Philip Glass’s autobiography starts at the beginning of his life in the late 1930’s and takes us all the way back into our current 21st century. Part of what makes this book interesting is the way he reveals his working routines right on down to the specifics. This includes not only his techniques for creativity and composition, but the things he had to do to pay the rent before and long after he started being referred to as a genius.
Mr. Glass worked as a plumber(aha!) during a time when contractors brought along a hot plate filled with melted liquid lead. Anyone who felt the need to use any kind of safety protection like gloves would become the victim of fraternal hazing. Glass worked a whole slew of blue collar jobs from adolescence until long after he was quite famous. Most importantly he erases the impression one might have of an artist’s daily life as being anything less than hard work and sacrifice. Thus he climbed the rocky path of working full time hard labor jobs, whilst staying up all night composing symphonies and operas. He was never satisfied. He never tired.
His life seems to have been forever plagued by an incessant yearning. It doesn’t sound easy or relaxing, being Philip Glass. He educated himself well beyond what anyone would ever have required of him. Although he is admittedly proud of many of his impressive career accomplishments, these achievements and acclaim do not seem at all to be what truly drives him. Its his curiosity that has long since burned the bridge on the borderline of obsession. His behavior might have been thought of as the result of a mental illness had he not garnered such acclaim from the cognoscenti.
But as if all of this were not enough to marvel at, it seems Philip Glass had a spiritual yearning as well. This pursuit was as much an escape as it was a calling for Mr. Glass. His parents were non practicing Jews who nonetheless stubbornly held on to their ethnic religious identity with a certain vicious pride. What beckoned Philip was a far more exotic and mysterious calling. After his early experiments with Yoga and vegetarianism, he eventually travelled to India multiple times searching for gurus and esoteric knowledge. He got as close as he could to Tibet, and absorbed himself in the local culture.
Mr. Glass is well known for employing an extreme minimalist style in his compositions, but he achieved much more than style points as a musician. He invented a unique musical language that is still brand new to our antique ears. This required a voracious curiosity and incessant faith in the potential outcome. He is still out there right now employing his self invented strategies for composition and possibly closing his eyes and searching for something new.