This week Will Leschber looks at the age old question would you rather…
“I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people around a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remember who I was.”
So says the aspiring Jazz Drummer artist, played by Miles Teller, in this year’s electric film Whiplash. There’s something in this statement that all artists can relate to. I certainly do. Even though I personally don’t agree with the sentiments, I’d be lying if I said I’d never thought about it. I’d love to have it both ways. To have my cake and eat it too.
I aways want a win-win but sometimes artistic success feels like a trade for happiness. As artists, whether we work at film or theater or writing or painting or just work at thinking about how we should make something instead of just talking about how we used to make stuff… (Sigh)…we’ve all thought about that golden ring of longevity. How long will we grasp for it? We each make up our own answer.
Is the passionate kid in music school, lead only by his desire to be great, going to succeed? The film, Whiplash, posits a very grey and muddy answer. What can we sacrifice and still consider ourselves a success? Is anyone we know going to be one of the greatest artists of the 20th century? Probably not. But who knows, anything is possible. Especially when you are young and possibility still rolls forward like a endless hallway of open doors. Will we remain bullheaded and stubbornly pursue our art above everything else? Or will we compromise and trade a little of those all consuming young dreams for some happiness and comfort? Everyone reckons with the trade eventually. Do these things really have to be poles of each other?
I remember a time in my life when all I wanted to do was act and create and live the artist dream of dedicating everything to my craft and making something of significance that would live on and shine on like a crazy diamond years beyond my lifetime. It turns out that pursuing one goal and blocking everything else out wasn’t even what I wanted. I wanted a balance and a life and a craft and job and a family and a sexy wife and a little baby girl on the way. 😉 I turns out adulthood is more about juggling than throwing a single ball as hard and fast as you can. It is for me at least. I think many young creators play with these notions of posterity, legacy and significance. Old ones too! Maybe I just thought about it more when I was younger, in college and felt that everything was ahead. Without the ever-expanding experience that comes with age, could I even tell the difference between what was most important?
Reminds me of a song that rolls back through memory.
“So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell,
blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field
from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
Did they get you to trade
your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
a walk on part in the war
for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl,
year after year.
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found? The same old fears.
Wish you were here.”
I had so many dorm room conversations about craft and what we would do if we could live off acting. I’ve also had many conversations about friends who left LA or no longer did plays or stopped making music after being burnt out by bad teachers or bills or harsh critics or time enough without successful encouragement.
In the last few weeks, I haven’t talked about much local theater and that’s poor form for a Theater Pub blogger. I’m sorry, dear audience. However, I do think there is something note worthy about the pulsing vein that is running through this year in movies. It radiates with solo artists and their struggle with their creative process and finding their place amongst meaning. Whiplash, Birdman, Boyhood, Selma, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Theory of Everything, Mr Turner, Nightcrawler, the list goes on this year. This pull between perceived significance and perceived insignificance, is a demon that not just every creative person I know thinks about, but every individual person I know thinks about. We all want to be remembered.
I’ve found a space that has no need of bullying teachers screaming and slapping my craft to make me better. I’ll soon have a sweet daughter that will challenge me in ways I can’t imagine. Those bullheaded dreams I had in younger days may not have come to pass, but I’m glad I had them. They were good dreams. They brought me to where I am today. I’m happy to look back but I’m equally happy to be here. And If I had one thing to say to that clear eyed, long haired university student that I used to be, it would be “Wish You Were Here…and don’t worry, you will be one day.”