Thursday, June 29, 2017

"Flashes Of What We Wish Would Occur Every Time But It Doesn't"

My 25 year-old car’s radio just died.  It’s a Nakamichi.  Not the car, the radio.  Who ever heard of a Nakamichi automobile?   Although some Japanese companies make everything, from nuclear weaponry to waffle irons.  (Note:  The preceding is an exaggeration, though not inaccurate in its intention.)

My Nakamichi car radio – I just like saying “Nakamichi” – comes equipped with a CD player, whose apparatus, including 12 slots for CD’s, is situated in the trunk. 

One day recently, the illuminated panel that normally reflects the radio station or CD I am listening to instead displays a dispiriting “F-F-F-F-F-F-F-F-F-F“ designation.  The machinery goes mute, and that’s all she wrote. 

My Nakamichi is kaput.  No replacement available; Nakamichi went bankrupt.  My car is bereft of an accompanying soundtrack.  Now, I drive and I hum.

Over the decades, reflecting my musical proclivities and their late mid-twentieth- century stagnancy, there were three CD’s (all formerly cassettes, when they made them and I drove a different car) that were always included amongst my panoply of audial entertainment – Carole King’s Tapestry, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens’s Tea for the Tillerman and James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James.

Other selections came and went, but those three remained forever.  And by “forever” I mean they made the transition from cassette to CD – and from Saab to Lexus – and were still on the playlist when my Nakamichi system gave up the ghost.

Driving silently, during a momentary interlude in my humming, my mind goes – and not for the first time – to an interesting creativity-related conundrum. 

You may not agree with this, but it’s how it appears to me.  And I’m a creative professional so think twice about saying I’m wrong.  (You know I don’t mean that, don’t you?)

There’s a song on Sweet Baby James called “Fire and Rain.”  Over his career, James Taylor has written – ballpark – hundreds of songs (many of which sound the same.)  None of them, I submit, reaches the dazzling perfection of “Fire and Rain.” 

Though many of James Taylor’s songs are highly enjoyable, “Fire and Rain” feels objectively, if you can use “objectively” in an evaluative context…


Why exactly, I frequently wonder, would that be?

A man’s a superior songwriter.  Yet one of his efforts towers majestically over the others.


Is it the song’s emotional content?  Is it its biographical underpinning?  Is it the overall execution?  Does “Fire and Rain” resonate synchronistically with “The times”?  Or with my inner environment, or, may I suggest, all of ours?  (Except for the people who think I am egregiously off-base.)

What, do you imagine, makes “Fire and Rain” demonstrably the best song James Taylor ever composed?

I am thoroughly unknowledgeable about paintings or opera or classical music.  Is this phenomenon detectable in other artistic endeavors as well – the practitioner’s output is universally recognized but one particular work veritably radiates with spectacularness?

How does that happen?  It’s the same guy.  Using the same skills, the same notes, the same colors.  Then, out of their oeuvre, emerges a prodigious home run.

Larry McMurtry wrote numerous novels.  But Lonesome Dove alone seems touched by an angel.

I will now drop down to talking about myself.  Because that’s who I woke up as today, and that’s who I have been all my life.  And, on a considerably lower level, I too have experienced this curious phenomenon and humbly wish to weigh in.

During my relatively long and relatively successful career, I wrote or co-wrote somewhere around a hundred half-hour sitcom episodes.  But, over that period of active participation, only a couple of them really caught fire. 

And I cannot explain to you why.

If I am consistently capable, how come I am “exquisitely capable”… almost never?  Although still sometimes, which means I have the capacity to do so.

What did I eat for breakfast when I blasted one right out of the park?  I wish I knew.  I’d have eaten it every morning.  (Only to discover that it wasn’t the food.)
A random pondering, driving along in my musicless motor car.  (If you discount the humming, though I do not see why you should.) 

Inevitable Conclusion:

Excellence is agonizingly elusive. 

Even when you are “Top of the Line.”


Lord Lillis said...

First and least: you should probably get your Nakamichi replaced (ooh, that sounds painful). Although, much like 78 rpm record players, they aren't being made anymore there are plenty listed second hand on Ebay. Doesn't your local garage owe you? Ask them to find out what part isn't working, order it, and have them install it.

I was going to be a contrarian but there's little to argue with here. Those three albums are "classics" in the sense that like "Sgt. Pepper" or "In the Wee Small Hours" people will be discussing and enjoying them 50 years from now. My… er… contrarian sense was to say "how do you know that was their best - have you heard all of their material"? But I have heard most of Carole King's albums as well as Cat Stevens' (and Yousef Islam's for that matter) and I would be forced to agree with you - these albums are far and away the best. But this is very much in the eye (ear?) of the beholder. My very favorite Earl Pomerantz script, one which I don't go a week without thinking of and laughing, was an otherwise obscure episode of "The Bob Newhart Show" featuring Richard Libertini. There were plenty of laugh lines - "beef bourguignon" - and the plot was in that magic area between surreal and mundane.

Good luck with the car. And, if Dr. M. needs an idea for a present, have her buy you the Richard Taylor album "Mud Slide Slim". He made it right after "Sweet Baby James" and shared the musicians who were also working on "Tapestry" at the time.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Which episodes?