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Saturday morning quotes 4.37: Narcissism

January 24, 2015

“An all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts.”

– Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV-TR, describing the malignant narcissist

Writhing in pain and doggedly adhering to my regime of one-twelfth the prescribed dose of pain killers, our readers are treated to the unvarnished sentiments of the musician who just doesn’t get this “revenge of the nerds” scene that describes the (American) world of the lute.

Ever since I became involved in the (American) world of the the lute, I have been asking myself, “What’s with these people?”  Don’t get me wrong.  I have met a number of truly wonderful lutenists who show every sign of being actual normal professional musicians, willing to share instruments, tips and even gigs, and more than happy to actually play ensemble music.

But I soon discovered a number of Americans lutenists seemed to view other lutenists as a primary threat, and I have even been told in no uncertain terms, that “lutenists don’t share information about gigs with other lutenists.”  I discovered that, with a few notable exceptions, the organization of American lutenists was dominated by an aggregation of costumed role-playing narcissists whose behavior was astoundingly juvenile when they were gathered together in one place.  Seminars were little more than a fan club experience, rather than an educational opportunity, and ensemble playing was simply not in the picture.  I began to compare my previous musical experience in other musical styles with people who actually loved music and enjoyed playing together, with this new class of individual, leading me to a cursory understanding of the modern phenomenon of narcissism.

“Narcissism is compulsive self-infatuation, so a narcissist is someone who is, metaphorically, always looking at their own image in the mirror of their own mind.  And narcissism is a psychological disease which has become a cultural epidemic, especially with the emergence of postmodernism.”

“…I was never told that you’re part of a bigger context, a bigger process, that might need something from you…I was never told that maybe you have an obligation to help those who are less fortunate than you.”

“So narcissism is a culturally conditioned epidemic of literally pathological self-
concern…And so our own egos and the fears and desires of our own egos become the narrative of our relationship to life.  It makes us unknowingly inherently selfish because we’re always thinking about me and we’re always thinking about what’s going to be good for me and what am I going to get out of any particular situation…

“It’s important to understand this is not a personal problem of any particular individual.  It’s a cultural epidemic…So unless we’re very committed to transcending a compulsively narcissistic and self-centered relationship to experience itself, we probably won’t do it.”

Andrew Cohen

Since my initial experiences with American lutenists, I have over time seen a sincere and genuine growth in a sense of purpose, and an authentic maturity in leadership emerge, characteristics I applaud heartily. I would like to publicly thank this new order of leadership and wish them all the best in advancing the mission of the organization and the quality of its output.

But still, I wonder, how does one begin to steer these self-referential lute-playing fuddy-duddies toward actually making music together and dipping into the joy and musical freedom of mutual music-making?

This question brings to mind another major public figure who shares the name of the author, Andrew Cohen, quoted above.  This other Andrew Cohen (YJ), is a real musician who is not only the absolute opposite of the classic narcissist, but rather a heart-on-the-sleeve performer who has made it his life’s work to give his audience everything he has, and then some.  This other Andy Cohen, is a fabulous folk musician whom I’ve had the great pleasure to play with on a number of occasions, most of them involving my coming away with brand new imprints of the grill of a SM58 decorating the top of my guitar.

An anecdote worth repeating involved a very near-death experience when Andy was driving on a winding lakeside road, enjoying a smoldering cigarette-like thing, when an rudely aggressive yellow-jacket decided to fly in the driver’s window and perch on the tip of his nose.  This was not the ideal time to be informed of Andy’s allergies and absolute horror of being stung.  His hands flew off the wheel, the smoldering ash fell into his lap, as did his hands, and my calmly grabbing the steering wheel and punting was the only reason we are all alive today to tell the story.

Please check out these videos of Andy Cohen and mark in your mind how very different are the two worlds – that oh so precious and self-referential world of the lute, and the emotionally unambiguous world of real music that inspires one to shout “Amen, Brother.”  Let’s have a little more of this going on.

