Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mistakes, Brilliant and Otherwise

Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass was badly damaged in transit. He considered the spiderweb of cracks an improvement.

You can hold back from the suffering of the world, you have free permission to do so, and it is in accordance with your nature. But perhaps the holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided.
Fonzie Kafka,” according to Bubbles, in the final episode of The Wire. The real author was probably named Franz, but I like it better attributed to the sitcom character I idolized in fourth grade, like most of his young fans never imagining that his incredibly self-conscious obsession with cool was meant as a parody.

The title of a recent post, Old Roads Rapidly Fading, was a misquoted Dylan lyric, “your old road is rapidly aging”—changes in tense and syntax purely conscious and intentional, fading instead of aging not so much, but I liked it better, anyway. And why should a correction be the end of the story? I mean, sure, if the Pope says "I like muffins" and the New York Times misquotes it as "I like your muffins," that’s a problem, even if it makes a better story. But that’s not what we’re dealing with, here. Somebody once told me his favorite Grateful Dead lyric was “look into any eyes, you’ll find value,” which he saw as a powerful evocation of the inherent worth of every person. Holding back the natural urge of the pretentious liberal arts undergrad and would-be hipster, I didn’t tell him the line was actually “you find by you.” Why ruin such a lovely sentiment for something so crass as accuracy?

Elvis Costello, in Accidents Will Happen, does not actually sing a perfectly pithy half-rhymed evocation of how it might feel to return day after day to an unhappy living situation, she says she can’t go home without a shot of rum. Instead, he sings she says she can’t go home without a chaperone, which isn’t bad, kinda clever, in fact, but not nearly as good as the way I heard it...so why not call it a creative collaboration between Elvis and me? Jean Paul Sartre called reading directed creation (or so I remember, and it works, so I’m not gonna look it up)...and Herbie Hancock described, in a documentary on Miles Davis, how he made a mistake when they were playing live, and Miles picked up on it, and made it right (I'm not gonna double-check that one, either)...and some of the best places I’ve ever been were found when I was lost. Isn’t every misstep really just unconscious improvisation? Why hold back, just because you goofed?

12 comments:

Lydia said...

Do not fear mistakes. There are none.
-- Miles Davis

(I liked the title of that previous post.) (Love that Sartre description of reading!)

svasti said...

Something I'm not sure I've shared with you yet, Jay, is that for many years I was a semi-professional belly-dancer. I danced in Arabic clubs and restaurants all over Sydney. I've performed in more local fetes, concerts and benefits than I can name. I was twice even part of the Sydney Easter show parade, riding on camels and whatnot. And my troupe was once the opening act for an Arabic pop star at a posh Sydney hotel... good times!

What I'm really trying to say here is that for every performance I gave, none of them was the same. And none were perfect.

I'd done my time in the studio (and continued to do so) - I practiced basic movements over and over and over... I hummed Arabic rythms as I moved serpentinely down the hall. I was obsessed to the point of feeling my dance skills in every movement.

But that's not what made me a good performer. It was the letting go, allowing my passions to arise, feeling the heartbeat of the rythms, and connecting with the audience... all these things made a dance special.

So yeah, directed creation and collaboration sound like fine terms to me. Much better than straight out plagiarism or imitation.

I liked the title of that post as well as the contents.

And you my friend, are a poet. Let's not argue with poets on their inspiration, shall we, lest the well run dry...

FANCY said...

I will say that it is brilliant to do mistakes ;)

Gypsy at Heart said...

Once, in a university class, a professor explained to my fellow students and I that Moses had never parted a Red Sea but a 'reed sea' - or sea of reeds. The word had apparently had been mistranslated according to the opinion of religious scholars. The significance of that misplaced "e" left us all spe chless.

Rhiannon said...

"The Times they are a changing" by Bob Dylan is one of my favorite songs written by him. "Masters of War" is my other favorite. Both these songs still ring true and probably always will.

I've always been so good at memorizing lyrics to so many songs as I sing them outloud while playing them...only to find out years later I was off a few words in a few sentences..yet I'm still sticking with what I thought the lyrics were as it seemed to have worked for me in more ways then one all these years..:o)

Blessings and "yes we can go Obama"!

Rhi

Koe Whitton-Williams said...

Interesting posting. . . last Tuesday night my young child, watching the news with me, heard 'electoral votes' as 'electrical votes.' I had fun explaining that one.

I also like fractured cliches - such as "give them an inch and they'll stop and smell the roses" or "if at first you don't succeed, just try keeping up with the Joneses.

And my favorite (as of the moment) "misery loves the opium of the masses."

Sorry for not visiting more often. . . I really should.

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Id it is said...

No wonder the politically correct terminology for 'mistake' is 'an experience'.

astorix said...

"Why ruin such a lovely sentiment for something so crass as accuracy?"

I like that. :)

Great post, and I have to agree that collaborative mistakes often turn out to be more interesting than the original intent...I've had great ideas for paintings via visualizing some misheard lyrics. It reminds me a little of the old beat writers making cut up stories, clipping out random words and letting them fall together to create something surreal and unique...or often total crap. Maybe what the world needs is a little more mis-understanding.

Crafty Green Poet said...

there are some mistakes that lead to so many creative possibilities its almost unfair to call them mistakes.

Ed T. said...

dude, your writings and musings are so well put and often so funny. At least to me, because I relate so much. It's nice to hear a viewpoint using references to art and literature and music that I actually dig. Great perspective, keep on writing. About misheard lyrics, I have a good one, - for years I thought the line of A Grateful Dead song was "date-rape on the land" (I stupidly thought it was some kind of environmental song) when in fact of course the line is "daybreak on the land". LOL.

Adria said...

And this is why I read your blog. You speak such truths that hit right to my core. Not to mention I am just as cynical as you are! Keep writin', I'll keep readin'