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Words Without Music: A Memoir

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Philip Glass has, almost single-handedly, crafted the dominant sound of late-twentieth-century classical music. Yet in Words Without Music, his critically acclaimed memoir, he creates an entirely new and unexpected voice, that of a born storyteller and an acutely insightful chronicler, whose behind-the-scenes recollections allow readers to experience those moments of creat Philip Glass has, almost single-handedly, crafted the dominant sound of late-twentieth-century classical music. Yet in Words Without Music, his critically acclaimed memoir, he creates an entirely new and unexpected voice, that of a born storyteller and an acutely insightful chronicler, whose behind-the-scenes recollections allow readers to experience those moments of creative fusion when life so magically merged with art. From his childhood in Baltimore to his student days in Chicago and at Juilliard, to his first journey to Paris and a life-changing trip to India, Glass movingly recalls his early mentors, while reconstructing the places that helped shape his creative consciousness. Whether describing working as an unlicensed plumber in gritty 1970s New York or composing Satyagraha, Glass breaks across genres and re-creates, here in words, the thrill that results from artistic creation. Words Without Music ultimately affirms the power of music to change the world.


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Philip Glass has, almost single-handedly, crafted the dominant sound of late-twentieth-century classical music. Yet in Words Without Music, his critically acclaimed memoir, he creates an entirely new and unexpected voice, that of a born storyteller and an acutely insightful chronicler, whose behind-the-scenes recollections allow readers to experience those moments of creat Philip Glass has, almost single-handedly, crafted the dominant sound of late-twentieth-century classical music. Yet in Words Without Music, his critically acclaimed memoir, he creates an entirely new and unexpected voice, that of a born storyteller and an acutely insightful chronicler, whose behind-the-scenes recollections allow readers to experience those moments of creative fusion when life so magically merged with art. From his childhood in Baltimore to his student days in Chicago and at Juilliard, to his first journey to Paris and a life-changing trip to India, Glass movingly recalls his early mentors, while reconstructing the places that helped shape his creative consciousness. Whether describing working as an unlicensed plumber in gritty 1970s New York or composing Satyagraha, Glass breaks across genres and re-creates, here in words, the thrill that results from artistic creation. Words Without Music ultimately affirms the power of music to change the world.

30 review for Words Without Music: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    Philip Glass (January January January 31 January 31 31 31, 1937 1937 1937 31 January 1937 31 31 1937 – ) is a composer; Philip Glass is a composer of minimalist music, who once worked as a taxi driver. Philip Glass is a composer of minimalist music, who once worked as a taxi driver; Philip Glass is a composer of minimalist music, who once worked as a taxi. -Uncyclopedia

  2. 4 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    My obsession with Philip Glass' music is probably a type of mania. There I am, sitting, just listening to the same couple of notes being played over and over again, sometimes for hours. And I love it. Glass' memoir thankfully doesn't follow his trademark repetitive style. Instead he has produced a really wonderful account of his life, specifically focussing on his early years. We follow him from childhood, through his early music lessons, to Juilliard, to Paris, to India, and beyond. His sheer d My obsession with Philip Glass' music is probably a type of mania. There I am, sitting, just listening to the same couple of notes being played over and over again, sometimes for hours. And I love it. Glass' memoir thankfully doesn't follow his trademark repetitive style. Instead he has produced a really wonderful account of his life, specifically focussing on his early years. We follow him from childhood, through his early music lessons, to Juilliard, to Paris, to India, and beyond. His sheer dedication to becoming a great composer is inspiring. However, the memoir is slightly off-kilter. The book is just shy of 400-pages, and yet his chapter on his first major masterpiece, Einstein on the Beach, does not come until page 283 - almost at the final quarter. You see Glass spends a lot of time discussing his great musical education but then decides not to actually discuss the great works that he would go on to produce. In fact, all of the discussion of his actual music is relegated to the final hundred pages. Everything from Einstein to now, in one hundred pages. The absences are glaring. There is no mention of Glassworks for example, apart from a single sentence on its commission. In The Upper Room, Dance, Songs from Liquid Days, and Dracula don't get a single mention. Almost criminally, there is also no word on Metamorphosis, Mad Rush or any of his Etudes, which are by far his most popular works. I understand that if he did actually discuss all of his major works, the book would have been a behemoth. But strangely he decides to dedicate a whole chapter, the final chapter, to his Cocteau Trilogy, which I doubt anyone would refute my saying are very much minor works within his oeuvre. I feel he just needed someone beside him as he was writing to say to him, 'this is all well and good Phil but how about you write about some of your famous ones?' However, I do think I am expecting too much. Glass has had an amazing life, peppered with wonderful people and stories. I shall decide to take those stories with me. I guess I'll just have to ask Glass myself about In the Upper Room.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David

