The development of musical ideas and uterus-bearing pragmatism

Surrounding something I read in this interview with, yet again, bass player Jeff Schmidt. Quote:

” … I hear a lot of 4 minute plus solo bass pieces, which to my ears anyway, are really 90 seconds of compositional ideas stretched out to fill 4 minutes.”

This is what I previously called “a great idea in a big box full of foam peanuts,” and I think it’s a symptom of musical impatience, and a failure to appreciate the level of difficulty involved in developing a piece.

Basically, that first wash of inspiration — which I’ve had happen to me in almost every piece I’ve ever written, and which results in that initial 90-second burst of brilliance — is probably the best part of the creative process. You’re sitting there noodling, and *whammo* a fantastic idea bursts into your brain almost completely formed like, say …

32 stinking measures of gorgeousness that pour out of youme in one night …

That will then psyche youme clean out and take months of vicious work to develop …

Until youI are left at the end thinking, “Cream of Jesus on toast, I’m not even a musician, am I?”

I think that a lot of musicians think that if that first-burst idea came quickly and pleasantly, that hell, the rest of the process can’t be too hard, right? I mean, I got most of the hard work 🙂 done in one night! Maybe two weeks, and I’ll have a finished piece. I just have to keep at it until Inspiration Strikes Again!


And I do think that, whether one has had children or been pregnant or not, there may be an expectation among musicians who have certain body parts dedicated to the long, slow process of manufacturing more of their kind, that the entire process of creation is not over with the first burst of fun, to be blunt. If you are even potentially in that position, I think you are aware of the fact that after that first night of hooray, there are going to be several seriously painful months of sore feet, sore back, headaches, cramps, cravings, and stretch marks followed by a final painful push resulting in blood, stitches, and you lying there half-dead thinking, “I AM NEVER GOING THROUGH THAT AGAIN.”

And let me now say what I am not saying, because I know how this will be taken. I am not saying that men can’t do this. Obviously, they are more than capable, given the ability of people like Beethoven, Haendel, Brahms, Mozart, etc. etc. etc. to develop long, complex ideas. But I think there is a possibility that they need to bang their foreheads against it a few times before they recognize it. Whereas with others, they probably just take it for granted that that one glorious moment of yeah! is going to be paid for with several months of pain and discomfort.

And there you will be (on your knees in Vladivostok) thinking NEVER AGAIN, and you’ll hold to it … right until the next great idea comes along with great hair, a sweet smile, and a fabulous butt, and there you are in bed with it again … Now that I think about it, it’s actually the reverse of the old canard about walking from Vladivostok to Paris on your knees, isn’t it? You start out at the champagne celebration dinner in Paris, and by the time you’re done, you’re in Vladivostok in rags with bloody knees. And all you want to do is get the hell back to Paris where there’s champagne.

So I guess every creative endeavor starts out with the fun part, and by the time you’re done, you’re bloody and exhausted one way or another. And if you don’t acknowledge that from the outset, you’re not going to put out all that much that’s good. Even your best ideas will be underdeveloped. If musicians understood this, we’d have fewer and better developed pieces in the world instead of what amounts to shedloads of musical preemies that weren’t kept in the incubator long enough, because someone expected the gestation and birth to be as much fun and take about as long as the conception did.