Are All Good Composers Moody or Simply (insert derogatory word here)

There is a fine line
   between artistic license and being a jerk
      between genius and irritating

I should apologize to my kids; for the 18 years they lived with me while growing up, I attributed my moods to their behavior. If that was the case, then, now that they're out of the house (and have been for over 10 years) the moodiness should have stopped. *sigh*, no such luck.

BTW - this is not an apology.  I'm not in the mood!

I should apologize to my wife who has put up with it all these years. Occasionally she'll tell me living with me is a constant sense of wondering what's next to which I bristle and complain,"I'm not that bad."

This isn't an apology either, but I will proffer one once this is posted.

Well, it came clear to me today that yes, sometimes I am that bad!

Life comes with a certain amount of stress. Some people have more than others and it isn't limited to one income bracket or another. My life, in comparison to someone in Afghanistan, is relatively calm and put together. I could offer up some time-worn platitudes about how wonderful or blessed I am. Unfortunately, you're catching at glimpse of me at my worst as the desire to type a series of words not normally found in PG-13 films want to come streaming from my fingers (and then blame it all on Tourettes). Any platitudes I might begin would be twisted until it's unrecognizable and you'd think my life was falling apart.

Perhaps you have the impression at this point that I'm having a bad day.  Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!  Yes, but that's not the whole truth.  The truth is I've actually had a pretty good day.  But, I didn't get a great night's sleep and there are a few recent events that have soured the positive mood.  So, a sense of exhaustion, tied with current stresses and a series of unfortunate events and I end up in a rotten mood.

This happens to everyone you say?  Well, I'd accept that if it weren't for a comment my daughter made many years ago.  My children, it seems, were astute at reading my moods when I came through the door.  They could tell instantly whether the family was being carted off to dinner and a movie or if it was best to "finish" their homework in their rooms, alone.

We thought my "moods" might be caused by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or in other words, a lack of sunlight.  But I was just as likely to be moody in Summer in Scotland when the sun is up for 18 hours a day as I was in the Winter when the sun rarely made an appearance from behind the clouds.  Other courses of action were to have my wife "do" the bills so I wouldn't stress about money.  Ok, that did relieve some stress, but then I just became "Mr Moneybags" and spent far too much money going out to dinner and buying my wife prezzies from Victoria's Secret.  (Which, on hind-sight also helped improve my mood considerably).

However, recently I've began ready biographies of various composers, these moody, irrational, irritating folks who want to put little black dots on paper and somehow think that particular skills warrants some "Get Out of Jail Free" cards for their behavior.  Beethoven was unpleasant at best, Schumann spent the last couple of years in a mental institution and Mahler was often regarded as dark, moody and irrational (disclaimer: that could be attributed to detractors who didn't like his ethnic origin).  Still, the list of composers who exhibited some sense of radical mood swings and/or a dark brooding nature is long (and illustrious).

This find should cheer me up, right?  If I'm moody and other great composers are moody, I could be another great composer.  Ummm... somehow it doesn't seem to lighten the mood.  If anything it just serves to strengthen the feeling that this day, this moment in time sucks!  Because the worst part about these moods is the inability to compose anything.  I would probably accept the foul mood IF in exchange I were able to write great swatches of music.  But alas, that is not the case.

So, today, you'd best stay clear of me. And if you know any composers, just know there will be times they will bite your head off.  This isn't an excuse.  BUT, if you want to play fetch with a rabid dog and it comes back to bite you, don't complain to me.  I'm not in the mood!


Jess Albertine said…
A few thoughts on this subject. I would amend the title question to possibly include the words "prolific" or "successful", or even "good". I think that highly creative people often do have unusual moods, anything from seemingly random PMS-type stuff to Robin Williams level quasi-insanity and bi-polar disorder. It certainly applies to me- I've always been aware of being very creative, and lord knows I've got more than my share of mental/emotional problems. One theory I've heard from a bi-polar friend, a playwright, is that we just think too much; our brains are so often on creative overdrive that we unwittingly overwhelm ourselves, and our moods swing accordingly. We also tend to have the blessingcurse of being very sensitive. It's necessary to create expressively, but requires some serious brain work to deal with to keep it from backfiring on you.

In my case it's gotten to the point that I have to use my brain to trick itself into calming down and leveling out. There's usually some logical fallacy or loophole I can turn against myself, and unless I do, there's almost nothing that can stop my brain once it's decided to feel a certain way. For example, last week I discovered, tentatively, that the way to get past some things that happened 7 years ago is to logically prove that I'm such a different person now that I'm not the same person at all, so I didn't make the mistakes in the first place because it was someone else, which means those qualities and potential repeat mistakes don't hover over me. They belonged to someone else who is now dead, so I don't have to worry about them. And so far, it helps tremendously.

So yes, I do think quite a few composers, particularly the ones that we'd call "good", probably are pretty moody. And it probably is a contributing factor to what makes them good.
Chip Michael said…
Today is a different day... but maybe I should say "right NOW" is a different now, as things can change mid-stream as they did yesterday.

I like the idea of changing the title...

Over the years I've applied lots of different techniques, some succeed occasionally while other's not so much. Nothing works all the time. I've even had a few friends suggest medication, but I'm opposed to living a medicated live. IF my "moods" have anything to do with my artistic ability I would hate giving that up.

I'm just thankful my wife and kids have seen fit to stick it out with me thus far!
Glenn James said…
There's something to be said about artists that create drama in order to facilitate their own creative pursuits. Everybody has bad days and bad periods in their life. I think it's essential to try to learn and grow from these experiences and not get bogged down with the "why me?" complex to being the tortured artist. I found that I catch myself falling into these anxiety traps, especially when I'm composing, and my girlfriend (a writer) often catches me on it. It's too easy to perpetuate these kinds of moods or find some rationale for them like "I can't creative or exist unless I'm upset or in a MOOD" Recently I've tried to find my creativity through being a child again; making mistakes, acting without thinking and following my intuition. It's difficult to wrestle with my stubborn self on this but it's worth a shot sometimes. There's my two cents!
Chip Michael said…

I have no doubt, in this age of reality TV, there are number of people who become overly excited or moody just to capture a bit of attention. However, my article was speaking about the composers (myself included) who would rather hide away and shun the world on these days of emotional terror.

It isn't a "why me?" complex, but rather an unexplainable sense of anger or frustration. There doesn't seem to be a cause, something we can point to and say , "If only that...." If such a "reason" existed, my ability to cope would be greatly improved.

Like you, I have a significant other who often points out to me when a "funk" is drawing on. However, sometimes they aren't so obvious until they're in full bloom - and then there is nothing to be done but ride it out.

Over the years, the "episodes" have become less, the ability to detect them greater and my ability to recover is faster. Still, when then hit, like they did the other day, I am anything but pleasant to be around -and definitely prefer people NOT be around. I don't find these dark moments helpful, quite the opposite. I do ponder whether they are somewhat linked to the productive non-dark moments in my life.

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