Character Is Destiny

The late, great Sidney Bechet said in his autobiography that unhappy people blame the world for their problems, but most of them are just mad at themselves. Even some great musicianers were like that, the man said.

I’m a musicianer, but I had to give it up, because there’s a terrible prejudice in the jazz world against people with no talent.

So now I write words instead of music.

Words are better and worse than music.

Better, because words can pin things down.

Worse, because so many things that are true for all of us on our planet are not reducible to words and numbers. We cannot skewer the truth like a moth on a pin. And many of the most valuable experiences we ever will have — things that make life worth living — may not be “true,” though they are not false.

It is a meaningless statement, for example, to say that Beethoven’s music is true — though we know it is not false.

After all, we don’t know for sure what any of it means, do we?

Sure, we do. Just because we can’t reduce it to words doesn’t mean it is neither true nor false. We know it is true.

Is the guy who just asked you out on a date, or proposed marriage to you, a creep?

Can you prove it?

You don’t have to prove it. Reject him and run away, even if you can’t put it into words.

Think with your gut, as the Zen monks say.

Here we get into politics. William Blake said we can hold infinity in the palm of our hand and eternity in an hour. I do this through music. Perhaps you have done it too, if you’re lucky.

The musicologist Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, wrote that very few composers — he mentioned Mozart and Beethoven — could begin a composition in repose — nothing happening here! Repose shows supreme confidence and competence — something most composers not only would not dare, but wouldn’t even think of.

Seen any repose in the White House lately? Any confidence or competence?

Consider Mendelssohn. When he was 16, Felix Mendelssohn wrote a more sophisticated piece than Mozart had done at that age: his Octet for Strings in E-Flat, Opus 20. Mendelssohn also was a talented watercolorist and pianist, and the best letter-writer of his time. He “rediscovered” Sebastian Bach, and forced the major orchestras to play his works, and since then J.S. Bach has never gone out of style.

Now here is my point. Mendelssohn thought the world was a happy place. You can see it in his letters and in reminiscences of his contemporaries. Mendelssohn thought that people, especially his friends, were happy folks.

What Mendelssohn didn’t understand was that they looked so happy because they were seeing Mendelssohn.

Who wouldn’t be happy to see Mendelssohn? Such a charming, talented fellow.

OK, then. Why is the most powerful man in the world today, who happens to be our president, so unhappy all the time?

Why is he always bitching and moaning about how unfair the world is, and all the conspiracies against him, and how evil people are, how they lie about him and misunderstand him?

Could it be that, like Mendelssohn, this man sees the world through the prism of his own character? And that, unlike Mendelssohn, this man’s character, his entire life, has been dominated by conspiracy, lies, evil actions, unfairness, whining and lack of understanding?

Just thought I’d ask.

Oh, in case you haven’t heard it, here’s a recording of Mendelssohn’s Octet, with Jascha Heifetz on violin, Gregor Piatigorsky on cello and William Primrose on cello. Every note in it is true. I can’t prove it, but I don’t have to prove it.

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