    This book is the autobiography of Philip Glass, a world-renowned composer of art music. I have not really appreciated his minimalist style of music, but I truly enjoyed his story. This is a guy who really paid his dues, over and over again, before becoming world-famous. He grew up in Baltimore, and was strongly influenced by the modern music he listened to, in his father's record store. He went to Peabody Institute, University of Chicago, Julliard School of Music, and finally, with a Fullbright This book is the autobiography of Philip Glass, a world-renowned composer of art music. I have not really appreciated his minimalist style of music, but I truly enjoyed his story. This is a guy who really paid his dues, over and over again, before becoming world-famous. He grew up in Baltimore, and was strongly influenced by the modern music he listened to, in his father's record store. He went to Peabody Institute, University of Chicago, Julliard School of Music, and finally, with a Fullbright Scholarship, studied under the tutelage of the famous Nadia Boulanger, in Paris. While he composed his music and produced performances and operas, he worked as a furniture mover, a plumber, and a taxi cab driver in New York City. With his wife, he toured through Pakistan and India, learning about Indian music with Ravi Shankar, and Eastern culture. Glass tells his story with humor and excitement. I loved the episode where his mother, Ida Glass, worried so much about his financial future as a composer. When she attended one of her son's concerts for the first time, there were only six people in the audience. The next time she attended her son's concert, there were four thousand people in the audience! Philip Glass composed a lot of music, and some of it is very experimental. He wrote many operas, symphonies, a lot of chamber music, and scores for films. He produced some of his earliest operas on a shoestring budget, but were sold out. His opera Einstein on the Beach lasts four and a half hours! As a composer myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of enthusiasm and love for music that he conveys throughout the book. I recommend this book to anyone who might be interested in a biography of a very interesting person.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rob Christopher

    “If you don’t know what to do, there’s actually a chance of doing something new. As long as you know what you’re doing, nothing much of interest is going to happen.” – Philip Glass, Words Without Music

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tosh

    A very warm and human-like nice guy (at least on the printed page) who also has a fascinating life, and knows everyone. Philip Glass has not always been my favorite composer, but he has written some of my favorite pieces of music. I love Einstein on the Beach and the "Mishima" soundtrack - and parts of the "Candyman" is great as well. There are misses in his long career, but there are also fantastic albums here and there in his long discography. This memoir is truly interesting, because it deals A very warm and human-like nice guy (at least on the printed page) who also has a fascinating life, and knows everyone. Philip Glass has not always been my favorite composer, but he has written some of my favorite pieces of music. I love Einstein on the Beach and the "Mishima" soundtrack - and parts of the "Candyman" is great as well. There are misses in his long career, but there are also fantastic albums here and there in his long discography. This memoir is truly interesting, because it deals with the working life of an American composer. I love reading about his life as a teenager working in his dad's record shop in Baltimore as well as his life as a Taxi Driver in New York City - while at the same time, probably one of the most important (if not financially) successful composers of our era. This is an excellent book for someone who wants to make it as an artist/composer/whatever - and see how someone like Glass worked as a labor as well as an artist. He could do both and he did it quite well. The fact that he took up and lived with Moondog is amazing enough, but also his friendships with various writers and artists from the visual New York City world are equally great. I would have liked to have read more about his relationship with fellow-composer Steve Reich, but that is a minor fault in this book. Over-all, Glass doesn't go out of his way to say bad things about people - this is not a memoir trying to even the score - but more of a life of a hard-working artist. Well-written and very interesting tales.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    “Openings and closings, beginnings and endings. Everything in between passes as quickly as the blink of an eye. An eternity precedes the opening and another, if not the same, follows the closing. Somehow everything that lies in between seems for a moment more vivid.” I absolutely loved this! I’ve never considered myself a soundtrack or film score nerd, but it is the music genre that I predominantly listen to: I follow some composers’ work religiously, recognize pieces in an instant, and most of “Openings and closings, beginnings and endings. Everything in between passes as quickly as the blink of an eye. An eternity precedes the opening and another, if not the same, follows the closing. Somehow everything that lies in between seems for a moment more vivid.” I absolutely loved this! I’ve never considered myself a soundtrack or film score nerd, but it is the music genre that I predominantly listen to: I follow some composers’ work religiously, recognize pieces in an instant, and most of the times you’ll hear me say “I haven’t seen the film, but the soundtrack is amazing!” I am that annoying… I got to see Philip Glass & Kronos Quartet a couple of years ago, in my hometown, playing music to the screening of 1931 “Dracula” in a summer theatre. It goes without saying that Glass is one of my favourite composers and “The Hours” one of my favourite soundtracks ever. His catalogue is beyond impressive and to read about how he got to compose some of his most famous works was a real treat. He is also an incredible storyteller! The chapters do not follow his life chronologically, rather themes and threads, moments and people he met throughout his career: I loved his meditations on art and music, the story of “Einstein on the Beach” and “Satyagraha,” of working with Mlle. Boulanger on his music technique, his friendship with Doris Lessing and Allen Ginsberg, and other inspiring or amusing anecdotes. “Wait a second, have you seen Taxi Driver?” “No, I didn’t see Taxi Driver.” “You didn’t see Taxi Driver?” “Marty, I was a taxi driver. During the time when you were making that film, I was out driving a hundred miles a night in New York City. On my night off, the last thing I was going to do was see a movie called Taxi Driver.” Yeah, that Marty! I’m definitely planning on re-reading it, if not the entire book, at least some of my favourite chapters.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05rnx7h Description: The long-awaited memoir by the world-renowned composer of symphonies, operas and film scores. 'If you go to New York City to study music, you'll end up like your uncle Henry,' Glass's mother warned her incautious and curious nineteen-year-old son. It was the early summer of 1956, and Ida Glass was concerned that her precocious Philip, already a graduate of the University of Chicago, would end up an itinerant musician, playing in vaudeville BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05rnx7h Description: The long-awaited memoir by the world-renowned composer of symphonies, operas and film scores. 'If you go to New York City to study music, you'll end up like your uncle Henry,' Glass's mother warned her incautious and curious nineteen-year-old son. It was the early summer of 1956, and Ida Glass was concerned that her precocious Philip, already a graduate of the University of Chicago, would end up an itinerant musician, playing in vaudeville houses and dance halls all over the country, just like his cigar-smoking, bantamweight uncle. One could hardly blame Mrs. Glass for worrying that her teenage son would end up as a musical vagabond after initially failing to get into Juilliard. Yet, the transformation of a young man from budding musical prodigy to world-renowned composer is the story of this memoir. From his childhood in post-World War II Baltimore to his student days in Chicago, at Juilliard, and his time in Paris, where he studied under the formidable Nadia Boulanger, Glass movingly recalls his early mentors while reconstructing the places that helped shape his artistic consciousness. Then, to the gritty streets of New York in the 1970s, where the composer worked as a cabbie, leading the life of a Parisian bohemian artist transported to late-twentieth-century America. Yet even after Glass's talent was first widely recognized with the sensational premiere of Einstein on the Beach in 1976, even after he stopped renewing his hack license and gained international recognition for his operatic works, the son of a Baltimore record store owner never abandoned his earliest universal ideals, all of the highest artistic order. 1/5: Philip Glass recalls his Baltimore childhood and being accepted at Chicago University 2/5: Funding himself by working in a Baltimore steel mill, the young Glass secures a place at Juilliard and begins his music studies in earnest. New York City in the late 1950s was a heady place, offering a range of creative opportunities. He soon found himself immersed in the city's vibrant contemporary art scene. 3/5 In the mid-1960s, and keen to expand his musical knowledge further, Glass went to Paris to study with the acclaimed teacher of musical composition Nadia Boulanger. While there, and working with the likes of Samuel Beckett, he developed his life-long interest in composing music for theatre. 4/5: After decades working day jobs to fund his music, Philip Glass finally broke through with the opera "Einstein on the Beach". Collaborating with director Robert Wilson, the five-hour production sold out each night during its 1976 European and American tour and made the pair's careers. 5/5: Asked to write the score for visionary 1982 documentary Koyaanisqatsi, Glass discovered a new avenue for his musical composition. He later worked with Martin Scorsese, writing the soundtrack for Kundun (1997). Reader: Kerry Shale Writer: Philip Glass Abridger: Laurence Wareing Producer: Kirsteen Cameron Music: Track: "Opening" Knee Play 5 - Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass 1979 Original Philip Glass - Kundun - 15 Move To Dungkar

