Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On Ending

Since I started playing music, I've felt that ending a song effectively is harder and more frightening than starting one. This has to do with my confidence as a musician, but it also has to do with the way I see endings. To me, there is more at stake at the end of something than at the beginning. That might not be true: For something to end it must begin, right? But something doesn't have to end if it's begun. The question is, where does it end? How? Why?

When I first started listening to jazz, I was amazed that jazz musicians could end songs in what I considered perfect unison. I now realize that raw improvisation might not exist, but I still value the intuition of jazz musicians. I find effective endings heroic--in music, but also in literature, film, art. In art, as in a painting or sculpture for example, the work exists as an ending in itself. You just have to trust that the artist decided to stop painting or sculpting at the right point.

But that's what I find heroic, that an artist had the confidence to stop, to move on--even if he was not completely satisfied with the piece as a whole.

In the first volume of Susan Sontag's journals, she writes:

"Joe [Chaikin] asks me tonight how I feel when I discover, say, three-fourths through something I’m writing that it is mediocre, inferior. I reply that I feel good and plow on to the end. I’m discharging the mediocre in myself. (My excremental image of my writing.) It’s there.

"I want to get rid of it. I can’t negate it by an act

"of will. (Or can I?) I can only allow it its voice, get it 'out.' Then I can do something else.

"At least, I know I won’t need to do that again." (1)

Despite the seemingly self-loathing bombast about excrement, Sontag is saying that she works extremely hard. Even though she might not keep writing better and better works, she has the courage to keep trying, the will to write more. That means a lot coming from someone who wrote prolifically while battling cancer.

In "The World According to Garp," John Irving writes:

"Garp threw away his second novel and began a second second novel. Unlike Alice, Garp was a real writer--not because he wrote more beautifully than she wrote but because he knew what every artist should know: as Garp put it, 'You only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something else.' Even if these so-called endings and beginnings are illusions. Garp did not write faster than anyone else, or more; he simply always worked with the idea of completion in mind."(2)

Even if you haven't read the book, you can understand what he means. If you're going to move on, do it, whatever way you can, but just do it and know that you'll keep on moving, except when you sit down to work again.

An artist may seem timid, unsure, aloof, but if he's finished anything, he had to be sure of something. I don't know if people favor confidence, but I think there is an honesty in confidence that often attracts respect. Perhaps that's what William Strunk was getting at when he said: "If you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!"


(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/10/magazine/10sontag.html?_r=1&pagewanted=5

(2) Irving, John. The World According to Garp. New York: Pocket Books, 1979. Print. Page 159.


  1. Nice entry! I definetly feel like ending songs is the hardest part, you can ruin the feeling someone got from the rest of the song just by messing up the ending.

  2. Thanks, Andrew. I agree. Great show last night, by the way. You guys certainly ended your songs very well!