I don’t know about you, but I like to have some idea of the size and scale of things. The familiarity of place and time. As a kid I used to have dreams where a kind of infinity surrounded me, falling down a spinning tunnel, then endlessly moving piles of things (usually football-sized strawberries) from one place to another, only to see them replaced with an identical amount, also to be moved. That kind of thing. I always suspected this dream would worm its way into some reality, seeming to be about having no idea of what was happening, how big it was, where and why.
A few years ago, I transcribed around thirty Bill Evans trio performances (every note) for money (not enough). Transcription involves writing down everything that was played on to manuscript paper, which means endlessly rewinding the audio, writing down what you can hear, rewinding again, writing down and filling out and correcting….and then on to the next two seconds. Some people hear it all first time. I am not one of those people. Imagine how effortlessly a baby can thump piano keys with his or her forearms; now imagine trying to find the exact notes and the rhythm they were played in. Basically it’s quite a lot easier than that (Bill Evans knew what he was doing) and this was my only consolation.
Nevertheless it was what a teacher might call an interesting and informative exercise. I am not against transcription in principle, a little can be helpful, but you spend your life trying to get back to that first “high”. And this was transcription overdose, I was Gene Hackman in “French Connection 2”, a dribbling idiot tied to a bed in a yellow-walled room with the Bill Evans trio pumped into my veins. It was abuse, a kind of paid addiction.
Treading in his footsteps from 9 til 5 (what a way to make a living) put me right in his head. After a while, rather than merely listening to his music, I saw his hands on the keys, forming patterns that were as familiar to me as they were to him in 1962. I could have carried on any performance exactly as he himself would have done. I was operating the robot Bill Evans from the cockpit of his mind. I was him. The problem was, I was me too, but only just.
Me looking at Bill Evans became Me and Bill, then the subtle change to Bill and Me, and then a kind of eternally squabbling hybrid as one fought the other. The slow, gradual accumulation of ideas, techniques, feelings and experiences of a piano genius (that’s him, by the way) funnelled down the vertiginous and unending tunnel of my childhood nightmares, then spat finally on to a piece of paper in the most scholarly fashion I could muster. This went on for four months.
And that’s just how it was with one person.
Now consider a Facebook feed on a typical morning. A video of someone receiving some award, or saving a cat from near death, playing Chopin faster than ever intended or looking beautiful, looking happy or having friends (who are they?), raising crowd funding money to build an entirely new country off the coast of Wales by jumping from a space shuttle, someone just being happy that everything is ok, sad stories with a happy ending, sad stories without one, people marching, someone shouting at a video of someone else shouting at a computer game, life coaches, things you need to do, must not miss, will not believe, should not click on.
There is something about Facebook that makes it look like the diary of a single person. Events appear as chronological, sequential and connected. The way I read is subconsciously feeding me this information as if it all relates to one huge, unisex experiencer of things. It’s basically one person who is everywhere and is everyone all the time. And then you think, each of these facets of this one big person is a person having that same experience, more cats and more Chopin and more and more….a hall of mirrors full of mirrors. It is like being omnipotent, like being present everywhere all the time. It is like being God. God, but primarily in an administrative capacity. A kind of nausea of immortality grips me, the suffering of a human body that cannot hold a consciousness that infinite. Wait a minute…it’s the story of Jesus!
Anyway, back to Bill Evans. After four months the job was done. I walked away a new man. I walked away a hollow corpse, eaten away by the parasite Bill Evans. I couldn’t play a note, because every note that came out was his, and so I tried to blank him out, and to override this I had to think of “someone else” and how they would play the same thing. So now there were three of us.
Some months later, with my fragile consciousness restored, I eagerly awaited the publication of my work. My name on the front of a book! I would travel the world talking of left hand chord shapes and the benefits of harmonic accountability in improvisation. I would finally be an expert on something (we still needed them in those days), people would imagine Bill Evans and I after my death, up in heaven on a cloud, talking to each other about Ravel.
Eventually the books arrived in the post. And they left my name off. Not on all of the books, just two out of four, which meant it was an accident. A very, very large publishing company made a very small mistake (to them), but for me an identity that had already been breached and overtaken was now finally removed by some editorial oversight of someone who was probably late for his or her game of golf.
I don’t know about you, but in my more melodramatic moods I feel like data is eating us alive. Like shovelling strawberries in infinity, Facebook requires action (reading, worrying, admiring etc) that immediately requires, in turn, more action (google that word), and on and on. As the world appears larger on screen, it gets smaller, the impossible microscopic expansion of our immediate surroundings obscures the world around us. I know this has been pointed out many times, and here is one more. Sometimes I just sit and put the fingertips of one hand on to those of the other and just see if I can feel a pulse. Just so I know where I am. If you do it long enough, it’s actually a interesting and pleasant sensation.
Stay safe. Watch your self (whatever that is) out there.