  8. 5 out of 5

    Katie Kellert

    Absolutely incredible read. If you're a musician or an aspiring musician, especially if you're a composer, or even if you're none of those things, read this if you want to be inspired and liberated of your notions about fame, art, and life as an artist. Colorful, inspiring, and completely engaging.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 Extra: The long-awaited memoir by the world-renowned American composer of symphonies, operas and film scores, Philip Glass

  10. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    After watching Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, I was convinced that Philip Glass is an aloof turd. Now I believe he is an aloof turd with a heart.If you at least know something about any one of the following things, you will probably enjoy Words Without Music: A Memoir:Philip Glass, music theory/composition, Buddhism, world travel, pretense, yoga, daddy issues, plumbing, vagueness, or NYC in the 60's and 70's.As a hardcore fan of PG since high school in 1995 (guess who sat at the co After watching Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, I was convinced that Philip Glass is an aloof turd. Now I believe he is an aloof turd with a heart.If you at least know something about any one of the following things, you will probably enjoy Words Without Music: A Memoir:Philip Glass, music theory/composition, Buddhism, world travel, pretense, yoga, daddy issues, plumbing, vagueness, or NYC in the 60's and 70's.As a hardcore fan of PG since high school in 1995 (guess who sat at the cool table), I was disappointed that the book didn't get too juicy. I wanted a tabloid-style self-exposé, but I got the highlight reel from the giant career of a giant composer.Mr. Glass clearly picked and chose what he wanted to write about and what he didn't want to write about. That's fair! But large swaths of his career and personal life were glossed over, if not excluded. I guess that's my main criticism.As a just-past-being-able-to-call-himself-young composer myself, I enjoyed this book for its technical discussion of broad music theory. I finished this book having gained additions to both my reading and listening lists. I also found value in the philosophical discussions on creativity and art. I would love to see an On Writing (Stephen King)-style technical discussion about the craft of music composition. There's certainly some meandering in this book (we get it, you like your vacation home), but it does come to a point, even if it takes a while!There is a slightly grim tone to the text -- it's clearly written from the perspective of an almost-eighty year-old who is reflecting on his life in words and wants to leave a detailed descriptions of the best parts (and some of the worst). The book's beautiful in that way. There's also a micron of laughter, and some great stories about Glass's artistic contemporaries.So read this book. It's written by a creative mastermind and intellectual. It teaches you things. It lets you about three quarters of the way into his head and there are your reasons to pick it up right now. Enjoy.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Magdalena

