I had the chance to see "Over the Rhine" last night. It was perfect. Artsy, intimate and crowded venue, great opening band, and of course, the jazzy/folk/blues "Over the Rhine." They are a couple (with a few others for a full band) with the husband playing the piano and bass and guitar and background vocals, and the wife singing and playing the acoustic guitar and piano. She has a voice you can live in.
There's something about career musicians that have been doing their thing for a couple of decades-- if they have stayed truly musicians, then there's always (I've observed, at least) a loose-handed way about them. Kind of a careless manner and a lazy grace in the way they talk about themselves and music. Then it begins---and even when they're not playing, emotion and blood sweat and tears pours from their fingers... you see why they have to do this.
I used to think about all the different careers, and concluded that the arts were a form of prostitution. You must sell yourself for all to see and hear and use as they will.
I still think that's true, but instead of prostitution I think it's more true to say: you either sell something or sell yourself.
And if you're really blessed, you either give something or give yourself.
If you're in business you sell something. You could extend this to teachers, engineers, etc (sell/give ideas, knowledge, technology). Of course, this gets fuzzy because you do give yourself as an educator and as all of those jobs--your time and energy and talents.
But in the arts when you're specifically creating something-- you are selling your lifeblood. your heart, your soul.
That's why for the time being anyway, I'm a closet songwriter who shares with a very limited audience. Not because I have an ethical dilemma with selling/giving songs to everybody, but I don't want to yet. It's a cowardice that I'm fine with for now.
The switch between selling and giving is interesting, because if you're a professional artist, for example, you're selling yourself.... but can do so in a posture of giving. I think that quite a few artists who originally were givers became merely salespeople... manufacturing their trade just for the money, without letting creation affect them. That's horrific.
But the ones that I most admire---and I sensed this in "Over the Rhine"--are the ones that bear the scars of continual creation, the stretch marks and the pain of birthing something new into creation. It costs them.
If it's any good, it's a part of them. And whether they get paid or not (I hope they do, always) , their creation is a gift.
One of my favorite songs is one they opened with, and has a verse that goes:
I don’t wanna waste your time
With music you don’t need
Why should I autograph the book
That you won’t even read
I’ve got a different scar for every song
And blood left still to bleed
But I don’t wanna waste your time
With music you don’t need"
This touches on other things--the connection between musician and audience, and really the connection of all humankind, and how music is not possessed but experienced and entered into.... but that's too much for this blog now. I'll end with another of their songs. When I first heard it, I realized with a lovely shock what it was about, but then forgot about it and got to realize again when they performed it last night.
the Trumpet Child
The trumpet child will blow his horn
Will blast the sky till it’s reborn
With Gabriel’s power and Satchmo’s grace
He will surprise the human race
The trumpet he will use to blow
Is being fashioned out of fire
The mouthpiece is a glowing coal
The bell a burst of wild desire
The trumpet child will riff on love
Thelonious notes from up above
He’ll improvise a kingdom come
Accompanied by a different drum
The trumpet child will banquet here
Until the lost are truly found
A thousand days, a thousand years
Nobody knows for sure how long
The rich forget about their gold
The meek and mild are strangely bold
A lion lies beside a lamb
And licks a murderer’s outstretched hand
The trumpet child will lift a glass
His bride now leaning in at last
His final aim to fill with joy
The earth that man all but destroyed
(piano ending... theme, jazz improv...theme) Satchmo is a nickname for Louis Armstrong ('satchel mouth'--great for playing the cornet). Thelonious Monk was an amazing jazz pianist.