There’s a small handful of artists with whom I’ve experienced what can only be described as an obsession, and I don’t use that term lightly. I’m serious. I was so head over heels for these people’s work that I probably should have been medicated, or sedated. They include, but are not limited to: The Beatles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keith Jarrett, Wynton Marsalis, Ernest Hemingway, Robert B. Parker.
And Woody Allen.
I don’t quite know what it is about certain writers or musicians or film makers that makes it feel like they’re creating simply to please us. As if we are their first and only true audience. I only know that it’s a somewhat strange and wonderful feeling, one in which there’s immense pleasure, a little bit of fear, and probably some guilt too (of coveting, of over doing it and ruining it in the process). There’s this feeling that you’ll never have enough, and yet alongside that, there’s also this horrible feeling of ruining it by loving it too much and compromising the brilliant spark that made you want to absorb it in the first place. And yet you can’t stay away. Some of these obsessions we outgrow, but most we don’t. They change form, perhaps, but they’re always sort of with us.
When I was a boy we had a dog named Joni. It always struck me as a strange name, somewhat because I’d never heard it before, but also because it sounded so…well, human. Come to find out, it was my father’s crushing love of Joni Mitchell that inspired the naming of the canine. For years my father had been spinning Joni Mitchell for us, expounding on the genius of Hejira or The Hissing of Summer Lawns, riffing about Joni’s artistry. I didn’t get it at the time; mostly I thought she looked weird. But obsessions are not there to be gotten, condoned, or understood. They simply are. I fully believe that we have no say in them or control over them.
I don’t indulge my love of Woody Allen like I used to and haven’t watched his films as regularly as in years past, but Robert B. Weide’s recent two part documentary, originally aired on PBS, re-kindled the flame. It’s tremendous. A little padded with love for its subject, perhaps, but full of insight and great interviews with actors and confidantes and writing partners and former lovers. Highly recommended.