artistic unknowns by Chris Matarazzo

The chameleon’s dish: Making art happen, again

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Well, I’m there.  I’m at that place a lot of artists dread — that place at which a big project has just been completed.  I am looking at the Herculean effort that is sometimes required to get another one going.  For a little more than two years, I have been writing, arranging and recording. The project is on the presses as we speak.

All of us creative types have been in this position.

When I look back at the hours upon hundreds of hours it took, from running upstairs to my studio piano with an idea in the middle of dinner to figuring out how I was going to record all of the instruments on my own and not make it sound like a guy who is trying to make it sound like a band; to squeezing in recording time while my little boys were playing in the tub across the hall form my studio, on a Wednesday night (Yes, I was watching them; I nailed a particularly tough drum part during which I had to yell “Stop splashing!” several times. I’m quite proud of that one. Let’s see Neil Peart do that);  to the innumerable takes and retakes to the completed songs re-recorded after a month’s work because they just didn’t feel right. . . it is staggering, really.

Thank God I had a monstrous advance from a huge record company to keep me going.  Of course, when I say that, I really mean it actually cost me money to make the CD and really no one in the world gives a flying fairy that it is finished and I’ll be lucky if I sell five-hundred copies by word of mouth.  It’s a fine line, really. (A friend of mine routinely gets a thousand copies of his CDs made. He always says, “I’m a million seller! — I have million in the cellar.”)

And, so, the chasm gapes before me. There will be no ten-month tour or sold-out stadium crowds with whom to fill it. There will be no seeking refuge from the undulating throngs in a limo as I wave goodbye through tinted windows. What I have to do now is write more music, in between helping the kids with homework, cutting the grass, playing bar gigs and working a full time job. I’m not complaining: it is what, as they say, it is.

But I have never feared this stage. I think I know, even though he may not have, what Hamlet meant when he said, “Of the chameleon’s dish, I eat the air promise-crammed.” I don’t think I can explain it to you, but that’s exactly how I feel. I feel ready to jump into a mystery that is bound to turn out spectacular.

Why do we turn the things we love, in our minds, into dreaded labors? I love very little in this world more than making music from chords to lyrics to recording. My favorite atmosphere in the world is the recording studio. What the hell is there to worry about? Why would I dread starting all over again?

Do I have another few years of hard work ahead of me? Yes. Can I do it again? Of course I can. Why doubt that? Writer’s block is a myth — we have already established that.

Finishing a musical project (or a long-term writing project), to me, is always a little sad. I’ll admit that. I have been tied to these songs for two years. While you might (I hope) spend five minutes listening to a song, I have spent endless hours listening to the bones and neurons of that song’s body, making sure that the tambourine is barely there on track five, but that there enough to give it that sparkle I’m looking for in bars sixteen through twenty-four. Really. (I don’t know how my poor wife has put up with hearing the same eight bars played over and over for three to four hours without taking a kitchen knife to me.) That is the kind of time we creative people put into these things. And now I have to let it go.

So, okay. Some day I will have to let my kids go off to college. I’ll cry, probably a lot. But after some time, I’ll do the happy dance naked in my living room, because I will have realized the new opportunity that has been handed to me to reshape my life. I’ll still miss them, deeply and constantly, but I will keep them in my heart as I venture forward into new things. I’ll always be close to the songs on this CD, my first full album, but I intend to do better the next time and the time after that.

I guess we all have to believe we can leap across that chasm at will. It takes serious bravado to be an artist, but it comes from the same place that makes us different: that place where the fire burns.


(You didn’t think I would pass up this opportunity, do you? The CD carries the same name as my blog: Hats & Rabbits. It will be available online this August.  There’s no room for shame. I don’t want to be a “million-cellar.” Don’t worry about writing it down — I’ll remind you again soon . . .  [grins like Cheshire cat])

Chris Matarazzo’s ARTISTIC UNKNOWNS appears every Tuesday.

Chris Matarazzo is a writer, composer, musician and teacher of literature and writing on the college and high school levels. His music can be heard on his recent release, Hats and Rabbits, which is currently available. Chris is also the composer of the score to the off-beat independent film Surrender Dorothy and he performs in the Philadelphia area with the King Richard Band. He's also a relatively prolific novelist, even if no one seems to care yet. His blog, also called Hats and Rabbits, is nice, too, if you get a chance...
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2 Responses to “The chameleon’s dish: Making art happen, again”

  1. This post reminded me of the beautiful final “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip, by Bill Watterson:

    “Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand new!”

  2. Ricky — LOVE that final Calvin and Hobbes, Perfect. I hadn’t seen it, but, no surprise, I completely agree with its sentiment. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

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