Chan Marshall – she who records as CAT POWER – released the album The Greatest at a peculiar time for me… then again, when isn’t it a peculiar time?
It was 2006. I had finished grad school at IU and my partner and I had traveled to Italy to tag along with the IU summer trip. I was full – having seen many masters, finished a years-long course of intensive study, and imagining myself among my constellation of heroes.
My desire to do well and be great – to be masterful, to matter, to be effective – was intense. When I heard Marshall’s opening lines to The Greatest I burst into tears. It took me months to listen to the song without welling up.
“Once I wanted to be the greatest
No wind or waterfall could stall me
And then came the rush of the flood
Stars at night turned deep to dust”
“Melt me down…
Leave no trace of grace…”
“For the lead
And the dregs of my bed…”
“Lower me down…
Pin me in
Secure the grounds
For the later parade…”
Nearly fifteen years later it’s still powerful. I think Marshall saying “ONCE I wanted…” is even more poignant to me. In 2006 I resonated with the desire to BE great. But there is also the other side… the desire to HAVE BEEN great. To have wanted to be great “once” and then kind of learned and grown and gotten over it.
Easier said than done. Easier still when one has done something actually great. Worse when one has had the potential but has never been able to get there. To have been afforded so much, to have had so many chances. To have missed them.
Maybe getting older successfully is being able to say that “once I wanted” part without feeling desperate sadness. I guess I still have hope that I can do something transcendent as an artist. But we, in some sense, just do what we do. And what I have done isn’t particularly remarkable.
It’s nice to be able to surprise myself sometimes, even now.
But it’s a difficult time of endless distractions and urgent day-fillers. The days fill to weeks and weeks to months. What used to take a week now takes 18 months. Someday there won’t be 18 months left.
Never mind enjoyment or ambition. Just trying to get anything out takes just about everything.
Skull of Teacups, Vectored in Triangles