Closed the Spotify, switched off the computer last night, and found George J. still hanging around down there at the end of the bar in the back of the brain, the way George J. generally does. And we got to talking, or rather I talked, George by this point in the condition George generally is in my bar at that hour. Here’s what occurred to me:
It’s true, the Whistler wouldn’t sing or whistle George Jones. Not onstage.
But– like George himself, I somehow imagine, maybe like a scary number of the aging rest of us– the Whistler, as I’ve conceived him, spends most of his non-feeding life (sic), and all of his artistic life, pumping relentlessly at an emotional well that has long run dry. What he’s calling up out of a past that isn’t even his –that was, instead, the past of the person he was before he became the Whistler– isn’t actual emotion, or even residue of actual emotion, but the memory of it.
Nick Tosches once pegged George Jones– devastatingly, brilliantly –as a “cipher.” A “blank space,” inhabited by the music itself.
That is, I realize now, not far from my imagining of the Whistler, or at least of the Whistler-as-artist. What pours out of this monster’s mouth onstage, at the height of his musical power, isn’t “authentic” feeling but its hollow, howling echo.
One unretractable step from the man (or monster) himself, in other words.
Like the art of almost all significant artists?
No, the Whistler would not sing George Jones in public.
But he might actually be George Jones…