My roommate got me into watching Carnivale on HBO every Sunday night. I saw the first few episodes because it comes on before the highly anticipated and ever-so-disappointing K Street. However, even as my interest in K Street waned, I kept watching Carnivale. Now with the season nearly complete, it has left me feeling just as empty as the show it preempted.
Carinvale had the all the opportunity to be a great storytelling mechanism. The show follows a depression-era, traveling carnival. The gritty setting and myriad cast of freaks on the show provide fertile ground for character development. And while the storytelling has kept me coming back for more, unfortunately, the show’s plot has wandered aimlessly like the carnival through the dust bowl.
It’s been fun watching the freaks reveal themselves. Shrouded pasts. Clandestine affairs. Personal tragedies and adversities. However, the lack of linear plot development is stifling the show’s success. I can remember those I’ve met who suffer from the same malady.
It’s Like Tai Chi…
When the commune idea fell through, my buddy’s sister, Maggie, moved into a rural house with her sorta-kinda husband, Will. They’re not legally married but they consider themselves married. They’re married in the spirit of Mother Earth. You see, they don’t really believe they need a church or state to recognize their marriage. In fact they don’t believe in many rules of society at all.
That evening we sat awkwardly as Will alternated “playing” a guitar, drum, and didgeridoo along to a Jimi Henrix album. It was awkward because he didn’t know how to play any of the instruments nor did he intend to learn. This falls inline with his nihilistic ethos. Eventually, we crashed for the evening on the living room couches.
The next morning, we awoke to the site of Daniel do what appeared to be a sortof spastic, free-form martial art. We decided not interupt this “ancient art” and finish our hearty laugh. Over breakfast, we queried Will as to the nature of his early morning ritual. Will replied, “It’s Tai Chi but without all the rules.”
The irony of his statement was lost on him. By definition, doing Tai Chi means following the rules of Tai Chi. This doesn’t mean you have to be David Carradine’s grasshopper, but without certain principles of the movements, you’re not doing Tai Chi at all.
Let’s Just Jam, Man
I played bass in a few bands while I was in college. My first college band played mostly Pixies covers with the occasional The Cure or The Smashing Pumpkins song sprinkled in for variety. I learned every song from the album Doolittle. I also learned most of my Spanish from the Pixies but unfortunately “Donde no hay sufrimiento” (“Where there is no suffering”) doesn’t come into much conversational Spanish.
We practiced in a storage facility that was the home to many other bands in the area. Except for baking inside a metal box during Florida summers, this was an amazing place to be in such close proximity to so many artists. It bred such a fertile milieu for creation. Though we started with covers, like any band with ambitions, we moved on to original compositions. This is when the trouble started. I didn’t last but a couple months before I was kicked out of that band. The Reason? Simple, I didn’t smoke pot.
Now I don’t claim great musical virtuosity, but I could hold my own playing the three note bassline of “Gouge Away.” The trouble would arise when the other guys just wanted to get high and “jam.” To them, because I wasn’t high, I couldn’t “connect” with them.
This isn’t an indictment on mind altering substances and their augmentation or degradation on the final product. I didn’t have a problem with their getting high. I just choose not to. The disconnect manifested in the abandonment of all song structure.
These guys, like many people, believe the great fallacy of modern jazz — they just jam. They don’t worry about structure, they just “feel” the music as it “flows.” Quite the opposite. Jazz isn’t so free-form that it abondons musical form. Rather, these are masters of their craft who work within a framework to create their “jam” sessions. Listen to any Jaco Pastorius song and you’ll hear carefully crafted sonic chaos intertwined with a presicely ochestrated melodies. He was a highly skilled craftsman.
Rules for Creativity?
Most creativity might seem like it just wanders aimlessly and arrives magically at its wonderous destination (much like an essay that discusses sideshow freak, tai chi, and the Pixies.)
It is the structure that allows the creativity to flourish. Ultimately, finding the proper balance between the logic and creative by having both sides of the brain working in concert is where true creative genius is born.
If you restrict yourself to a rigid logical container, you run the risk of hindering creativity. However, to deny the need for that container, means to abandon the platform from which to showcase the works.
Unfortunately, it would appear those in the employ of Carnivale are in complete denial.