At age 12, Philip Glass started working in a Baltimore record store owned by a man he called Ben. Ben was, in fact, Glass’s father, but he and his brother, Marty, both referred to him by his first name because they didn’t want anyone to know they were his children. Of course everyone still knew who they were.
Even before working in that small record store and spending countless evenings with Ben, learning to sort the good music from the bad, Glass knew he’d become a musician. He took flute lessons; his brother studied the piano. Now 81 years old, Glass is one of the most lauded composers of the 20th century. He has an honorary doctorate in music from his alma mater, the Juilliard School, and has won a National Medal of Arts, the Society of Composers and Lyricists’ Lifetime Achievement Award, and multiple Golden Globe and Academy Awards. I spoke with him about those early days in his father’s record store, the scariest moments from his time driving taxis in New York City to make ends meet, and how young people today should seek jobs that grant them independence.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Lolade Fadulu: You got into music because of your father, but did you ever consider becoming a librarian like your mother?
Philip Glass: My mother was a teacher and a librarian, and I definitely was not going to become a librarian. I knew these two people very well, my mother and father, and I had no interest in my mother’s friends at all. I was very interested in everything that my father did. That was just the way it turned out for me.