    As one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, Philip Glass transformed the landscape of modern music. His work is Renaissance-like in its scope; the breadth of his projects a wide sweep that encompasses Opera, film scores, symphonies, music theatre, concertos, and the list goes on. To call him a musical genius would be easy. What’s not so easy is to track just how much work there is behind the exquisite music he’s given to the world—not some extraordinary inspiration—just hard ya As one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, Philip Glass transformed the landscape of modern music. His work is Renaissance-like in its scope; the breadth of his projects a wide sweep that encompasses Opera, film scores, symphonies, music theatre, concertos, and the list goes on. To call him a musical genius would be easy. What’s not so easy is to track just how much work there is behind the exquisite music he’s given to the world—not some extraordinary inspiration—just hard yakka and lots of it. If something caught Glass’ interest—and almost everything interests him—he would begin a course of study that involved hours and hours of deep, regimented study and practice. There are never any short cuts. Travelling to remote places to spend time with various teachers, beginning a myriad of projects, taking hold of nearly every opportunity that came his way to grow and learn by studying, practicing and drilling are what characterises Glass’ approach to his craft. I opened the book thinking I’d read an autobiography of a great composer. Instead, I found a deeply introspective story of a man whose work has grown out of a desire to understand life from the inside—at the point where the atoms move. The book begins with Glass’ young years in Baltimore, where he grew up, the son of well-educated Jewish Lithuanian migrants. His mother Ida was an English teacher/librarian and his father Ben owned a record store. Though they didn’t approve of his desire to become a musician, Glass’ parents paid for music lessons, which began early when a young Glass would take the streetcar to Peabody Conservatory to study flute. When he was eleven, he began to work in his father’s store. The book progresses in a reasonably chronological fashion, through his early schooling and the start of a lifelong love of music, his early entry to the University of Chicago where he obtained a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, his studies at Julliard, with Ravi Shankar, in Paris with Nadia Boulinger on a Fulbright Scholarship, his visits to India and Nepal to study Yoga and Tibetan Buddhism, his time in a very Bohemian New York’s East Village, his work in the theatre with his then wife Joanne Akalaitis, his immersion in the world of Art, the creation of his operas, his film scoring and his time with his second wife Candy Jernigan. Throughout this period, Glass not only throws himself wholeheartedly into his work, but also into his spirituality, and into earning a good living. He takes on all sorts of ‘day jobs’ and not only does them well, he seems to take great pleasure out of doing them exceptionally well—whether that’s moving furniture, teaching himself plumbing on the job (!), driving a taxi, or helping his dad out in the record store--there’s an attention and interest shown to everything that turns the work into almost an art. In fact, if there’s one theme that can be found throughout the book, it’s this kind of mindfulness—the art of paying complete attention – whether that be fixing a broken sink, working at a composition, or listening to a challenging piece of music: The mechanics of perception and attention tied you to the flow of the music in a way that was compelling and that made the story irrelevant. When you get to that level of attention, two things happen: one, the structure (form) and the content become identical; two, the listener experiences and emotional buoyancy. Once we let go of the narrative and allow ourselves to enter the flow of the music, the buoyancy that we experience is both addictive and attractive and attains a high emotional level. (221) The story itself is compelling and would probably have been so even if the book weren’t so well-written: there are several love stories, lots of famous names and collaborations, travels to interesting places, and a very wide range of influences and references from literature, art, music, dance and theatre. Glass, however, writes beautifully, exploring, always, the deeper and universal implications of his experiences. The prose is beautiful to read—both simple and powerful.  Glass’ recounts are more than just memoir.  He is generous in that whatever he writes is always aimed at finding a deeper and collective meaning in his individual experiences. There is so much to learn here, not just about Glass, but about ourselves—how to live, how to learn, how to create. Towards the end of the book, Glass talks about his work on The Cocteau Trilogy in which he says, of Cocteau, that he “is teaching about creativity in terms of the power of the artist, which we now understand to be the power of transformation” (378) The same can be said of Words Without Music. Glass fans will love it of course, and there are detailed deconstructions of most of Glass’ big works: from the making of to the meaning of. However, Words Without Music is a book for all readers—the lessons it provides and the journey it takes us on, is both beautifully expressed and universally applicable.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Samuel

    Philip Glass is my favourite composer. I have no expertise or formal education in music, nor can I play an instrument. But there is something immediate and intimate that I feel with Glass' music; some kind of natural connection and fascination with it. I feel the same about a lot of minimalist and 20th Century music, but especially with Glass. This thoughtfully-written autobiography illuminates his life, work and growth as a composer, influenced by the changing world around him and the artists h Philip Glass is my favourite composer. I have no expertise or formal education in music, nor can I play an instrument. But there is something immediate and intimate that I feel with Glass' music; some kind of natural connection and fascination with it. I feel the same about a lot of minimalist and 20th Century music, but especially with Glass. This thoughtfully-written autobiography illuminates his life, work and growth as a composer, influenced by the changing world around him and the artists he met and built friendships with. He dwells particularly on his captivating and often amusing encounters with great artists and creatives such as Nadia Boulanger, Ravi Shankar, Doris Lessing, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Wilson, John Cage, Jasper Johns and, of course, when he had Salvador Dalí in the back of his taxi. What remains palpable is Glass' passion not just for all kinds of music, but for all kinds of artistic expression. He writes at length on his favourite works of visual art, film and literature and how they inspired him to try and communicate their essence through his own music. One striking quote comes towards the end of the book when Glass ponders on how he creates his music: 'Now when I'm writing music, I'm not thinking of structure; I'm not thinking of harmony; I'm not thinking of counterpoint. I'm not thinking of any of the things I have learned. I'm not thinking about music, I'm thinking music.'

