Not my dilemma, and possibly not a true dilemma at all, but certainly a philosophical question…
Earlier, I read a brief account of the shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I remember when the song came out – I was a kid, but I understood it well enough to know that this was a very serious story being told in the music. Even then I understood that most of the shipwreck songs I’d ever heard were either fictional, or wrecks that happened many, many years before…whereas this wreck happened in the now. The message I got, at the ripe age of 9, was that terrible things happen now, to real people, in real time, not in the dusty annals of the history books. It was the first time I’d seen myself in any sense as a participant in the continuum of history. That’s an important moment, that is. It’s where you get a past, and where the people and things you see get a past, and where we all – me, you, them, it – get a future.
So as I read that account tonight, I wondered whether it was known what happened to that ship, and came across this while attempting to answer the question. I find the song still hooks me in, and seeing the footage of the actual ship both above and below the waves brought back that sense of being an actor in a common history with freshness. Whatever it is, it can happen here.
In any event, YouTube kindly provided a handy list of Other Stuff I Might Be Interested In on the side, which lead me to a weird journey through the music of the mid 1970s. I had extremely questionable musical taste at age 9, which is to say terrible musical taste at age 9. Sammy Davis’ “The Candyman” is, regrettably, the least of it. The worst of it may be “Seasons in the Sun” which always choked me up, what with that wordly sensibility and awareness of death that you have before you’ve seen your tenth year. The shlock…oh, the humanity of it… urgh. Somewhere in there, I even ran across my Very Favorite Song from 1976: “Afternoon Delight”. I loved that song. I loved when it came on the radio, and insisted on singing right along with it, every time.
From my middle-aged perspective I can only wonder at the vision of a 9 year old belting out a disco tune about nookie. As far as I was concerned, the song was about a fireworks display, and fireworks are on my personal short list of Best Things Ever. I remember wondering how anyone would be able to see the fireworks in the afternoon, it being light out at that hour and all.
At quite-nearly 45, this scenario would absolutely make my morning and wind up in a Facebook post. Or here, in the blog. It’s odd to see myself out of two very different sets of eyes, that’s for certain. But it is not, however, the dilemma that led me to write at this hour. One of the links so helpfully suggested by YouTube was to this prize:
Now, this song is a vast improvement over the other guilty YouTube pleasures in which I’ve been indulging, but – even though I do know all of the words to American Pie (another tune I belted out along to the radio, with verve) – “Vincent” is my favorite of Don McLean’s. There isn’t anything I can say about Van Gogh that hasn’t already been said, or that can be conveyed by even 30 seconds spent in the company of one of his originals.
And yet, this presentation, coupled with this song, was able to take my breath away.
I am coming to the belief that there is some vital relationship between mental illness and genius – not that all mentally ill individuals are artistic geniuses, but most of the artistic geniuses also seem to have chronic problems with mental illness. I don’t understand this link, if there indeed is a link. I do know that there is a negative correlation between my general mood and my output of fine art (not including photography or writing). And this is where the dilemma is to be found: if a fairy, or demon, or god, or manitou, or other Being With Supernatural Powers appeared and offered a choice:
1. Have a long happy life, and create the sort of art that will be enjoyed briefly yet instantly forgotten.
2. Have a short life filled with tortured thoughts and unhappiness, and create one of the greatest troves of fine art that has ever been or will ever be known to mankind and continue to powerfully affect millions, if not billions, of humans for centuries after your short, tragic life has ended.
It’s just as well no entity endowed with supernatural powers has arrived to give me this choice, because I’m not at all certain how I would answer it. In fact, the longer I think on it, the harder it becomes. To think, to dream, perchance to die. To live like the butterfly, here for a second and then gone for all eternity? Or to sacrifice that one life for such a legacy? What is it worth? Would it become easier to make that decision if I knew with certainty how magnificent and lasting the legacy would be?
I don’t know.