My wife Trudy, who is as obsessed with food and cooking as we both are with music, urged me to read Bill Buford’s Heat. So I did, even though I imagined it would have little connection to my professional and/or artistic life. About three-quarters of the way through I realized that it had everything to do with both: indeed, everything is related to everything else.
While the book is a page-turning memoir by a journalist who got so obsessed with Italian cooking that he went to work for Mario Batali (and subsequently travelled to Tuscany to apprentice with Batali’s teachers), at times it’s almost a manifesto advocating for a worldview that reconciles aesthetics with physical reality. Buford’s account of the maverick Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini has got me thinking about my own aesthetic sensibilities more than anything I read this past year by people writing about music. Dario’s voice also sounds strangely familiar:
“I am repelled by marketing. I am an artisan. I work with my hands. My model is from the Renaissance. The bodega. The artist workshop. Giotto. Raphael. Michelangelo. These are my inspirations. Do you think they were interested in bizzzness?”
By now, I’d eaten all of Dario’s meat, and I can testify: it is very good. It is the best meat I’ve eaten. But it is not a painting by Michelangelo. It’s dinner. You eat it; it’s gone.
Music, it seems to me, resides on a strange middle ground somewhere between a painting and a meal. A score for a piece of music, like a painting, can live for the ages. But its realization in performance, which is a time-based ephemerality, is more like a meal. Sure, I surround myself with more than 10,000 recordings at home, but in some ways they are like frozen TV dinners, albeit ones that I can reheat over and over again and still sate my hunger.
For most people, whether they’re listening to a live or recorded performance, music floats by. It brings pleasure, or not, and then it’s gone. Might we all, myself very much included, be overly obsessed with details which will always mean more to us than to anyone else listening to our music? Maybe I should actually learn how to cook.