkins. But there was a lot of money at stake. So I accepted the offer to entertain her great Wigglienss. But of course I had no intention of consecrating the evening. Grom the beginning we had planned for me to play a beautiful Sonata in her bedroom which I pleaded would “get her in the most wiggly of mood”, so that we could guarantee that at this time she would have slipped me the payment, I’m sorry the donation. Once I had the donation and reached the most subtle piece of my playing, you would burst in which such a cacophony that the only reasonable response would be for me to chase you with a blood culling rage at the destruction of my soul’s expression! And thus Mrs.WiggleWorth would be stunned and too confused to scrabble together any sort of defenses before we made it off to Hawaii with the money.
Now then that would be pretty funny wouldn’t it? At least it would be for anyone who was a fly on the wall and saw what was coming, coming.
And so it always seems to be that while there may be time, perspectives, and contexts of seriousness there is always a playfulness holding it up along side. There is always an improvisation which is both legitimately beautiful and legitimately absurd. Douglas Adam was trying to brilliantly scream this from the top of his lungs as far as I can tell. And so when you ask for details about how or why I laugh or smile wryly, I feel lonely — I feel lost. How could it not be more obvious?
#2 Now suppose you are horribly stubborn. Suppose you are the kind of person who was bullied so badly in school that it was only through the use of far reaching logic, and structure building beliefs that you could escape the horrible torment bestowed upon you by sheer bad luck or old karma. Perhaps then you say to me “Well, it seems we may be quite close to understanding why a person plays a certain note. As neuroscience progresses, you and I will be able to predict with accuracy what note will be played. And anyhow even if we don’t get there within our lifetime it’s quite obvious that you and I are made of atoms and it’s just a chain of physical laws which determine which note anyone might play. The environment, if we knew it in detail would explain it all.”
Which is all fine and good, except that now I’m stuck here thinking to myself “oh great, another horribly brilliant dumbass! What great profanity have I spoken which caused this tragedy to be placed upon me”. What I really want to do is kick you in the nuts. But I’ve lived long enough to know the futilities of these desires and so I say “Yes yes, perhaps we will be able to predict it with high accuracy. But what happens when it doesn’t?”
You look at me confused, as if I’m drooling from the mouth at dinner with the Queen.
“Where did these laws of physics come from?”
“EXPERIMENT!” you say. Happy for sanity to have come back into the conversation.
“No no, that’s how we came to see them, but where did they come from? How did those laws, those structures… how did they get the way they are?” I ask.
You start getting that wriggly little tension in yourself that a person gets when some small part of them realizes that what is being asked is neither what they were interested in nor easily interpretable.or maneuvered around.
And so maybe we fight, maybe I play along and sprinkle some breadcrumbs I hope to blossom into flowers one day. But I feel lonely none the less.
If you believe that absolutely anything is not subject to change, I think you’re full of yourself. I think you’ve got your head buried in a bucket of rocks and can’t tell which way is up. Is there pattern? Is there form? Of course! But it came from a void so incomprehensible that while I might be momentarily surprised that you came marching into my sonata singing Blergy Blergy Poop Poop, and I might be even more momentarily surprised when I realize I was part of a theatrical act where your marching was staged… I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
Because The Universe.
I’m sure your world is as beautiful as mine, but it is absolutely and fundamentally illegible to me if you do not see a process of free play and serious structure as a central polarity holding up absolutely everything we do.
Jesus was laughing in his grave, and the cosmic Jester knows his work.
And so I cry. I cry because I feel so lonely and I struggle to find friends who see and pay homage to the serious deep and beautiful inquiry of pursuit and discovery, while at the same time, see every single thing they could do and think of with gut wrenching hilarity so profound it feels as if your insides might spill out.
Nothing is sacred forever, everything is beautiful.
I love you.
PS: Can you see how serious I am?