  1. Christopher Barker permalink

    Of course classical guitarists NEVER behave that way. It’s only flamenco players!

  2. Dan Winheld permalink

    Amen brother indeed! Good (and I mean GOOD) “Folk” guitarists/musicians rarely get the credit they deserve from the more formal “serious” musicians- and not just classical, I’ve witnessed incredible snobbery from Jazz aficionados as well.

    I managed to loosen up the crowd & get them whooping & clapping in rhythm when I played my own arrangement of Dave Van Ronk’s version of the “St. Louis Tickle” on my 6-course at an early LSA lute seminar in Rhode Island back in the 1970’s. That was when I introduced “thumb-under/inside” RH technique to the LSA- Yes, I say that & own it. There were witnesses- one of them even taped it!

    I finally found the old piece- almost up to the Melchior Neusidler level of difficulty, but thankfully not quite!

    • So, you’re responsible for all the thumb-under business. It is in fact a useful and legitimate technique when applied to certain rep, but one has to be careful when introducing out of context information to persons of limited emotional maturity who are inclined to use said information to fuel clueless us-against-them pogroms.

      Dan, you have provided me with many excellent opportunities for amusement, particularly when I see supposedly top baroque lute players wailing away at Weiss employing all the Carter Bray-style hairless head-shaking, while using thumb-under technique. This is a legacy worth owning.


      • Dan Winheld permalink

        Great- I’ll take that legacy! (with a grain of salt) And yet, I also became one of the first lutenists in the late 20th century to move on to study & practice historic thumb out after having first mastered thumb under when I got a 10 course lute, And of course I play Baroque lute thumb out- my hand is a cross between Falkenhagen’s and Mouton’s. Baron’s description nails it. More slanted/oblique to play Vihuela thumb out. The only instrument I play thumb under full time is my 6 course- I play the 8 course either style depending repertoire, mood, or the weather, or if I can piss off somebody by doing it one way or the other.

        I remember being asked once years ago by a serious young thing, “Do you play thumb under or out?” When I replied “Both, depending on instrument, repertoire, or sonic requirements of the occasion.” -she looked back in slack jawed incomprehension, as if I had said that I was both a Republican and a Communist. I’m a vegan who eats babies. Yum!

      • Dan, I have always been baffled by the degree of importance placed upon the angle of the right hand in lute playing, ridiculously overemphasized by minimally informed semi-musical types who owned expensive instruments they were incapable of tuning. This is a particularly egregious absurdity when the sneering insistence that everyone was “doing it wrong” was and is so often applied to rep for which actual informed individuals know for certain requires what is closer to modern thumb-out technique. I play either way and simply don’t care one way or the other, and I always adapt hand position to suit the era and the music. That this trivial issue became so divisive among lutenists and guitarists in the 70s and 80s only reinforces that we were dealing with a phenomenally immature group of people taking on organizational responsibilities that were far and away beyond their abilities.

        The most interesting and tantalizing aspect of my interactions with this group is that I preserved all of my correspondence with them, thus supporting a great deal of my observations these many years hence. I welcome the opportunity to share some of these tidbits.

  3. Ned Mast permalink

    Thanks for these thoughts. They remind me of my first adventures in playing the lute at summer early music workshops in the north. NO solo lute playing – only ensemble music. One wonderful evening – after mandatory singing – was spent by three of us with lutes playing through a volume of Dufay’s three part pieces, finishing in time for breakfast. Alas, trying to play lute with our recorder ensemble here didn’t work out well (problems with range), so the lute is retired, to be replaced by the recorder, for early music.

  4. Dan Winheld permalink

    Remember when Donna Curry replaced her seflie-logo on her string packages? The only change was to slant her right hand down to thumb under!

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  1. Saturday morning quotes 4.38: Truth or adverts? | Unquiet Thoughts
  2. Saturday morning quotes 6.13: Assumptions III | Unquiet Thoughts

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