Friday, November 20, 2015

The Salieri Complex

20th November 2015

There ought to be an award for British playwright Peter Shaffer for just being so damn profound: The Scriptor Profundus Literary Award. Shaffer asks grown-up questions like: What is the true nature of passion? And then we've all seen the movie Amadeus with Tom Hulce as Mozart - flashy and visually gorgeous, but listen carefully to what Shaffer is asking: what's the relationship between the artist and art?
We are a culture that needs its heroes.  We make them sometimes out of thin air (cf any Kardashian and in a similar vein Trump)  In the case of art, we want the vessel to equal the wine. But that is rarely the case, and the opposite is often true.
To take a trivial example: Bing Crosby, crooner and Hollywood good guy, was a monster at home: two of his sons referred to him as authoritarian and committed suicide; he courted Grace Kelly while his first wife was dying of cancer; he threatened to kick his daughter out if she had pre-marital sex. But the impulse is to believe in the myth, to just keep singing White Christmas.
Salieri in Amadeus has a similar problem with Mozart: How could God plant such divine music in the heart of a buffoon?

Closer to home, I just found out that Laurie Lee, writer of Cider With Rosie, the kind of book that I want to curl into and re-read until I drop out of its pages by force of gravity, was abusive on the home front, too. His daughter recently recounted how she had to go into psychotherapy over his controlling parenting. Cider with Rosie used to be put into the hands of all teenagers in the British school system as an example of sheer beautiful descriptive writing. And it's all about his memories of home: his knuckle-headed mother, their topsy turvy house and the seasons of the lucious Cotswold countryside he grew up in.
There's my hero Steinbeck, too. Fascinated as I am by his life - Monterey and all that - I have to admit that the man should never have had children.
So, because Shaffer just won the profound man of the year contest, let's remind ourselves of his conclusion in Amadeus: you shouldn't confuse the wine with the vessel.

Appreciate the art for what it is - a gift from the gods. Truth is, the gods don't seem to care that much about the nature of the vessel they dispense their elixir into. Just be glad they see fit from time to time to pour a little into each of our all-too-human cups.

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