  13. 4 out of 5

    Shauny_32

    I've always appreciated the work of Philip Glass so it was about time I got to know the man better. Turns out he can be quite obnoxious. There are moments where I cringed at his massive ego and pretentious attitude. He describes his divorce in one paragraph in the entire book mumbling something about pursuing someone else who leaves him anyway. But thats ok because he has some great stories to tell regarding his adventures throughout India and Nepal and name drops some impressive artists that he I've always appreciated the work of Philip Glass so it was about time I got to know the man better. Turns out he can be quite obnoxious. There are moments where I cringed at his massive ego and pretentious attitude. He describes his divorce in one paragraph in the entire book mumbling something about pursuing someone else who leaves him anyway. But thats ok because he has some great stories to tell regarding his adventures throughout India and Nepal and name drops some impressive artists that he has associated himself with. And to be fair, near the end of the book he makes a moving tribute to someone special to him. He lived in the same neighbourhood in paris for a while as Samuel Beckett and mentions his works. This is someone I have clearly neglected as I have started readinmg one of his works for the first time and have instantly fell in love with it. So basically, this book is a mixed bag. If you can tolerate some of the self-rightous, ego-thrusting moments, there are many great moments, that are great as a method of reference regarding travel, literature and other artists.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I got to live with Philip Glass while reading this book and did not want to walk out the door. An amazing unpretentious artist.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    A fascinating account of one's journey as a life-long student of music, art, religion and life. Glass' path to a celebrated composer reinforces Gladwell's "10,000-Hour Rule" to the nth degree.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rajesh Kandaswamy

    While the life of an artist being unusual is not a surprise, I did not expect a leading modern day composer to have spent serious time as a taxi driver, a plumber and as a worker in a steel plant. Glass's story, his focus on his unconventional music and a similar life is a worthwhile read. His prose is measured, and he portrays someone who is in control, keeps things in balance, even while the life he leads might not be the norm. While the story of his life is quite interesting, you get the feel While the life of an artist being unusual is not a surprise, I did not expect a leading modern day composer to have spent serious time as a taxi driver, a plumber and as a worker in a steel plant. Glass's story, his focus on his unconventional music and a similar life is a worthwhile read. His prose is measured, and he portrays someone who is in control, keeps things in balance, even while the life he leads might not be the norm. While the story of his life is quite interesting, you get the feeling that the same qualities, being self-assured and being in control, has led to Glass choosing to share things that he would like us know and thinks will be of interest to us, rather than baring more and letting us decide. Of course, I get the impression that many aspects that he chose not to share - his wife, the divorce and the kids, might be due to a respect for their privacy. But, there are many other aspects of why he chose to be a vegetarian or why his interest in Tibetan philosophy kept increasing are never explained. This is another good book of how a person relates to his vocation. Glass's focus on his work and his beliefs come through well through the story, but I wish he had explained his feelings and thoughts more.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dale Boyer

    This is exactly the kind of artist memoir you wish everyone you care about would write. Full of fascinating anecdotes, and a full history of his development, especially of the early days -- the period when, it seems, artists truly find a way to articulate who they are -- this is also a testament to artistic perseverance. For instance, it took Glass TWENTY-TWO YEARS before he was able to really support himself as a musician. Even after Einstein On The Beach had been performed at the Met, he still This is exactly the kind of artist memoir you wish everyone you care about would write. Full of fascinating anecdotes, and a full history of his development, especially of the early days -- the period when, it seems, artists truly find a way to articulate who they are -- this is also a testament to artistic perseverance. For instance, it took Glass TWENTY-TWO YEARS before he was able to really support himself as a musician. Even after Einstein On The Beach had been performed at the Met, he still had to drive a cab for two more years until he could finally call it quits. In the meantime, he was forging relationships with a virtual Who's Who in the New York Art scene, including a marriage to JoAnne Akalaitis, working as Richard Serra's assistant, doing projects with Allan Ginsburg, and a whole host of others. This is a fantastically entertaining and inspiring book. If you like Philip Glass' music, and want to know more about how it came about, you'll love it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karlton

    This is a very inspiring memoir by one of my favorite composers. It exceeded my expectations. It is inspirational, self-aware, and filled with information about his music. I love how in depth he goes into the making and construction of the following works: The Einstein Trilogy, the Qatsi Trilogy, and the Cocteau Trilogy. My only complaint is that he doesn't go into such detail on more works. Still, I was very happy with this book, and may seek out a print copy for my very own.

