I thought that I should take a moment to explain the title of this blog.
The name originates from my growth as a musician in my teenage years. As I began my studies, I sought out the great players of my instrument (guitar) and followed his or her influence(s) to other artists and so on and so forth. I began with The Beatles which led me to Buddy Holly which led me to… well, you get the idea. While I was studying Jimi Hendrix, I came across a blurb that claimed that Jimi listened to Beethoven and Mozart, and I instantly knew that my understanding of music had to expand greatly. Rock and roll music was an amalgam of so much more than blues and country, and I would have to know and love music from all genres to “become the best EVAR” at my instrument.
I also remembered, for some reason I’ll never understand, a movie I watched when I was but a wee little mediocrity of 4 or 5; the movie Amadeus.
When I read the name Mozart in that issue of Guitar World, I was instantly recalling the scene where “Stanze” and “Wolfie” are playing underneath the table. I recalled being impressed by Mozart’s backward-speaking riddles, the playful intelligence that he exuded, and the sudden seriousness of hearing his music. There was something unique about this character, and, while I may not have known that these were the reasons, I was captivated by this character. Why at this young age this made an impression on me I may never know. Nevertheless, after buying some cheap “Excelsior” $2.99 CDs of Mozart’s music, I nabbed a VHS copy of the movie and set about understanding one of the world’s greatest geniuses.
For the next few months, I watched Amadeus almost daily. I knew every line, every part, every quip, and every snide remark. I studied Tom Hulce’s performance, considering what message his portrayal of the artist was conveying. The childishness, bawdiness, and flippant nature of such an immense talent seemed at odds with the hard-working, studious successes we are often set to imitate. However, this man was something entirely different, almost otherworldly. While I struggled with my own music ability and creativity, here, portrayed in front of me, was a wonder of the world, producing serenades and symphonies as if it were a simple bodily function.
I became exhausted. I would lament to my Jazz Improv instructor that I will never achieve Mozart’s level of competency. I will never write or compose something so beautiful, so perfect, yet entirely human and relatable. Whenever I miffed a note or hit a b9th just a little too early on a V chord resolving to the I chord or made any mistake, I’d be devastated. My teachers told me I had a “Mozart Complex,” that nobody will ever match his talent and I’ll ruin myself with these superfluous comparisons. I had to choose: pull my hair out or try to accept my talents as they are, warts and all.
It was about this time that I noticed something else had been brewing while I was obsessing about this film. Certainly, the prowess and talent that Hulce’s Mozart exudes in the film is as becoming as any woman I’ve come to know, but F. Murray Abraham’s “Salieri” was the person with whom I was most intimately identifying. This character’s contempt for God (in light of his own talents compared to Mozart’s), his cynical views of the world, his “failure” in the apparent light of “the very voice of God” connected with me in a way that I’ll never quite explain. In the film, Mozart is a mere tool, or thorn, used, in Salieri’s view, to torment his maligned soul. When you consider the main conflict, this realization becomes quite evident. This film is not about Mozart and Salieri; it’s about Salieri and God. God was the source of Salieri’s anguish, not Mozart. Mozart was the source of my frustration, but Salieri was the laudanum for my cerebral woes.
This brings me here, to this blog, trying to explain how a fictional account of Mozart’s life (seriously, if you dig this composer read Maynard Solomon’s biography; it’s a delight) has instilled me with this effervescent sense of mediocrity. I believe the answer may come in Salieri’s account of “The Gran Partita” serenade No. 1o in Bb major, the “Rusty Squeeze Box” scene. The way that the character describes the music, how it touches him, its simplicity, his understanding of exactly how sublime, how AWESOME (not like a hot dog), this piece is, how he believes he’s hearing the very voice of the divine sent chills down my spine. It is this scene in which I connected so deeply to the character and understood, nay, lived his plight every day.
I knew. He knew. We knew together. In the face of true talent, those of us who strive and struggle to achieve anything close to artistic expression realize our failings; our humanity; our “mediocrity.” This realization used to keep me up at night, praying and pleading for just an ounce of the talent bestowed upon others like Joyce, Dickens, Hendrix, Segovia, Beethoven, Bach, etc. etc. only to wake each morning with my own talent, neither exceptional nor inspiring. Rather, like Abraham’s “Salieri,” I realized that I had only been blessed with the ability to recognize art incarnate, not to manifest its existence from the nether.
With this realization, my absolution began. As Salieri leaves the priest in the final scene of Amadeus, he pardons the many mediocrities before him:
I included myself in the scene, to be absolved of my mediocrity and take the character as my patron saint. This is why I have so named this blog. This blog is a place for me, for you, for anybody in the world cursed with the ability to recognize genius, but who lack the ability to create works comparable to those whom we admire.
This is our penance. Together, we mediocrities united, shall be absolved of our “sin.”