ATLANTA, GA - Happy new year! Welcome to my token religious post for 2011, where I'll attempt to blend my thoughts on art, theology, and commerce. Woo hoo!
As most of my long-time readers know, I'm Catholic, thanks to 9/11, and if there's one good thing about being Catholic, it's that the Church teaches her children that you can glorify God in any virtuous, mundane, workaday job, as long as you give your best efforts to Him. Day after day, Week after week, Month after month, Year after year.
God loves the grind.
We Catholics believe that this life is really just a means to an end (heaven); not an end unto itself (mindless materialism). Hence, all self-sacrificing suffering is noble and redemptive and brings about an infinitely greater good which we (being finite) cannot possibly imagine. Basically, we have faith and we trust, because that's the only way events like 9/11 make any immediate sense.
I'm not evangelizing here. I'm just saying. This stuff is doctrinal to us.
As a practical matter, it's really useful to believe that life is about something "bigger" than me; that in the grand scheme of things, my problems aren't bigger than me, and they're sure as hell not bigger than my Creator, who resides in all of us.
Like the Blues Brothers, we're all on a mission from God -- whether or not we choose to accept that mission. God assigns all of us a vocation, or calling, and each of us must prayerfully discern what that is. And we're all going home, eventually -- whether or not we've accomplished something meaningful with the unique gifts God has given each of us. Are you still with me? Good!
At one point in my life, I was a hardcore punk musician.
Imagine. Six kids today, but 20 years ago it was another story. Not exactly sanctifying work, but whatever. Spending time on the road was fantastic experience, except for the second hand smoke.
We'd load our gear into the club at 4:00pm, do our sound check, then wait for the headliner to show up. One time, the Red Hot Chili Peppers strolled in. Another time it was the Replacements, all full of piss and vinegar. And I saw some REM sound checks, too. Beneath the dirt and the smell and the battle fatigue, you could sense true greatness. A sense of mission.
Crisscrossing America for years in overstuffed Dodge vans, these bands would burn their ships at the club's door, every night, 200 nights a year, no matter the club, no matter the turnout. They did what they did because that's all they knew how to do. Indeed, that's all they wanted to do. They didn't care what there lives looked like at 50.
Or maybe they did: Maybe they hoped that they'd hold up day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year ... for 30 more years, grinding it out in clubs; but "who-the-hell-cares-because-it's-fun-and-it-beats-washing-dishes-for-a-living." They were prepared to practice their vocations until long after the crowds had thinned.
Such blindness! Such dedication! They suffered for their soups!!
Anyway, below is a clip of Medeski Martin & Wood, an avant funk / jazz trio who's been plying their trade since 1991. Fans love them. Fans relate. And because fans relate, fans give the band slack when the band attempts to say something new, artistically.
The band has paid its dues, which doesn't mean that they have fat financial bank accounts. But it does mean that MMW has a large, positive balance in the emotional bank account they share with their fans. That balance is based on mutual trust and respect -- the fruits of a true commitment
Watch these guys play. If you look closely, you can see the players fall in and out of the tune at random (example @ 2:43). Whatever serves the groove. No ego. Just groove, and a humble, self-immolating connection with the fans, who are there just to dig the vibe ... because they love the band and the music.
Questions for the new year:
What's your music (aka "vocation")? Who are your fans? What's your body of work? If you were a band, what would be your next album (aka "job")? Why? Would your fans see that album as a surprising-yet-logical next step in your creative evolution? Are you living up to God's expectations of you? How do you know?? Do you love the grind?
Ponder that while you watch this clip ...