As I rooted through old boxes to clean out my garage, Neil Young’s song “Vacancy” began to play on Sirius XM.
I lifted my head.
I didn’t recognize the song… surely, it was new. Yet something about it seemed different than recent Neil Young songs.
His voice was immediate and clear, and the opening riff and beat seemed straight from the mid-1970s, reminding me of his first famous band, Buffalo Springfield.
“That’s extraordinary,” I thought, given that Neil is now 74 years old… but not entirely surprising, considering his continued passion. Witness this performance of “Mr. Soul” just nine years ago.
Then the DJ explained that “Vacancy” was a song originally recorded in 1975 but released only last month as part of the “Homegrown” album.
How does aging impact creativity?
I admire the art Paul Cezanne produced toward the end of his life. But his career was rare, almost magical.
In the world of music, Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” is a favorite song of mine and my wife, Nancy (just another reason I love her). I think, and Nancy agrees, it’s a song he only could have written when he was young. It’s about beginnings, an invitation to a journey that can’t be replicated later in life.
Could he write a better song now that he’s 70? Perhaps, because Bruce is Bruce. Still, it would be a different song by a different Bruce. And, sigh, “different” is different than “better.”
Steve Jobs sometimes compared two versions of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” performed by pianist Glenn Gould early in his career in 1955 and as a mature artist in 1981. Jobs considered the later version more nuanced and soulful.
Cleaning out my garage has been a revelation: Boxes of old photos (see Saturday night’s post) and old papers. I found a folder of writing assignments I had submitted many years ago in classes taught by a Notre Dame literature professor, the talented poet Sonia Gernes.
Reading my poems decades later, my writing voice, like Neil’s singing voice, seemed more immediate and clear in college. Clumsy too. Much of my early writing seems creepy and obsessive when I was shooting for “tender and evocative.” That probably explains a lot about my past love life too. 🙂
I also, apparently, thought I knew everything. Despite helpful and insightful comments made by Professor Gernes, I never (except once) tried to revise my poems.
In fact, I have to: I told friends in a local photo-journaling class I would, and I feel I owe it to my social media friend, journalist Laura M. Holson, who has often written about embracing creativity, especially as we age.
Here’s a poem titled “Scenic Overlook,” in which I tried to describe the arc of a relationship in terms of someone who exited a highway to admire a panoramic view.
You can see my struggles in this photo. I didn’t have a panoramic view of life when I was 20. I tried to revise it years ago, to no avail. The original read like this:
In the distance, in the
break in the clouds on the horizon,
I can see laughter.
I had forgotten about that.
It’s an old story —
separating the forest from the trees.
It seems to me now that there are
a lot better places I can be than
standing here, surveying my past,
when the only thing within my reach
are the cold, damp car keys in my hand.
I have a plan.
Don’t get me started on the cliches and sloppy language: “separating the forest from the trees… it seems to me now that there are a lot better places I can be…”
However, I still like the idea behind the setup of the poem. I’m not throwing away my shot.
Here’s a re-do, written this week during a heatwave in New Jersey:
This is a dangerous place to stand.
In the distance,
in the descending dusk on the highway’s horizon,
I see a house fly
alight on your thigh.
It’s 40 years ago, and you are in bed at my side,
languid and nude.
I didn’t pull over for this. Despite all signs,
I find it a dizzying view.
The fly rubs its hands and plots its next move.
A dismissive twitch of your flesh shoos it in a flash.
Then you disappear too, just like that,
as cars on Route 80 flee to the west.
I look to the east.
Behold this precipice: these wounds, dark and deep.
Alone on this road, alone in my bed,
40 years later,
I still watch you while you sleep.
Originally published at http://varettoni.blogspot.com.