Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Altar To The Muse

"You have to lay yourself on the altar to the muse. Because once she stops coming around you're really up a creek without a paddle."
--Emmylou Harris

Son-Three has been dabbling in writing rap for a couple of years now--randomly spouting a line or two or even an extended group of rhymes that he's come up with. Recently, though, he and a few friends got together and have become more serious about it--including renting time in the basement recording booth of the local music store. And ever since he brought home the six-track rough-cut CD of their work, something sort of magical has happened.

He has been working the overnight shift for some time now and I work second shift, so I rarely see him before I leave for work each day, but one day last week, he was up and about and energetic at the ridiculously early hour of 10 or 11 a.m. He told me that he had woken up with several full-blown, multiple-line rhymes in his head and that with just a little tweaking he thought they were some of the best he had ever written.

Perhaps not surprisingly (hopelessly un-hip middle-aged mom that I am), I am no expert in rap, though I've listened to some here and there, but I am an amateur expert in word-play--both as practitioner and spectator--and I can objectively* state that I was very impressed by the wit, the twists and the vocabulary of the raps Son-Three shared with me that morning.

More important than what I thought, though, was the delight Son-Three took in the way they had come to him, fully formed, seemingly from some mysterious pocket in his brain he'd never even known was there.

We talked then about creativity and how sometimes things seem to come from a place that is both within us and Somewhere Else. Whether you think of that Somewhere Else as a stream of divine whisperings or as your own subconscious or as the inspiration of your Muse, the more seriously you take the things that appear from there, the more readily they will appear.

Eight years ago, when I first came across the Emmylou Harris quote about laying yourself on the altar to the muse, I imagined some esoteric, mystical, woo-woo ritual going on at Emmylou's house. Something involving sage and, I don't know, chanting, maybe. I think now that laying yourself on that altar is something much more down-to-earth and practical. Maybe it's something as simple--and as sacred--as writing things down, working to polish them, maybe even recording them in a basement soundbooth, and sharing them with the world.

*-ish. Objectivelyish. This is my kid, after all.


  1. I like the image of the muse whispering.

    I'm now goose-bumpy.

  2. "something involving sage and... chanting" - hoo, I love it! This whole piece is such an elegantly simple, apt description of inspiration! And I'm soooo jealous of your son. I've always wanted to rap.

  3. I posted about something similar recently- how we receive pure inspiration. How great that your son has learned that possibility so early in life.

  4. Thanks everyone!

    Jewels, I looked up that post of yours and really enjoyed it. Don't know if you saw my comment there or if you'll see the one here, but if you know where that Didion on quote came from, I'd love to read whatever it was in its entirety.