I was sitting in Seattle, worshipping an enormous donut, slinging down coffee like an oil slick over my soul, when my eyes beheld an advertisement in the New York Times …
Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story … by Lang Lang (w/ David Ritz)
You can pick up your own copy here. Now, I know him a little from Marlboro and other places, and he is a very gifted artist and has always been charming and friendly to me. But, when I saw this autobiography, I became upset, against my better judgment. Why, you ask? Because I have been working on my own autobiography, all this while, which was to be released in tandem with the Albuquerque Olympics. And who wants to read TWO pianist memoirs? In other words, he and his ghostwriter scooped me, and that’s not all. By a strange, curious coincidence, the title of my autobiography is very similar to his, and it is called …
Journey of a Thousand Pop-Tarts: The Toasting of a Concert Pianist
I dreamed of many things as a boy in New Mexico. Air conditioning, for example. And a functioning septic tank. But one touching dreamy episode from my youth will infer you so many volumes and volumes, about my youth. Here it is. Halley’s Comet only comes really once a lifetime, as I’m sure all of you know out there, and it came right astride my puberty, streaking across my tweens, in phallic phosphorescence. (Take that, LL! I bet that phrase isn’t in your autobiography.) Well, I had just finished practicing the twelve Liszt Transcendental Etudes, twelve times, and my parents and I had an emotional conference about the comet while my father prepared a snack of tortillas and Cheez Whiz.
(This last sentence is an example of “local color” which I learned about at Las Cruces High School, from my charmingly insane English teacher. From this teacher I learned to write one-page essays about Kafka, asserting in their first paragraph that Gregor Samsa is an “unholy trinity of Christ, bug, and man,” and concluding “in conclusion, I have shown that Gregor Samsa is an unholy trinity of Christ, bug, and man.” My eloquence leaves me without words.)
Oh (Proustian digression) if only I could reconstitute those squished tortillas with Cheez Whiz–or sometimes creamy peanut butter!–if only the disturbing smell of them would permeate the mouse-ridden shadows of my New York Apartment, resurrecting those halcyon dehydrated days … just the way my father would dip his knife into the jar and scoop back those processed gobs, and slather them upon the slimy floury surface, fresh from the crisper!
So we had a conference, and I expressed so much wonderful youthful enthusiasm about this timely phallic comet that my parents agreed to wake me up in the middle of the night to see it streak. And so I went off to my happy sleep, in my JC Penney’s pajamas, confident in astronomical joys. Let me remind you now that I was a very artistic child with tremendous gifts (tremendous!). It would be a shame for me, even now, not to share my every last snore with the world, as they are and I am so artful and imaginative. Oh, wait, I was supposed to put all that in the third person, or something.
What transpired over the comet was only reported to me the very next day. My parents apparently came in to wake me up. Dare they disturb the sleep of such an artistic child? But step to my bedside they did, indeed, over the shag carpet which cushioned the ever-creative tos and and fros of my burgeoning gurgling existence.
“Oh, Joe, should we wake him?”
“He looks so peaceful and creative and musical sleeping there, it seems a shame.”
“Yes he needs his rest if he is to learn the complete works of Bach tomorrow. But … it is a once in a lifetime moment.”
And that decided them. They tapped upon my shoulder, and when I turned to speak to them, I said the following:
“*&*() you, I don’t want to see the &*()#$ Halley’s comet.”
Oh youthful openness to wonder. I was like a flower stretching open to receive the universe’s radiance. And I was quite hilariously outspoken!
This is a true story except for most of it, but in conclusion I think it speaks vast volumes about my youth as I have said, and with that I must move on to another crucial formative moment in my life, about which I am sure you will be thrilled to read.
I noticed that in Lang Lang’s autobiography, around 19/20ths of the way through the book, he gets a finger injury and is forced to take a month off, during which he absorbs the existence of Shakespeare, Monet, Descartes, and etcetera. It is an exciting episode. Now, my mind is altogether too absorbed by art and music and love of the universe to devote any space to envy or competitiveness, but I feel I should note as a matter of journalistic integrity (who am I but a journalist of myself?) that I appeared in a Shakespeare play at the prodigious age of 11.
Yes, I was approached by the cream of the Las Cruces, New Mexico theatre community to take the role of the changeling boy in Midsummer Night’s Dream: the very precious boy that the fairy king and queen are fighting over. (Oh, irony! Oh, fate!) Indeed, this changeling boy is an important element of the play, important enough that Shakespeare felt that silence, that most beautiful of sounds, would be his best verbal representation.
Breathlessly I accepted. And I devoted to my non-existent lines what ten Laurence Oliviers, working with of an infinity of monkeys, could not accomplish in a lifetime. But as I polished my non-utterances, like the doorknobs of enchanted gardens, I began to realize a fateful fateful fact; that is, when you stripped away the dross and gloss, all the limousines and toasts and the non-stop cocktail parties of the LC theatre scene, when you pruned away the beautiful inessentials, what seemed to be left of my thespian responsibilities was to stand around in a diaper. A green diaper, with a sash; but still … it was a disheartening mix of Shakespearean sophistication and infantile regression.
And as I stood, night after night, in the diaper, some deep malaise must have grown in me, some dark foreboding, some abhorrence of a vacuum where my pants had been.
Predictably, came a crisis of the soul. One night, well into my theatrical run, I found myself staring at a large pan of frozen fried chicken, which my mother had carefully selected from a bank of frozen meals as best to nourish my artistic growth, and with grateful ardor, I tucked into it strappingly. Thus fortified, I then headed off to perform. But even as our station wagon glamorously pulled up to the loading dock, something about that fried chicken had cast me in doubt. I slipped on my sashed diaper, and sat musingly in the green room. Is Art this sense of unease?, I wondered. This was my first beautiful meditation on the nature of Art, and I am sure you look forward to many more as my tale profoundly unfolds.
Doubt was soon expelled from my mind while my ample meal was expelled from my mouth, and now gave the green room a dimension of green it had never longed for. I lost my artistic epiphany, but in a way, gained a great work of art in odor, which was under-appreciated by its audience, like so many masterpieces. I was quite eager to go on stage nonetheless, as I felt altogether better (always the performer!!!), but there were artistic reservations. Oberon and Titania seemed slightly offput by certain aspects of the situation, and did not give their most salutary performance, and I am sure someday someone will do some research on me (“Neurosis and Performing in Early 21st Century New York: A Dissertation with Copious Notes on Cocktail Consumption”), and will find accounts of these performances in the Las Cruces Sun-News and other important periodicals of the surrounding chile-growing regions, and marvel at how early, and how tangibly, my effect was wreaked upon the artistic world.
[more to come….?]