Riffing on Books and Life – Arts & Sciences Literary Blog by interactive new media author & artist Terry Bailey

11Sep/11

On being a new (youthful) artist, composer, musician or writer

I've just re-read Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated, and what came to mind this time was a reflection on what it is to be a young artist. I think it was author John Updike whom I saw quoted once remarking about the abundance of words in his first books. Writers seem to take much greater care to be succinct, to get precisely at the thing, as they mature.

I see this reflected in musicians as well. Several times now, I have had the honor to play and sing with guitarist, Bob Saxton, who performed in the 1950s with country legend Patsy Cline. Often preceding Bob on the bill will be some young players who seem to be attempting to play every note on their guitars, one thousand times each, within their 10 minute set time frame. And often young members of the audience hoot and holler and demonstrate all manner of being impressed by the speed and "notiousness" of these young players. Then Bob gets up on stage. He moves slowly and the young people in the audience watch him respectfully, he is in his late seventies after all and deserves their respect for having been around so long if nothing else. These audience members assume that this old man won't be able to hold a candle to the young players who preceded him on stage, but they stick it out to hear him in case he has a lick or two they can learn from.

Bob doesn't waste notes any longer. Like John Updike with his attention to sharing his truths as succinctly as possible, Bob plays the notes that are needed, and nothing in between. That is something masterful old artists know how to do.

Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated has an abundance of words. I found myself skimming from time to time. One of my measuring sticks for greatness is how seldom I skim. And, yet, there are other measuring sticks for greatness too. And Jonathan Safran Foer measures up with most all of them. One already sees a great storyteller in this, what was his first, book. One also sees a structure that is fresh, creative and exciting. And a sense of humor that is mature beyond his years. I have already riffed about Foer's subsequent two books, Extrememly Loud and Incredibly Close and Eating Animals. I consider him to be one to the great writers of our time, and hope I can be around when he reaches Bob Saxton's aged status, style and artistic profundity.

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