  19. 5 out of 5

    CholoSoy

    I was very close to quit the book just minutes after I started, I didn't like those back and forwards, most of the contain seemed almost irrelevant. I was so wrong!!! and I fortunately continue until I began to understand the relationship between Phillip growing up and his career as a musician, composer, etc; the way he relates those experiences with his work and how he learned and re learned from the people, masters, teachers he met. I am so glad I finished the book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    This is a completely outstanding memoir by minimalist composer and musician Philip Glass, who wrote the book as he was approaching his 80th birthday. The book is such a combination of inspiring stories: of his growing up in Baltimore, his time at the University of Chicago and Juilliard, his studies with Nadia Boulanger. Did you know that the world-renowned Philip Glass worked as a taxi driver, a plumber, a steelworker, and at assorted other odd jobs to support his family until the age of 41? Onl This is a completely outstanding memoir by minimalist composer and musician Philip Glass, who wrote the book as he was approaching his 80th birthday. The book is such a combination of inspiring stories: of his growing up in Baltimore, his time at the University of Chicago and Juilliard, his studies with Nadia Boulanger. Did you know that the world-renowned Philip Glass worked as a taxi driver, a plumber, a steelworker, and at assorted other odd jobs to support his family until the age of 41? Only then was his success as a musician enough to sustain him financially. There are parts of this book that read like a lesson in composition, and they're just as good as the biographical details. Did you know that he was married to Joann Akalaitis, the founder of Mabou Mines theater company? The life of a musician and composer is sketched in bold strokes in this amazing personal account. Anyone who aspires to life as a performing musician or composer needs to read this book and be swept up in the story. I'm really tired as I write this, so apologies for sloppy writing and doubtless many misspellings. I may return to it to polish it, but most likely I won't. Just read this book!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Koven

    This was...fine, I suppose. For one of my favorite composers, and certainly one of the most important (American) composers of the 20th Century, I was hoping for more. As other reviewers have noted, he doesn't really get into any of the work that everyone knows until well over halfway through the book. Which could be okay, but it doesn't ever feel like he establishes a through line from his early days to the later work that would make learning about his youth valuable. The subject matter and corr This was...fine, I suppose. For one of my favorite composers, and certainly one of the most important (American) composers of the 20th Century, I was hoping for more. As other reviewers have noted, he doesn't really get into any of the work that everyone knows until well over halfway through the book. Which could be okay, but it doesn't ever feel like he establishes a through line from his early days to the later work that would make learning about his youth valuable. The subject matter and corresponding details are also kind of all over the place; I learned as much about how he and Candy Jernigan made the down payment on their first apartment together as I did about the score for Koyaanisqatsi. There are moments of wonderful abstraction and introspection (particularly in the closing chapter) scattered throughout the book that create a frustrating sense of the book this might have been.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    This memoir was so interesting. The writing is perfectly fine, but his story of how he created original American art is just fascinating. The man paid his dues, he toiled endlessly on his craft, he had the good fortune to be born into a family that valued music and education, and he was clearly gifted. The memoir is long, so yes, there were some sections I would've shaved down, but who cares. I learned a great deal about music, especially composition. But I think what struck me most was that Gla This memoir was so interesting. The writing is perfectly fine, but his story of how he created original American art is just fascinating. The man paid his dues, he toiled endlessly on his craft, he had the good fortune to be born into a family that valued music and education, and he was clearly gifted. The memoir is long, so yes, there were some sections I would've shaved down, but who cares. I learned a great deal about music, especially composition. But I think what struck me most was that Glass really had to work to create what he created. He studied and worked and practiced and worked and picked up every odd job he could to pay the bills and worked and tried and risked and worked. Huh, you can't help but think, so THAT'S what it takes. It's daunting and a smidge sobering. And thank goodness there are artists who actually do it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    John-Paul

    This was a tough one to rate. In a way I was reminded of a book I recently read about Glenn Gould and how I thought that I found his musical gifts far more interesting than his biography. I'm not sure that is completely the case with Philip Glass, in that he seems to have lived quite a full and varied life. Any time he discussed his family back in Baltimore, I found it touching, real and interesting. I particularly liked the fact that he has always been an artist who has no problems doing "non-a This was a tough one to rate. In a way I was reminded of a book I recently read about Glenn Gould and how I thought that I found his musical gifts far more interesting than his biography. I'm not sure that is completely the case with Philip Glass, in that he seems to have lived quite a full and varied life. Any time he discussed his family back in Baltimore, I found it touching, real and interesting. I particularly liked the fact that he has always been an artist who has no problems doing "non-artist" things to make a living: random plumbing jobs, mover, factory worker, taxi driver. His discussion of these jobs made him seem more real to me, like he could be this inventive artist by night but still understand that the bills need to be paid by day. Unsurprisingly, his lifelong passion for Eastern philosophy, music and art is clear throughout the memoir and while I appreciate his zest for it all, it just didn't interest me terribly much. His trek with his then new wife from Spain to India certainly was fascinating and throughout the book there is a sense that when he set his mind to something, it was going to get done. His discussions on music theory and how he came to write the kind of music he is famous for was enlightening, if not a bit too rarefied for a musical neophyte such as myself. I had to laugh to myself on several occasions when he started mentioning 1960s avant-garde theatre personalities such as Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski and Robert Wilson. The reason for this is simple: whereas for Glass, these were artists who were breaking new ground, for me during my years as a graduate theatre student in the early 2000s, they were foisted onto me and my class as paragons of contemporary theatre (40 years later) by an authoritarian and rather clueless directing professor. For better or worse, they became punchlines, what everyone thinks of when they imagine "performance art". Nevertheless, I was impressed with the sheer number and breadth of artists Glass has known and collaborated with, though I'm not certain I would care to know all of them personally. His social and political views creep out onto the pages a couple of times and I was thankful that they stayed mainly in the shadows. I found the way he addressed the breakup of his first marriage to be rather flippant, but the entire book had a similar attitude, so I'm not sure that it was anything unusual. Overall, the book seems to have some problems with coherency; Glass seems to move from one topic to another without any real connecting lines except that this is Chapter 1 and the next chapter is Chapter 2. Considering the style of music he writes, I again wonder why I'm surprised that his writing is similarly structured! However, as a direct result of this book I've sat down and listened to Glass' Music in Fifths and Music in a Similar Motion and was entranced by both, so I'm still glad I sought out and read his memoir.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine York

