Delius and The Artist as Survivalist
(Due to the world events of the past few days, I took a few days off to try to make sense of the senseless. I am thankful for the peace and sanctity that myself and my friends and family enjoy. If you live in London then Amy Winehouse is like family and we lost a daughter on Saturday. If you believed as I once did that Northern Europe had attained within it's borders the most peaceful society in the world then Norway is a paradise now lost. So much freedom was just shattered for so many and yet through art and the examination of what great art is, we begin to find solid ground amidst the unravelling of the human experience. A way to regroup away from the static via a journey through the artist's way. Back now to Ken Russell who is our guide.)
(Contains film plot spoilers)
If "Delius, Song of Summer" conveyed one important lesson to me it was that certain artistic geniuses are survivors and others are not. We think of all the great artists dying young but this simply is not the case. I think the single focus will to continue onward in the face of depression, self hatred, heart break, addiction, hounding and even being rejected by the public is perhaps preordained by nature. It is at least unexplained as much as being gifted is.
Delius was willing to live through the horrible and debilitating disease of Syphilis so that he could continue composing. His living spirit was bolstered by being demanding, rude and annoyingly honest. A German minder would haul his usually ungrateful ass upstairs to comfort and safety when he said so. He never faltered when it came to composing. He never faltered when being a supreme and wholly charming egotist too. I believe it was Delius's super human focus on his art that led Fenby to be such a harsh critic of his own work. Perhaps he felt he could never measure up to Delius or perhaps he simply felt his talent was put to better use as an amanuensis par excellence. This is a shame, as Fenby sadly destroyed many of his early compositions which would have undoubtedly found an audience today.
Jelka Rosen, Delius's wife proves my recently made point about gender differences in artists. Unlike Delius, Amy Winehouse was alone when she died. Yes, a minder was in the house but no one lay next to Amy in bed to perhaps realize she'd stopped breathing in time to save her life. Delius lived to be 72 and Amy 27. Male artists have women who will do anything for them and be there till the end, NEVER walking away or leaving for too long. Few female artists get that luxury as most men are too selfish and yes, too sensible to live in the shadow of a crazed genius.
But if art knows no frontiers than it also knows no pity and no vanity in death. We cry, we mourn, we pity but subconsciously we know they were in part geniuses because they were not afraid of death. All great artists have regret and fear-fear is an essential component to life and even lust and romance-but when faced with paying the highest price of all we want our artists as heroes or anti-heroes, never as martyrs. After a quick review I realized that for my most cherished icons of artistic genius, a long life has been won. Paul Robeson, Pete Townshend, Sophia Loren and Ken Russell.
Robeson faced down the destruction of his global fame, his art and then his personality via electroshock at the hands of four doctors all later proved to be CIA contractors. He lived the last decade of his life in Philadelphia, a melancholy and weakened man but a defiant and unapologetic one. Outliving all the henchmen of the red scare including J.Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy himself. As far as battles go that would kill the less hearty, Pete Townshend has competed only with himself to all manner of results. Looking astonishingly younger than his years despite suffering many of the same addictions Winehouse did (and recovering) one never knows what he'll do or say next. I do think he'd like to live forever if he could.
Sophia Loren continues to break new ground regarding how sexually enticing a woman can be as she ages in the eyes of media and a global patriarchy that still wants women terrified of ageing. As a very young child living in extreme poverty she living through the bombing of Italy and the Four Days of Naples uprising. War and death was a daily reality of her childhood not an imagined concept as it is for most of us.
Ken too has survived and at 84, looks to outlive everyone. He drinks champagne, enjoys his chocolate when his wife Lisi says so and seems to have magical genes. I think he's survived because as he's put it, he's always been a voyeur. Watching and not joining in is a lifesaver. Some make the back ground music for the soundtrack of the world while Russell has made the actual films that accompany the music. It sounds simplistic but hear me out. Ken said himself he never pushes his working class background, does not appear too political or to esoteric. His genius is to bring the world, it's follies and it's colours to life; the geniuses like Delius back from past, the human experience eyeball to eyeball with our own. I could see Ken being just as feisty today as Delius was, with a line of hopeful amanuenses stretching around the block were he making a new film.
One last key element of all truly great artists (survivalists or not) is mystery. Despite my devotion as a loyal uber fan there is a great deal I will never know about the lives of the artists I revere. They will remain people whose "coats have thousands of pockets". It goes without saying or explanation why this is so critical.
Amy Winehouse had that too.