A friend forwarded a story by Michael O’Donnell about the Aubrey-Maturin books of novelist Patrick O’Brian. The article, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week, opens, “I don’t know anyone but me who’s got a work of art that was tailor-made for him.” My friend wanted to know if the friends to whom he forwarded the article had a work they felt was tailor-made for them.
O’Donnell goes on: “Not tailor-made in the sense that the author or artist made a personal gift of it: I’m not referring to dedicatees. Nor do I mean favorites. Everyone has favorites. I mean stumbling across a film or novel that is pitched so finely to your particular sensibilities that encountering it is like discovering a twin sibling. You understand that it will be a part of your life from that point onward. The closest I’ve come to meeting another person who’s had this eerie good fortune was my grandfather, whose love for the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff was extraordinary to behold. He would sit in his rocking chair and close his eyes as the sound washed over him. From the expression on his face, you would almost think he was in pain. But those who knew him well understood that the look was rapture.”
I gave it some thought. Earlier in life this would have been an easier question to answer, an immediate one. At various stages of life I would have answered instantly: the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; or Brian Eno’s album Thursday Afternoon; or Dennis Potter’s TV mini-series The Singing Detective; or Don DeLillo’s novel Mao II; or J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin; or Terence Davies’ film Distant Voices, Still Lives; or the Latin Playboys’ debut album (the album I pitched to the 33 1/3 series before I pitched Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II); or Fernando Pessoa’s prose collection The Book of Disquiet (yeah, yeah, which translation?); or Janet Cardiff’s 40 Part Motet sound-art installation; or DJ Krush’s album Kakusei.
Short version: I don’t think I have one. I’m a serial obsessive art monogamist (SOAM for short). Right now the closest I could get is the Agnes Martin room at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Which of course, due to the pandemic, feels quite far away, even though it’s just across town.