I just became aware of Julius Eastman, “ . . . the kind of American genius not enough people know about.” (The New Yorker, January 22, 2018) He is on the periphery of the famous avant-garde composers, such as Philip Glass, Harold Budd, Charles Ives, John Cage, Steve Reich, Lydia Lunch and David Tudor.
His music, though somewhat controversial, (John Cage once said “that the younger writer had few ideas,” has been around since the 70s and had been almost forgotten save for those who are deeply embedded in this genre of composition.
His pedigree is impressive, “ As a student, Eastman earned his degree in piano and composition at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Musics, in Philadelphia.” And his talents were not limited to composition, “he had a remarkable voice – deep, soulful, nuanced – that attracted attention.”
What brought about this renaissance of notoriety surfaced about a year ago when news about the author, Renée Levine Packer, and composer, Mary Jane Leach, edited an anthology of essays about him, entitled “Gay Guerrilla,” published in the January 23rd, 2017 issue of The New Yorker.
Known more for his vocal process, “Identity politics has probably played a role in the Eastman renaissance: programming a black, gay composer quells questions about diversity. But it’s the music that commands attention: wild, grand, delirious, demonic, an uncontainable personality surging into sound. (Alex Ross)
He called what he composed “organic music,” each phrase of a piece contained a bit from the previous phrase – but then he might erase some phrases.” After listening to a number of his pieces, I can say with certainty that Mr. Eastman has a permanent place within the famed composers of greater recognition.
Unfortunately, being ensconced at this late date may have been to his short time on this earth as well. “Eastman, it seems, was a man filled with longing, and with dashed hopes that he helped dash. He wanted an academic position in order to keep going, but it didn’t come through; he didn’t go along to get along, which is part of his genius, and his tragedy. When he died, in 1990 (b. 1940), he was homeless. Many of his compositions had been thrown out when he failed to pay the rent for his East Village apartment.”
All the arts have their forgotten souls who contributed so very much or tried and were revived only by the interest of others. So it is with brand names of cigars that surface for such a short time, but then are totally forgotten or never gain traction due to the hapless fate and the unwillingness of the scoured, dreaded marketplace that has so little time for those who can’t instantly pay the rent.