“I believe that the only excuse we have for being musicians and for making music in any fashion, is to make it differently, to perform it differently, to establish the music’s difference, vis-a-vis our own difference.”
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (2009) Directors:Michèle Hozer, Peter Raymont
I recently watched a documentary on the life and work of Glenn Gould, 1932-1982 and naturally, I thought of David. I could be watching a documentary on the etymology of tsetse flies in Tswana and naturally think of David too, but that is beside the point. The similarities between David and Gould were hard to ignore: both musical prodigies and both possessing a combination of good looks and extremely winning personalities.
According to Wikipedia, “At the age of 10, he began attending The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.. Gould passed his final Conservatory examination in piano at the age of 12 (achieving the “highest marks of any candidate”), thus attaining “professional standing as a pianist” at that age. One year later he passed the written theory exams, qualifying for an ATCM diploma.”
In his twenties, Gould came to New York and set the world of classical music on fire. All classical musicians spend a good deal of their time “covering” others, and most take pride in being faithful to the original composer. Not Gould, as the above quote by him reveals. No one had ever heard Bach played with such absolute freedom and disregard for convention. He became something of a superstar, an iconic exciting figure, packing concert halls in North America and Russia way beyond the fire code limit. He wrote and arranged a number of original works as well and won a Juno Award for Best Classical Album of the Year in 1979, 1983 and 1984. He won four Grammies, three posthumously before his untimely death at age 50.
Philosopher Mark Kingwell writes that “his influence is made inescapable. No performer after him can avoid the example he sets… Now, everyone must perform through him: he can be emulated or rejected, but he cannot be ignored.”
This brings me to the subject of David doing covers. He recently recorded Forevermore, an album of original Philippines music, fittingly named by how often I play it. I mean the thing never gets old. From comments on YouTube and elsewhere, he seems to have stayed pretty faithful to the originals. If the snippets off his upcoming album Begin., recorded in the US before leaving for his mission are any indication, these covers will be more uniquely his own. They were all specially and lovingly chosen by him to convey his feelings at this unique time in his life.
Whether a classical musician, a seasoned performer or a young man on a mission with not a lot of time but an awful lot to say, doing covers carries the same challenge. Glenn Gould’s words bear repeating…”I believe that the only excuse we have for being musicians and for making music in any fashion, is to make it differently, to perform it differently, to establish the music’s difference, vis-a-vis our own difference.”
Two years ago, Peter Gabriel, who David covers on Begin. with “Don’t Give Up” did an entire album of covers. Of it Jon Pareles of the New York Times had this to say.
“For many singer-songwriters there comes a time to make an album of other people’s songs. That’s what Peter Gabriel does with “Scratch My Back” (Virgin)…A covers album can be a tribute or a miscellany, a throwaway or a statement about what a songwriter holds dear. The production can imitate the original arrangements; the way Seal and Rod Stewart did on their recent soul collections, or apply a distinctly personal approach, as Rosanne Cash did on “The List.” Meanwhile, in recording company offices, hopes arise that a familiar voice and a familiar song can add up to radio play…
When he eventually decided to make a full album of covers, Mr. Gabriel ruled out drums and guitars. He went on to renounce the funk, soul and world-music elements that have filled his past albums. He was determined to strip the songs down to the bare melody and lyric.”
On the following audio tracks, listen to the song in its original recording by Paul Simon. Then listen to Peter Gabriel’s cover. This is not about who has the better voice or which one you like best or which has a good beat and would be easy to dance to. It’s not even a competition. Both artists are geniuses in their own right. This is about what was brought to the original, and whether what was brought made you hear the song and its words differently. Did the one who did the cover of the original bring something new to the song emotionally, and did he make you understand it in a way you didn’t before?
Paul Simon The Boy in the Bubble
Peter Gabriel The Boy in the Bubble
I have such a good feeling about Begin. I think this just may be the start of something good getting even better.