In writing about George’s career the other day I forgot one very good thing he did later in life: In 1997 he produced an album for Ravi Shankar called Chants of India. On it they pull off the very neat trick of making traditional Indian music more concise and more palatable to Western ears without cheapening it. Wonderful stuff.

On the whole, though, the point stands: George peaked creatively in 1970 and struggled after that. We see this arc a lot in popular music: A talented artist starts off learning the ropes; grows in skill and stature; and then, boom, hits a peak, making a fantastic double or triple album, or a series of albums. During this time he or she or they can do no wrong: There are more songs than the records can hold, even the B-sides are gems, and many great pieces are just cast aside to be heard years later if at all. George’s song “I Live for You” was recorded for the All Things Must Pass sessions but not finished and released until the reissue came out in 2001. Most musicians would give their left earhole to write a song this good, ever.

Some people get a year or two or three at the peak. Some very lucky ones get five. David Bowie got a whole decade, which is rare indeed.

But sooner or later it ends.

Eventually, I think, it just wears a person out. The working musician’s life of constant writing, recording, and touring is exhausting in itself; on top of that someone who’s operating at a peak level is constantly receiving urgent messages from the universe. In the end you have to either die or let it go.

Having had some microscopic experience of what it’s like to briefly be firing on all cylinders, I know that it is exhilarating and addictive. For someone who’s truly been to the mountaintop, it must be hard to live as a mere mortal. Which is not to say that they never do good work again; it just becomes harder and less consistent. Every case is different — Bob Dylan’s latest album is first-rate, and how crazy is that? Stevie Wonder just put out his first great song in 40-some years, which is something I would not have bet money on.

Charles “Frank Black Francis” Thompson — who was king of the fucking world from about ’88 to ’94, prolific but inconsistent since then — even wrote a song about this, or at least that’s how I interpret these lyrics from “Chip Away Boy”:

I used to have some fun
Me and everyone
Now I’m just employed
I’m a chip away boy

And in the end, what else can you do but keep chipping away at whatever your thing is? The only alternative is to give up, and that’s no alternative at all.

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