A Heartwarming Autobiographical Confessional Story of Personal Growth and the Overcoming of Fierce Obstacles and Adversity against Overwhelming Odds on the Path to Artistic Glory and Fame beyond Imagining
The effective confessional autobiography is something few people can pull off convincingly. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk–do jokes diminish it? Does a tone of humility make it sound false? Is there too much self-importance in it to be effective? But whatever the consequence, which may involve people typing “fail” onto a computer somewhere, I think I’m gonna have to attempt a little bit of it. Because in a few days (at least a week ago, by the time this sees the light of computer screens across the internet), my first viola teacher will be 100 years old, and the reaching of an age one can, without grammar-fascist reprisal, type in numeral form (instead of spelling it out in words) is a pretty significant event.
The natural impulse in describing one’s childhood, I think, is probably to begin with a description of the hometown. But I’m discarding that straight away as being too Garrison Keillory. Suffice to say that I now live in Los Angeles, in an apartment with an infant shrieking from the next apartment over, and I used to live in Montana, where most of the shrieking was coming out of my chosen instrument. When I was ten years old, I was lucky enough to live in a place where the school system had a decent orchestra program. My ten-year-old brain immediately sensed that orchestral musicianship was the most obvious route to worldwide fame and riches beyond imagining, free cocktails at exclusive parties thrown by the cultural elite, and food that didn’t come from a microwave oven, so naturally I signed up. I had to choose an instrument, and after hearing Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, I decided to choose the ginger stepchild of the orchestra–the one that even the bassists and tuba players had jokes about. It wasn’t just that I was uncool enough to be in the orchestra; I picked arguably the uncoolest of all the instruments in it. Not even uncool enough to be cool: the viola sprints through uncool, races past cool, and arrives solidly back at uncool again.
But whatever! At ten, my thumb-thick tortoiseshell glasses and favorite pink polo shirt were more than enough to ensure my place in the Pantheon of Uncool. No point in worrying about the subtle gradations. We’re talking about ART here, not reality-show stardom. So with my status affirmed as a social and musical pariah, I needed a teacher. (more…)
Damn You, Hollywood. Again.
Cast your mind back a few weeks. The air was cleaner, the world made sense, and herds of adorable golden retriever puppies roamed the streets spreading good will. And a younger, fresher-faced Eric Summer wrote an internet column which happened to mention that he thought most people didn’t really like music all that much–that they regarded it as little more than background noise.
Well, the long weeks have passed, and I have spent my time in quiet contemplation as I’ve grown older, and I think I have it pinned down as to why people think of music as background noise. As is usually the case in these matters, I blame Hollywood.
This train of thought began, as most of my trains of thought do, with Star Wars. I was driving home from work one day and I heard John Williams’ Star Wars score on the radio. I was happy to hear it. I like Star Wars. A lot. And as I listened, I realized I remembered exactly where most of the dialogue from the movies fit with the score. It was uncanny. So I drove on home, quoting Star Wars happily to myself and thinking. And then it dawned on me, clear and bright as a summer cliché: this score is inextricably tied with the movie it belongs to. It is simply impossible to separate the two. Any merit it has as a piece of music is completely dependent upon the pictures that go with it.
Which is not to say that it’s ineffective; far from it. It is a wonderful movie score, filled with memorable themes and underlining the emotional context of each scene it supports. But it doesn’t work without the movie. (more…)
Hello. My name’s Eric and I’m writing a column for a website.
I’ve never written a column before, and I’ve certainly never written anything before 3 am the day it was due, and odds are you’ve never read anything I’ve written before (unless you’re familiar with my seminal analysis of the later works of Richard Strauss as applied to the epic battle between Batman and Star Wars, which I may or may not have drunkenly written for a music history class at some point [it may or may not have been a thought-provoking edge-of-the-seat analytical thrill ride]), so I think it’s fair that we get a few things out in the open before we begin. Five things, to be exact.
First of all, I’m not exactly sure yet what my column’s going to be about. I think it’s mostly going to involve music, since that’s the subject I’m legitimately qualified to write about (which already puts me head and shoulders and torso and most of my legs above most people who write things about music). But I’ll probably occasionally just start ranting about things that piss me off, and those things are many and varied. This could happen at any time, so if it does, just let it run its course until I tire myself out. Maybe try to put a wooden spoon in my mouth or something.
Second, I promise never to say “literally” when I mean “figuratively.” I will never use the word “prodigal” to mean “somebody who returns,” because that’s not what it means. I will never say “goal-oriented” at all. I’m also going to steer clear of “mindset,” because that is a stupid word, and I’ll keep any and all discussions of irony to subjects that are actually ironic and not just unfortunate or interestingly coincidental.
Third, I’m kind of a solipsist, so even if my readership grows to a staggering five or six people, I’ll mainly be writing to amuse myself. If anything I write accidentally strikes anybody else as funny, I can accept that as collateral amusement.
Penultimately, I’m going to give you a small puddle of word-vomit about the relationship between me and my favorite subject, which is music. My resume (just so you know) includes a bachelor’s degree (or “BM,” which I think is pretty funny and appropriate) in music performance from the University of Arizona (magna cum laude! Hooray for me!), and a master’s in same from USC.
I started out playing what’s commonly and reductively known as “classical” music, because that is what I thought I wanted to do. After years of tearing my hair out, growing it back, beating myself up, and setting instruments on fire, I finally discovered that what I wanted to do was Make Stuff (and Burn Things[just kidding]). What I didn’t want to do was see the music that I loved above all else ruined for me by contractors, rampant nepotism, conductors (the mass of whom are incompetent or pretentious or nasty or all three), union restrictions, paychecks arriving months late or not at all, et cetera ad nauseam. In short, the business. And the assholes. What it is, largely, is the asshole business. And I was not about to let the asshole business diminish the impact of something I’d worked on almost my entire life.
So I started playing rock and roll. On the viola. No, really.
I really do that! I get to write and record and perform my own viola parts (Making Stuff!), and it’s nice to play for a crowd of people who are actually reacting, jumping around, singing along–as opposed to sitting quietly and reserving polite applause until the end of the performance. And the fact that I don’t rely on it to make a living anymore means I can pretty much ignore infantile bookers, dickhead sound guys, surly security, occasionally indifferent or openly hostile audience members, and throw-a-handful-of-shit-against-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks bills, record label owners who are amoral business criminals at best and the face of purest evil at worst…all the things that make that business such a colossal pain in the ass.
Yeah, viola rock is kind of a niche market. But there’s something of a precedent in place: John Cale from the Velvet Underground studied viola, and so did Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead and Mary Timony from Helium. Nirvana had a cellist on the “Unplugged” album. The Arcade Fire, the Raincoats, the Adicts, and Pulp all feature violinists. Mick Ronson played violin. Lots of bands use strings in some capacity, whether I like what they do or not (mostly not). So it’s not all that odd, although it is uncommon to hear it done really well.
And I have a day job, as a video game tester, which I enjoy very much. So I have gone from being a disgruntled and impoverished professional to a contented, overly trained semi-professional, and I do not regret that even the tiniest of bits.
And finally (that’d be “fifth,” if you’re still counting, which I’m not), I really do not like critics at all, especially critics of rock and roll music. But I’m gonna leave that to be dealt with in a different column, because my ire is boundless, and usually pretty wordy (if you couldn’t already tell).
Get the wooden spoon away from my mouth, I’m done for today. So now you know me a little bit, and I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether my ramblings are a) outdated, noisy, and ill-informed, b) the result of demonic possession, or c) detritus sloughing off a tragicomically deranged brain.