In honor of this Pulitzer Prize winning musical, I’ve decided to share just a clip if this wonderful show. Here is the Tony Awards performance of the 2011 revival of this classic thing of beauty. Enjoy!
Okay, so here’s a great example of why I think it’s an amazing time to be alive right now. We are connected in ways we never dreamed we’d be 15- 20 years ago. Facebook, Twitter, et al, have given us ways to share things that really have an impact on our lives– news in an instant, pictures and video of family members and friends, and art, wonderful works of art.
I found this band completely by surprise while scrolling around my cousin’s Facebook page the other day. This is a cousin I see once or twice a year and wish I knew better, but thanks to technology, I can catch a glimpse (a very small one and no substitute for actual face time, I know) of what she’s into and what’s going on with her.
So, thanks to Lisa and our connection through Facebook, I found this great song by a terrific band called, Dawes. You’ve got some pretty good taste, kid!
Take some time and listen to the lyrics. It’s some really great song writing in the classic tradition of Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
One of the functions of great art is to, as Hamlet puts it to the acting troupe about to play his scene for the King and Queen of Denmark, “hold a mirror up to nature.”
Any great work of art, whether it be a painting, a play, a piece of literature, or a film, gives us something new every time we encounter it. We go back to great art, time and again, because of what we see when we look into that mirror. What each of us sees can be so different because of where we find ourselves on our life’s journey. But, that’s what makes great art great– we all see different things.
As a result, conversations should ensue; opinions should be shared. The more we talk and wrestle with what our lives are about, the more we learn about ourselves and each other; the more we learn how to live together and love each other better.
Sometimes, a great piece of art can speak to us as a group, as a society. Other times, a great piece of art can speak to us in such a profoundly personal way it’s as though it were our own personal mirror. For me, watching Inside Llewyn Davis was like sitting down at a vanity.
Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest film by the remarkable Coen brothers, follows Llewyn Davis, a fictional folk singer, for a week of his life in 1960. Based in part on the memoir, The Mayor Of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk, the film explores several questions that can ring true for everyone, but most especially for those of us who make our living in the arts:
How do we sometimes sabotage ourselves?
How much does being in the right place at the right time play into our success?
What’s the difference between talent and genius?
Would we just “exist” if we gave up our passionate pursuits?
Do cats really know where they are on the subway?
Llewyn doesn’t make things easy for himself. He’s abrasive, a bit too impulsive at times, and not especially prone to making good decisions. But it’s his music that redeems him. At the end of the day, making music is what he does better than anything in the world; it’s what he was made to do. I related to that.
I related to his desire to make ends meet and the lengths he goes to in order to further his career. More than that, I related to what Llewyn becomes while in the midst of performing, transcending the moment with his full concentration firmly locked on participating in something beyond himself. Because of that, I rooted for him. I wanted him to keep plugging away and continue to hang in there, even though I wanted to shake him by the lapels of his seasonally inappropriate jacket and say, Dude! You could be a little nicer, man! Especially to the people who love you and want the best for you! You dig?
But, I also related to his frustration of feeling like he’s stuck in a vortex of bad timing and thinking that those around him might never truly get what he’s trying to communicate through his work. By employing a very effective story-telling device, the Coens show us, the audience, a week in Davis’s life in a way that makes us question whether or not he’ll ever make it out of that vortex and whether or not he could do anything about it even if he wanted to.
As an artist, the concern that others will understand you as a person is almost never as important as the desire for your work to be understood. At the same time, it can be a very difficult blow to the confidence when the former does not occur. Llewyn spends some time with a married couple on the Upper West Side of New York City, both of whom are college professors. A few different times they introduce him to friends of theirs as their “folk singer friend.” I’ve been introduced as “our actor friend” by friends of mine a time or two, myself. There’s nothing ill intended, I know, but I related to Llewyn’s uncomfortable feelings in those scenes.
“This is what I do for a living!” he tells the hosts and their guests when they press him to play for them around the table after dinner. He wants it to be understood that what he does is important in some way. He wants his work to matter. I got that.
As the film, and thus, the single week of Davis’s life comes to an end, the audience is left to speculate on how things will proceed for Llewyn. Will his fortunes ever turn around?
When the credits began to roll, I thought about all of the ways in which the character of Llewyn Davis and I are similar. But, as I sat in the car after the film was over, I contemplated all of the ways in which I wanted us to be different, and how much I hoped we were different.
I felt such I strong desire to sit him down and have a talk with him; to convince him that things could change if only he would look outside of himself and care more about others; to try to convince him that his gifts were given to him so that he could, in some small way, contribute to making the world a better place; to try to convince him that he already had everything he ever wanted and all he needed to do was learn how to give it away.
Then I realized, once again, how great art can be. I had been looking in a mirror the whole time.
On the heels of the death of Pete Seeger this week, this I’m A Fan, Fridays!focuses on a couple of musicians who continue to carry high the torch Seeger carried for so many years in the folk music tradition.
Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch blew me away with a mash-up of sorts of a new song by Rawlings and a great Woody Guthrie song.
I first saw their performance of this piece as part of the Inside Llewyn Davis musical concert, Another Day, Another Time on Showtime. The concert was a celebration of the folk music scene in the early 1960s in New York City, the time period during which the film takes place.
The concert featured a number of fantastic artists and is well worth checking out if you can get to the Showtime network. All of the acts were terrific in the show, but I really became a fan of these two. I hope you will as well. Enjoy!
I just love discovering new artists. And by discovering I mean finally finding out what a lot of people already knew before I jumped on the train. So, even though I’m certainly late to this party, I want to share with you a duo I’ve come across that I absolutely love to listen to.
Back in the day when l was an elementary school music teacher, I was continually stunned at how much content and information children can take in. I was always underestimating what the kids could do and comprehend. I would be standing up there talking to the class, and I would just have to stop.
It was like I could almost smell the smoke from the spinning gears inside their little brains. I would stop and look out and stare back at them for a moment.
“What did I just say?” I would ask, expecting no one to be with me at all.
To my surprise, virtually every hand would raise. They had all been listening. They had all been with me. They were simply taking in all of what I was giving them, downloading the information like some pint-sized PC.
There’s no accounting for what might fascinate one child and bore another. Sometimes it makes no sense why a particular student will take to a certain book or piece of music, or develop a passion for a certain sport, or a love for cars. They just seem to be available at a particular time. Kids are open-minded. And I mean that in the most wonderful sense.
I’m not talking “open minded” as in an I see your point of view, but I’ve got my own so, thanks, but no thanks kind of way. I mean, children are canvases that are being painted on by many different artists in many different ways, most of whom don’t even realize they’re painting, and the children just soak up all the paint.
The brush strokes stay. They soak in, and it’s not only that impressions are formed, lasting portraits are painted, sometimes masterpieces, sometimes devastating failures. Every detail is permanent. You may be able to cover over the surface, but the details are underneath the layers for a lifetime.
I love watching that show on PBS where people find old paintings in their attics or garages, and they bring them to this guy to tell them about what they’ve had under their noses all this time without knowing it.
On occasion, it turns out the home owners have a painting that seems pretty much worthless hanging in their living room. It’s like dogs playing Texas Hold’em or something, but that’s only the top layer. It turns out, when they take a look a bit deeper, they find that someone, perhaps several people, have been painting over other paintings on this canvas. After about three layers or so have been taken away, the experts discover a lost Picasso, and it’s worth some ridiculous amount of money.
I’m not suggesting that a child’s value or worth is measured monetarily, but that there are layers upon layers of art that go into what a child becomes. Sometimes the more valuable looking art may be masked by the abusive father or the mother who’s never home to tuck them in, or the older brother who goes to prison way too young.
All of these things paint the canvas, and all of the paint is permanent.
Dig a little deeper and you just might find the priceless treasure you never knew existed.
A Sacrament is essentially anything finite through which The Sacred (or God or The Spirit) becomes present to us. So, while the sacraments with which we may be most familiar- Holy Communion, Baptism, etc.- certainly function in this way, there is also room for, and a need to acknowledge, the validity of experiences of God in our everyday lives by anyone and everyone who is open to such experiences.
A long run (if you’re a runner like me), or an especially wonderful yoga class, or watching your children play on their own, or a brilliant time with friends (please insert your own finite thing or activity here_____) can all be sacramental in their function if we are open to that possibility.
Recently, just after a long run, as it would happen, I happened upon a brilliant performance of an Antonio Scarlatti piano sonata played by Vladimir Horowitz on my iPhone. I had it set for a post-run shuffle, and as I walked to cool down, the piece began to play.
I let the solo piano flow through my ear-buds as I walked along the sidewalk on my way back to my front door. I was completely transported. For five minutes, I was dreaming, imagining, immersed in listening, and baptized in the connectedness of an audience (me), a performer (Horowitz), and a composer (Scarlatti). We were connected in a profound way by something much greater than any single one of us in this transaction.
The art of music was a sacrament for me in that moment. Scarlatti’s piano sonata re-awakened me to the very presence of God. I knew God was present with me at that moment and was honored to be reminded of that fact.
And that’s one of the things that sacrament can do–remind us of the very presence of God.
I was reminded of how valuable and important I am to the Spirit and felt an unexplainable notion that I was being given a very special gift in that moment. The feeling that filled me next was one of complete gratitude. I was so grateful to have been able to experience such beauty and connectedness.
I never, for one moment, felt like God was giving me something so that he could charge me with doing something else. I never felt as though God was saying, “You want more of this? Then do more of that!” I just felt that I was being given a gift, a sacramental moment, a “thin place” as the Celtic Christians used to say.
I think the only thing required of me was that I was open to receiving this gift. Period. What I did with it afterward was my business.
I want to be in the business of being a part of as many of these moments as I can for the rest of my life and rejoicing with others when they can do the same.