    I tend to get myself motivated to contribute a goodreads review when I read something that I must absolutely recommend to other readers. Shouldn't be that way, but there we are. In this category, I enthusiastically place Philip Glass's Words Without Music, his 2015 memoir. I've become fascinated by accounts of avant-garde artists working in late '60s early '70s New York, and this memoir makes a distinguished addition to that sub-genre. Glass's memoir is inspiring for its insights into his music, I tend to get myself motivated to contribute a goodreads review when I read something that I must absolutely recommend to other readers. Shouldn't be that way, but there we are. In this category, I enthusiastically place Philip Glass's Words Without Music, his 2015 memoir. I've become fascinated by accounts of avant-garde artists working in late '60s early '70s New York, and this memoir makes a distinguished addition to that sub-genre. Glass's memoir is inspiring for its insights into his music, and is quite accessible for readers without a detailed knowledge of music. Yes, there are some technical passages, but that's fine...What's outstanding here is the treatment of what it was like to be an artist at this time...to pursue this work while doing whatever work might make one a living--driving taxi (as Glass did), working with other artists at a small moving company they'd formed (ditto). Glass is wonderful on his experiences as a student with the legendarily brilliant and fierce Nadia Boulanger. And he exhibits an impressive generosity in dealing with those who have caused him pain, most notably his father Ben who wrote him a one-sentence letter when Glass married theatrical director JoAnne Akalaitis saying, basically, do not darken my threshhold again. Glass simply put the letter away, and when the chance came to reunite with his father years later, thanks to the good offices of an uncle, he took it and moved forward without bitterness. I'm not sure I could have done the same. Glass's meditations on art are hard-won, not the least bit facile, and if he has a sure sense of his artistic accomplishment, who can deny him that? He's right. At the same time, he consistently presents himself as a life-long student, always open to the wisdom that other people, cultures and experiences can teach him. I'm popping this book into a friend's mailbox tomorrow!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Vicky Liu

    Beautiful and well told memoir. It was a privilege to see inside the mind of a master in his field. Glass exhibits so much of the growth mindset mentality that I read about in Dweck's Mindset. He is always positive. How many times did he say that he met so and so and he liked him/her immediately. Also so humble. This man did not earn his living solely by being a composer until he was 41. Along the way he was a plumber, taxi driver, artist assistant. Through it all he never complained but saw the Beautiful and well told memoir. It was a privilege to see inside the mind of a master in his field. Glass exhibits so much of the growth mindset mentality that I read about in Dweck's Mindset. He is always positive. How many times did he say that he met so and so and he liked him/her immediately. Also so humble. This man did not earn his living solely by being a composer until he was 41. Along the way he was a plumber, taxi driver, artist assistant. Through it all he never complained but saw the good side of doing each of these jobs. I now want to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism and read Herman's Siddhartha and Kerouac's On the Road. I also want to watch the 3 Jean Cocteau films that Glass based operas on. I was inspired by how Glass gained a lot of his education through reading primary sources. I looked into The Great Books project at Univ of Chicago and plan on trying to read/listen through those works. The book gave me some insights into the goals of post-modern artists. I'm still not sure if I agree with art that is purely for the sake of exploring the material rather than aesthetics but I don't know enough about art to have a strong stance there. I want to find some videos of Glass's operas. My impression of Glass's music before this book is that it was repetitive. He talks about this criticism and explains why he feels it's unfair. I will be listening to his work again to see if I can detect the changes that drives his music.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lit Folio

    I am deeply interested in the work of this unique composer and I couldn't wait to get my hands on this memoir, his first and maybe his only. Perhaps I expected too much on the idea that he would explore his process with the reader more rather than telling us about his work as a plumber and as a taxi driver. I admired his willingness to do any grunt work to keep house and home together, but I found it a bit tedious--especially when he goes into how to fix certain plumbing challenges. We get it, P I am deeply interested in the work of this unique composer and I couldn't wait to get my hands on this memoir, his first and maybe his only. Perhaps I expected too much on the idea that he would explore his process with the reader more rather than telling us about his work as a plumber and as a taxi driver. I admired his willingness to do any grunt work to keep house and home together, but I found it a bit tedious--especially when he goes into how to fix certain plumbing challenges. We get it, Phil. Now please get back into your process, because I find you utterly fascinating! As far as the music, he wrote more about his operas than anything. Maybe this is what he holds close to his heart, but some of the work I like most was not discussed (Brian Eno and David Bowie; Twyla Tharp; too little on Godfrey Reggio). I also got the impression that he really didn't want to go much into his personal life, which was fine with me except when he did choose to discuss one of his many wives it felt awkward. Perhaps, what I liked most was what he had to say about writers and their process and about his teacher, Nadia Boulanger. All in all, a very good read with some slight disappointments. I wish he'd do something on Tom Edison and Nicola Tesla...that would be right up his alley....reading this, Phil?

