Well I’m late to my own birthday party. I launched Musical Me three years ago Friday, on October 14, 2013. As this chronicle – now approaching 500 posts – attests, my musical journey has been fulfilling in all the ways I hoped it might, though it’s true that my posts over the past year have grown less frequent. I’m busier than ever, and I’ve prioritized playing the violin over writing about it. The past three years have been a strong growth period for me, in many parts of my life. I am indeed playing the violin, and I’ve reactivated music as part of my world. And I write about it. For these pursuits my life is much richer.
Milestones get me waxing big and sloppy, and today I’m thinking about the interdisciplinary nature and breadth of human wisdom. I have always been a words person – reading and writing are first loves. As such, I tend to note the big prizes, and last week I and many others were surprised by the awarding of the Nobel Prize in literature to Bob Dylan. Though Dylan has never been particularly meaningful to me personally, I am aware that his work has had a sustained and profound resonance with a great big part of the American psyche, a part that despite my forty years I’m just a tad too young to fully appreciate.
I also know that in awarding the prize to Dylan the Nobel folks were onto something – the fusion of the musical and the lyrical has its roots in the deepest parts of our humanity. The Greek epics were sung. The literature of the European Renaissance is replete with rhythm and choruses. The ritual of liturgy continues to inspire awe, jazz defined an age, and national anthems have the capacity to unite and to divide. Humans are human because we speak; humans are human because we make music. Linguists and others have gone so far as to declare the traits definitional to our species. Over the past three years I know that my own work writing about and creating music has worked to fulfill the primal in me.
Reading David Remnick’s revealing portrait of Leonard Cohen in the current New Yorker yesterday morning was magnificent; in it, Bob Dylan looms large – he is interviewed, pre-Nobel, extensively for the piece. Unsurprisingly, the two legends have been friends for decades. Unlike Dylan, however, Cohen has been one of the greats I have nurtured a soft spot for. I’ve undertaken exactly two pop tunes on my violin, in fact, and Cohen’s Hallelujah is one of them (the other is On My Own). I come at Hallelujah from its Rufus Wainwright iteration, but its cache is ubiquitous. According to Remnick, in the Cohen song Dylan too “recognized the beauty of its marriage of the sacred and the profane.” The marriage is a defining characteristic of Cohen’s oeuvre.
Cohen is also significant to me because he too is a word person who sat down late at the musical table. Remnick notes that he was 32 when he first became musical. Overall, The New Yorker’s portrait is one of a seeker – Cohen roams the land over the course of his 82 years looking for truth and knowledge in places and traditions and vices and people of all flavors. He then gives it all back to others in the form of his music. Cohen’s life is a testament to exploration and wonder and growth – without creating too high a pedestal, I think I can say that his music does help us tap into the universal.
Remnick quotes a few Cohen lyrics, among them a favorite of mine – words from Anthem that resonate with me:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
I’m going to keep ringing mine, and I hope you keep ringing yours too.
Thanks for reading.