Friday, November 30, 2007

If I'm so smart...

Toronto, around the 1970s
Don Hunstein/Sony BMG Masterworks
(Image from NYT)

As I grow older and wiser but not richer, I find myself mulling over that old retort "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?" And I ask myself,

Sorry, I had to get my attention. That sometimes happens when I'm talking to myself. I realize that my unexpected shout must be disconcerting to others on the subway.

Anyway, as I was saying, I ask myself,
"Jeff, if you're so smart, why aren't you rich?"
This has really had me puzzled, but I think that I've now figured out the reason. I'm not so smart. If I were only smarter, I'd have realized this long ago.

I used to think that I was quite smart because I was eccentric . . . like Glenn Gould being eccentric. He was eccentric, and smart. I'm eccentric. Therefore, I must be smart. Pretty stupid of me, to draw that hasty conclusion, but what do you expect? I'm not so smart.

But it's true that really smart people are eccentric, right? They've got smarts, which is another way of saying that their brains hurt, I guess. As in "Ow, my brain smarts."

Glenn Gould's brain smarted. And he made a lot of money in addition to making a lot of music. Oddly -- though appropriate for an odd person and thus not oddly at all -- he didn't make a lot of money from his music but from his investments:
Gould, a sufferer from extreme stage fright but a winner in the stock market, had quit performing in public 18 years earlier [than his untimely death in 1982], using the proceeds of his financial ventures to soften the burdens of early retirement.
Or so says Bernard Holland, who has written a fascinating, smart if short article on Gould for the New York Times: "The Continuing Cult of Glenn Gould, Deserved or Not" (November 24, 2007).

In short, Gould got rich not from his skilled hands for music but from his smart head for stocks. If he had only survived his death, he might have gotten rich from his music, too. Bernard Holland implies that he did survive:
In death, Gould came to life.
A neat trick. Holland explains:
Record companies that had not been paying much attention introduced great piles of discs into the marketplace, from big-ticket items of Bach and Beethoven down to the sweepings that Gould had left behind in the studio.

Brisk business was done over his body, and it hasn't stopped yet. A cleaned-up version of his career-making 1955 recording of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations appeared this year and is now prominently on sale.
Gould's untimely death was thus a timely, savvy career move. Maybe I should try that?

Holland is also very smart, and writes lots of music reviews for the Times, so maybe he's also rich. I don't think that he's dead. I wonder if he's eccentric. He seems to appreciate Gould's eccentricities:
Tales of his personal oddities were a thriving spinoff industry. There was Gould bundled up for blizzard conditions in tropical summer heat -- indeed, he was apparently once arrested in Florida as a park bench vagrant.
That sounds preferable to dying, so perhaps I should try that instead, not in Florida but here in Seoul next summer . . . except that mere eccentricity is not enough. I'd first have to be as smart as Gould. Why, I'd settle just to be as smart as Holland, who writes of things beyond my ken:
With Angela Hewitt's recent presentation of Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" at Zankel Hall still in the ears, I have been going back to the Gould recordings of these preludes and fugues on Sony Classical. At a number of moments, Bach is brilliantly served. Gould's intelligent use of astonishing muscular control in the C sharp and E flat fugues of Book 1 gives separate personalities to two and three voices in simultaneous conversation, this on a modern piano constructed to make individual notes sound uniform rather than distinctive.
I could never have written that except by copying it, word for word, like Pierre Menard rewriting Don Quixote and claiming it as his own in the fantasy elaborated by Borges, another very smart guy.

I wonder if Borges is rich. He was eccentric. And he is dead...

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At 7:38 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Holland may be smart, but he's tone death.

At 8:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Really? I guess that this reveals yet more of my own musical ignorance since I am utterly incapable of forming any judgement on that point.

I recall now that you sometimes blog about music and discuss it intelligently, so you must have gotten some musical training when you were younger.

I wish that I'd learned the piano...

My two kids are learning music, art, languages -- three things that I missed out on when I was a kid -- along with their other studies.

No doubt, though, they'll someday discover the gaps in their own educations...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:21 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

I did learn to play several instruments, including piano, I didn't get any smarter; but I do know, no matter how the notes are played on the piano they are "distinctive."

This makes no sense.

this on a modern piano constructed to make individual notes sound uniform rather than distinctive.

If I had only practiced more...

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, that's precisely the sort of thing that I lack the technical knowledge to judge.

Such is my ignorance. Sigh...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:40 AM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

Jeffery, I've just realized you are the Glenn Gould of the blogosphere. Your blogging is pleasingly polyphonic, and you articulate the different "voices" or melodies of the blog (scholarly and philosophical commentary, pitch-perfect autobiographical anecdotes, wry posts on "fan death," etc.) with amazing precision. In fact, when I read your blog, I often think, "Jeffery Hodges . . . that nut is a genius!" I also sometimes think, "Jeffery Hodges . . . that genius is a nut!"

Thanks for this link. I'm sending it along to Sadeeq -- husband, father, pianist, Bach-worshipper, and Gould-admirer. I suspect he'll take issue with Holland's notion of how Bach *should* be played.

At 4:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"Jeffery, I've just realized you are the Glenn Gould of the blogosphere."

So, KM, you're confirming my 'eccentricity'.

I can't help being eccentric. Those polyphonic voices in my head demand to be let out -- all thirty-one-derful Goldbergian flavors of them. So I scream! I scream!

But will I ever become as rich as Gould? Over my own dead body...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff,

I came on a bit earlier and your wonderings about 'smart and rich' intrigued me. I felt the need to research.

I may have it. But. It would require that you move your family from Korea to the US (which incidentally I think maybe being smart would be a logically unsmart trade-off) run for the US Congress (either House) serve a term then go into lobbying.

Then and only then take piano lessons. Actually the only tune you'd need to learn would be "Happy Birthday."

Anyway, do a term or two, either non or consecutively, then play "Happy Birthday" to any friends you've met along the way, then declare you're gonna run for President. Set up a web-site, ask for "contributions" and you'll then be both smart and rich.

And the best thing is, while you're serving in either of the Houses you can act as (I loved this comment)"In fact, when I read your blog, I often think, "Jeffery Hodges . . . that nut is a genius!" I also sometimes think, "Jeffery Hodges . . . that genius is a nut!", (nuff said?)

kate marie was handing you the keys to the kingdom! Now don't go giving me that same advice. I've got too many skeletons sitting on my front porch.


At 2:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good advice, JK, but I'd have to be crazy to go into politics...

Where do I sign up?

Jeffery Hodges

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