Mentored by The CreatorNovember 13, 2006
Life is good to me. I am sitting on an airplane, flying to a conference where I am teaching on how to worship as a lifestyle. Before leaving, I downloaded about 25 vocal jazz songs and now my noise-canceling headphones are drowning out the music of a screaming baby two rows ahead. Bless the soul and creativity of Panasonic. On my Zen Micro MP3 player I am imbibing the unique duet of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong singing “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”. Honestly, I could set the music on replay a dozen times and not tire of them singing this song together. If you have not heard this Gershwin tune for awhile, this is the moment to track it down online and, if you don’t already have Itunes or Rhapsody, pay for it. It is worth whatever they will charge for it.
During the song, you can hear vintage Satchmo as he croons in that wavery, watery voice that no one could match even if they had finished two bottles of Pinot Noir and spent the last hour in the hot tub. But here is the question of the hour: How is it that his voice ever became famous? His is not the smooth silk of Ella and not the Velvet Fogginess of Torme. Most people would say he was able to get away with his quirky crooning because his trumpet ruled. But I don’t think I can accept that. If the music world only humored him, would Barbara Streisand really have invited him to sing the title cut from “Hello Dolly” with her? Would his vocal albums have outsold his big band offerings if people only endured his singing instead of outright enjoying it?
I think there is a deeper reason, for what it’s worth. Granted, he barely has enough ear for melody to keep up with the simplest of soloists. And his tremolo is shaky and long, longer perhaps than any other singer. But it is the unmatchable nature of his singing artform that inspires our admiration. No one can imitate his art.
Earlier today, I was reading an excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut’s latest book of essays and rants. During one of his rare softer moments, he reveals what he thinks is the key to living a full and adventurous life: Practice art as often as you can. Even if you don’t think you have any talent or acceptable ability. He then advises that as his readers take in that paragraph, they immediately stop and write a six-line poem. He also insists that they rhyme in this exercise. (His theory is that when we rhyme, we say things we might not ever say quite the same way. I’m sure I don’t agree. My rhyming always sounds like Dr. Seuss). He then advises when we are done with the poem, to rip it into dozens of tiny pieces and distribute them in garbage cans all over the house. In this way, we ensure that we will keep creating and not obsess about the art we have created in the past.
(That last paragraph is my homage to Vonnegut, the master of the one-word paragraph. Microsoft Word tells me I should reconsider that paragraph. I tell MS Word that it can cut itself into a dozen small pieces and distribute itself in many places on the hard drive).
What is your art? What have you created today? I remember the day in my 8th year when my dad brought home a four foot high bag of mill ends. These are pieces of dimensional lumber throwaways that are trimmed off at mills to get down to the size that the builders require for uniformity. He gave my brother and I that bag of gold. We were allowed to make anything we wanted with it, no questions asked. I don’t remember my dad ever examining my work and criticizing its value. I built the world’s greatest inventions, most ingenious furniture, most sublime shape sculptures and most useful bedroom paperweights known to man…well, known to me. I can’t remember any other gift he gave me that was more appreciated than that one.
To invent is to mimic the creator.
I read that and leave it there in order to correct it. To invent, to art, is to be a creator in the image of the Creator.
What is your art today? What have you created that cannot be found anywhere else? What Louis Armstrong awaits your shower walls? What Andy Warhol Campbell Soup can catches your imagination and glints off it with an inner light? Want to discover it again?
So do I.