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Whew. A lot going on in this book. I admit to not having heard a lot of Philip Glass' music, but am familiar with 'minimalism' and the work of many of his peers. As a biography, the book is excellent -- very deep background on the rich life of a brilliant creative artist. Glass had a most amazing childhood and early life. Interesting to be in on the inner workings of the huge changes in 'classical' music in early and mid-20th century, and to share the perspective of someone who was right inside Whew. A lot going on in this book. I admit to not having heard a lot of Philip Glass' music, but am familiar with 'minimalism' and the work of many of his peers. As a biography, the book is excellent -- very deep background on the rich life of a brilliant creative artist. Glass had a most amazing childhood and early life. Interesting to be in on the inner workings of the huge changes in 'classical' music in early and mid-20th century, and to share the perspective of someone who was right inside them. But the emotional affect of the book is incredibly flat -- as though the author is reading about someone else's life. There is no personal emotional reflection, just a neutral narration of events. Glass gives a unique and valuable perspective on the music of this period, but doesn't really let us in on how he felt about any of it. Asperger's? Or just a very private person who wants to keep the world at a safe distance. A valuable historical narrative, but for me, unsatisfying on the human heart end. I did give up on the book with a few chapters to go. I felt it devolved into a bit of a rant about 'my music was great -- why didn't people love it?'

  28. 4 out of 5

    Duane Bowker

    Autobiography. I recently read a mini-review of this book in The New Yorker magazine and decided to give it a try. It's an excellent memoir about one of the most gifted, innovative and dedicated contemporary American composers. Glass's life story is incredibly interesting not only in terms of his background, his musical education, the huge cast of talented people he has worked with during his career (everyone from Ravi Shankar to Allen Ginsberg to Martin Scorsese to Steve Reich to Carl Sagan and Autobiography. I recently read a mini-review of this book in The New Yorker magazine and decided to give it a try. It's an excellent memoir about one of the most gifted, innovative and dedicated contemporary American composers. Glass's life story is incredibly interesting not only in terms of his background, his musical education, the huge cast of talented people he has worked with during his career (everyone from Ravi Shankar to Allen Ginsberg to Martin Scorsese to Steve Reich to Carl Sagan and on and on), but with respect to how focused he was on composing his own kind of music and having that music made available to the public. I had no idea that Glass had spent decades as a blue-collar worker (as a furniture mover, as a plumber and as a New York City cab driver) supporting his actual career as a composer of modern music. My first exposure to Glass's music was at a live performance by the Philip Glass Ensemble at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, November 7, 1984. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I have since listened to quite a lot of his music and have almost always found it to be both provocative and beautiful.

  29. 4 out of 5

    A

    Readers who are unfamiliar with Philip Glass probably would not pick up this book, which is a shame. Glass reveals himself to be an inquisitive and grounded individual. This book is a wonderful example of how someone becomes the person they are, the path and choices they took. It is about learning and collaboration and flexibility. It is less important who Glass knows, but what he does with his collaborators. It is important to note that they also develop close friendships. In his work, Glass de Readers who are unfamiliar with Philip Glass probably would not pick up this book, which is a shame. Glass reveals himself to be an inquisitive and grounded individual. This book is a wonderful example of how someone becomes the person they are, the path and choices they took. It is about learning and collaboration and flexibility. It is less important who Glass knows, but what he does with his collaborators. It is important to note that they also develop close friendships. In his work, Glass delves thoroughly into the subject for each project. He knows the background to the point that each work becomes intrinsically about that subject. He comes at it from the inside. This is how true artists work, and his explanations of how he approaches things is how he lives his life as well. He writes: "What was interesting about what Krishnamurti said was that it was about a spontaneous unfolding of life. There was nothing routine about it. It was continuously new when you have one foot in the world and one foot in the other world. The foot in the other world is the one that takes you into the world of clarity and of power."

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    Being mildly obsessed with the man's music, I was curious to learn something about its creation. But Glass doesn't spend a lot of time talking about his music. Toward the end of the book, he finally gets into some of it. Much of the book is about his early life, and it's not bad, he's a solid writer, but he's a very dry writer. Everything comes out kind of flat and dull. With all of the famous aritists he's known, I guess it would be impossible not to sound like he was name dropping all the time Being mildly obsessed with the man's music, I was curious to learn something about its creation. But Glass doesn't spend a lot of time talking about his music. Toward the end of the book, he finally gets into some of it. Much of the book is about his early life, and it's not bad, he's a solid writer, but he's a very dry writer. Everything comes out kind of flat and dull. With all of the famous aritists he's known, I guess it would be impossible not to sound like he was name dropping all the time, but it sounds like he's name dropping all the time. Plus many of his stories end with the very important Tibetan or the amazing artist telling Glass that he's a genius who will go far. So Glass has plenty of ego. Deserved, sure, but the ways he goes about trying to sound humble only add to the impression that he lacks any humility. When he gets into his music, how it was composed, what he was trying to do with it, what it means to him, that's where the book shines.

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