May 27, 2014
Throughout my life, I have been drawn to failure, as if it was a jar of honey, waiting for me to take the first taste. Once tasted, I can’t get it out of my system, and the world of debacle, at least by my talent, takes it to the highest order. Without a doubt, there is a gambler’s need to take a chance and throw it against the wall, to find out what will happen. Of course, if you sit around a stir a big pot of honey, you will eventually get stun by a bee.
One of my favorite composers is a man who lived an exciting life, but yet, failed in many ways, with respect to producing and marketing his music: the French composer Louis Durey. He made some beautiful music when he was an integral part of Jean Cocteau’s gang of composers “Les Six.” Their music was regarded as a reaction against the world of Richard Wagner and the impressionist music of Debussy and Ravel. Also it was a process by which Cocteau to show his leadership abilities in organizing a group of musicians to do various projects. It has been reported that Cocteau was very disappointed and angry about Durey not contributing to “Les mariés de la tour Eiffel, ” due to his claim, he didn’t feel well. The truth of the matter was that Durey was not pleased to be in this band of musicians and composers. He chose to work outside the then music world to be a member of the Communist party. He participated in the French Resistance, and became a member of Fédération Musicale Populaire, where he wrote anti-fascist songs for the movement.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he became very much involved with the issue of Vietnam and the French occupation of that land. Before anyone made an issue of the future Vietnam war, Durey wrote music to poems by Ho Chi Minh and Mao. None of this music became popular and to this day, and it is very difficult, or almost impossible to locate. Nevertheless, he did wander into a world where his music became unknown, and therefore he is very much a forgotten composer. I think of him often, because I want my writing and my books to exist forever, but the truth is, very few people care about my literature. I’m not sure how Franz Kafka felt about his works after his death, it has been indicated that he wanted all his writings to be burned, but his best friend Max Brod refused to do so. Also it is interesting how history portrays failure, because in his lifetime, Kafka saw himself as a very unsuccessful writer, while his friend, Brod, was quite a success in the literary world. But now, it is Kafka whose works exist, and Brod is a footnote in Kafka’s shadow.
There is one writer who I admire greatly for his writings, although as a human, he may lack certain nice traits, is Louis-Ferdinand Céline. At heart, an adventurer who took many chances in life to confront the horrors of the early 20th century. Sadly, the results lead him to be strongly antisemitic, while at the same time was a brilliant stylist and narrative maker. When one confronts the ugly beauty of Céline’s writing with the choices he made with regard to life, it is an uneasy relationship one has with the artist and his art. On the other hand he has avoided a certain style of failure, in the cocktail formula of his ego, talent, and hatred for the human race. The pitch-black humor of his work, makes his writings successful, even though there are areas one may not want to enter, but the nature of our landscape is often full of moral choices of all sorts, and therefore each person has to decide if they want to take that path or not. Céline’s hatred of Jews was so extreme in his writings, even the Nazis wanted to distance themselves from his literature . And to be fair, he was critical of Hitler as well, calling “Aryan baloney.” He even claimed at a dinner he was invited to at the German Embassy in Paris, that Hitler was dead and replaced by a Jewish double! Perhaps he saw Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator?” Céline died in 1961, very much an outcast in mainstream culture, but beloved by the Beats as well as anyone who had an interest in literature that was extreme, dangerous, and in a funny way, beautiful. In 1968, his home was burned, destroying his many unpublished manuscripts and of course, mementos. But oddly enough, his parrot Toto survived the fire.
The dancer Isodore Duncan is also an artist who flirted with failure, but due to her talent and ego, she overcame the odds to become an icon in the 20th century. Everything about her life was controversial, yet she was strong enough to ignore the criticism, and lead a life that was equally fascinating and forceful at the some time. She was a woman who hated the commercial aspects of touring and even more so, the world of contracts. She felt that the “business” practice of doing art takes away the pleasure and focus of performing or making art. Her main goal in her work was to produce beauty and the education of the young - which included at the time, a very young Preston Sturges, but that’s another story all together.
Right now, in my life, I feel it can go either way for me. My main focus has to be making art, no matter what becomes of me. If the failure is in my cards or tea leaves, I must accept it, as a price for doing art. Nevertheless, I have to admit, I do enjoy the journey to darkness, and whatever I find light at the end of the tunnel or just major disappointment, I need to take that trip at all costs.