For the past few weeks I’ve found myself waking up in the morning wondering, “Is it Monday? Is it Thursday? Sunday, maybe?”
You have to be grateful, however, if you’re a self-contained worker — that is, if you don’t rely on kinetic energy to set your mind in motion. If that’s the case, nothing — creatively speaking — has changed. You’re still on your own watch.
But for those of us who depend on an exchange of ideas in close proximity to another human being, some degree of adjustment is required.
I’ve been reflecting on how the current situation may give us an opportunity to reconnect with someone special: that first person we ever wrote with, the first person with whom we fell under the spell of music, the very first person with whom we created an original melody and lyric.
When we were children, before we realized that there was a process in which two (or more) people could combine creative forces (“co-writing”), we songwriters-in-the-making were alone in our bedrooms with a plastic guitar or keyboard marrying chord progressions to poetry from our journals. The result: fledgling motifs, sparks of greater things to come. We couldn’t believe these promising sounds were coming forth from us! The world disappeared. We didn’t run to the table when our mother called us for dinner. We weren’t interested in playing with the other kids outside. We had this new, mad love. It was fantastic. We were alone and we couldn’t be happier.
Then we discovered we could make music with a partner. This was exciting too. We got to share our passion and tricks of the trade with fellow music freaks. We came to realize our strengths and weaknesses. We got better because there was oversight. And a lot of us never went back to the solitude of that bedroom again.
A friend recently suggested that since we’re all going to have to live with our own company for a while, we’re going to have to learn to appreciate it. Maybe he has a point. Have we become so reliant on external endorsement that we’ve forgotten the magic that can emerge from an army of one? Sure, collaboration is a wonderful process, but it can also dilute an idea that was divinely inspired.
In a recent piece in the Telegraph about artists creating in isolation, music critic Neil McCormick describes how, back in 2006, singer/songwriter Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), having broken up with his girlfriend and his band, headed to the seclusion of a hunting cabin in rural Wisconsin to lick his wounds and work on new music. He surfaced with For Emma, Forever Ago (which included the song “Skinny Love”), an album that catapulted him to a household name. Food for thought.
As I sit by myself on a piano bench trying to acclimate, I’ve found that once I let myself slip into that indulgent zone — where there’s no one to impress, judge or disagree, where nobody is directing me or offering their opinion, no matter how well-meaning, constructive, productive or how right they may be (that is, if there even is a right or wrong when it comes to music) — I got comfortable. In fact, I liked it. A lot.
So we might as well make the most of things and consider reconnecting with that kid in the bedroom, with our innocence, with that budding songwriter with no expectation, just surprise. Who knows? We may discover that our new favorite collaborator is the one who was there from the very beginning: Our self.