“If I expect this all to be there, like a next record, or whatever, then I’m pretty much screwed.”
-Nelly Furtado, on the hype surrounding her debut

Nelly Furtado used to be famous. She made a record with the hit single “I’m like a bird” and rapibly became a pop sensation. Her music was played through all of the ordinary avenues, radio, MTV, restaurants, and her face was plastered on TV, on magazines and on billboards. At some point, she was an ordinary person like you or me, unknown but to her friends and family, and the next moment she was a celebrity, (at least on the music scene).

Nelly Furtado became famous because of her musical ability. She has a unique nasally yet quality voice, an energetic and spunky passion, and an ear for clever lyrical wordplay. Her music shows R&B sensability but primarily uses the rhythm as a backdrop for her vocals, which are rhythmic in their own way, in addition to being melodious and beautiful.

Before she became famous, surely, she was into music. She probably sang, wrote, and maybe even produced some music. Regardless, it is surely the fact that music is a part of her that she makes music, and, if music is a part of her, it has always been a part of her, since before the time when she became famous.

At some point, it is almost a certainty that Ms Furtado’s fleeting fame will disappear completely, and she will be forgotten by all but her children, and the children of her friends and relatives who aware ever-more-vaguely aware that Aunt or Grandma Furtado was a famous pop singer when she was young.

Already, as the opening quotation depicts, the pressure of maintaining her past successes disturbs her peace of mind. Any artist will tell you that the creative energy doesn’t flow, the Muses are curiously silent, unless they are in an environment of peace and tranquility (even if the peace and tranquility is entirely internal!). To perform, and more importantly, to create, one must first construct a blank “canvas” inside from which to operate, no matter how many roaring crowds, pushy producers, deadlines or distractings threaten to pull you away from the only thing that got you where you are in the first place.

One of two things is true: Either performers, writers, entertainers, etc. do their art for the sake of becoming famous, or they do it because it is in them. If they do it in order to become famous (and rich, etc.), then the fear of losing the fame will always accompany success, and in equal and opposite proportion. If they do it because it is in them, then, whether they are renowned or not, whether they are beloved or not, whether their fame endures or passes like a candle’s flame, they will continue to perform their art, for to fail to do so would be to fail to be authentically themselves.

Since performance, good or bad, flows from one’s identity, and fame flows from performance, it is irrational, or at least pointless, to hope for earthly fame as a goal and distinct object of desire. For even the famous are only so because they are being themselves, and performing according to their identity. Let us, then, instead hope for self-discovery and a harmonious corresponding performance that accords with the results of that discovery, letting what follows, fame or utter obscurity, be matters of total indifference.

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Posted by Keith E. Buhler


  1. “Any artist will tell you that the creative energy doesn’t flow, the Muses are curiously silent, unless they are in an environment of peace and tranquility (even if the peace and tranquility is entirely internal!).”

    This doesn’t ring exactly right with my experience. For me, music does not require tranquility, but IS that place of tranquility that I so desperately need. My best work flows out of (and releases) internal turmoil. And performance anxiety fits the bill. I tend to play better in performance than in practice, as my fear of failure and desire for success fuse together with my perception of the audience’s musical experience, and are released into the music.
    This isn’t universal, I know, but I’m not alone, either.

    Funny story: a few weeks ago, one of my toddlers learned how to open doors, which was a temporary but extremely stressful babyproofing disaster. But my angst over all that translated into the cello theme for a piece that had been on the back burner for two years, inspirationless. It turned into a glorious day!

    It’s the sort of thing you’ll never read in program notes. “The flute theme represents the desolate stillness in the wake of Hurricane Wilma, and the isolation of its victims, retirees far from the support of family. The cello theme rumbling underneath was inspired by Hurricane Nathan, gleefully tearing books off the shelves and emptying dresser drawers…”

    At any rate, I agree that fame is a really lousy goal, but I do think that its futile pursuit is excellent fuel for certain muses.

    And long comments like this are absurd. I really ought to set up trackbacks!



  2. I’m going to say something that might be unclear, but I want to be careful that you know what I am asking.

    You’re saying that “the music IS the place of tranquility.” And you’re saying that the music releases turmoil.

    Answer me this: How does the music release the turmoil? Specifically, is it not true that the music “releases” turmoil by “pushing” (so to speak) the inner tranquility “outwards” to the rest of you?

    If so, this would fit, by the way, with what you have said that the music “is” the inner tranquility I mentioned.

    Answer me this first question, as clearly as possible, and then I’ll take it from there.


  3. Thanks for spurring thought about this. My thoughts aren’t entirely formed on the topic, and the chance to dialogue about it is really valuable.

    In my experience, music releases inner turmoil chiefly through its explanatory power as a tiny image of the soul. Music can serve as a sort of miniature model for highly complex sets of emotions. When I compose, I tend to take a complicated jumble of emotions, that I don’t really understand, and sort of “translate” them into a set of themes. As I work with these themes, I discover where they lead musically, how they all fit together, and I form a beautifully coherent structure. And when I get to the end, I discover that I have a vivid experiential concept of what it is to make peace with all these emotions. I see how to make something beautifully coherent out of my soul.

    And its the same way with listening to and performing other people’s music. When a piece of music resonates with my experience, the way the music resolves into a coherent and beautiful narrative structure inspires me as to how I can make sense out of these things within my own soul.

    We aren’t talking solely about negative things, of course. Music is so important for learning how to fully experience joy, as well.

    Much like pearls, the best music is made by people who HAVE to make music. Since music is not a set of answers, but encapsulates a journey, the ones who make great music are not the ones whose souls are filled with tranquility, but the ones who experience the their tumultuous journeys with the most clarity.

    Not sure if that answered your question, or how much sense it made…


  4. “What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music.

    His fate is like that of those unfortunates who were slowly tortured by a gentle fire in Phalaris’s bull; their cries could not reach the tyrant’s ears to cause him dismay, to him they sounded like sweet music.

    And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ – that is, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.’

    And the critics come forward and say: ‘That’s the way, that’s how the rules of aesthetics say it should be done.’ Of course, a critic resembles a poet to a hair, except he has no anguish in his heart, no music on his lips.

    So I tell you, I would rather be a swineherd at Amagerbro and be understood by the swine than a poet and misunderstood by the people.”



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