Robert Wyatt (thanks.)

Musician Robert Wyatt cartoonified by Eric WaldemarWith a late start on playing keyboards, I’ll probably never master all the Chopin preludes or Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum, but there’s no need, since that ground is well covered. I encourage myself by thinking of Robert Wyatt, a drummer & singer (Soft Machine, Matching Mole, Hatfield & the North..) who turned toward keyboards and electronics quite late in life after falling from a window and losing the use of his legs. He proceeded to make some of the deepest, silliest music I know of, with a radically altered set of tools and options.

His sensitive intelligence and lack of pretension have served as touchpoints for me for 25 years or so, and all his records reward repeated listening. He is, at times, as cranky as me, yet I seek his musical company again and again. Initiates recognize the title of an early movie of mine, “Know Knit Knot,” as cadged from the Wyatt opus. If you’ve never heard him, start with Rock Bottom, or Ruth is Stranger than Richard, or Cuckooland, or Schleep, or Comicopera, or…

I made a picture of Wyatt while I was learning Photoshop. Just thought I’d share it, and hopefully I’ll have a more articulate post one of these days, as Robert Wyatt’s various musical excreta are among the best things I know of, musical or otherwise. Rarely flashy, but each time I listen with attention, there are more layers. Patient, playful, form-making…depth without grandiosity. Putting him on a pedestal would be absurd – it would be mixing meat with marble. Absurd, too, to make Wyatt a role model, except for his stubborn humor, sifting laughter from cranky gravity. Except for the neat trick of turning personal disaster and pain into very great, agonizingly funny music. Except for changing styles without fear (“without fear…pfft!!,” says Wyatt, annoyed), and using his soapbox to accuse, cajole, and nudge us to grow up into an actually humane species and society. A voice that makes one pause and listen, and an underlying intelligence and poetry that makes of glad that one did. I don’t generally tend to gush, but Wyatt’s work and example have meant a lot to me for many years. Thanks.

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