I wrote a post a while back about listening to jazz while I do work. Recently, I fast forwarded to listening to 1950s R&B, and I think that was a marvelous decision. Ray Charles has been one of my go-to’s
Ray has this one song called “What’d I Say.” It’s almost a six minute song and Ray wrote it by improvisation at a show one night, and it quickly became a crowd favorite. It became so popular that he made his producers record it.
The problem was that at the time, singles didn’t really go over three minutes. In the dramatized cinematographic version of Ray Charles’s life, the producers threaten to cut out a verse or two. I don’t know if that’s true. But I imagine something like that is. We always want to put new things into the mold of old things.
Ray and the studio came to a compromise – they would record the whole song, but they would split it up into an A-side and a B-side. While that worked out, I suppose, the entire six minute song is really worth listening to all the way through.
And the song deserves a full listen. It almost brought on the genre of soul all by itself.
The point of all of this is to say two things.
1) We should probably stop trying to make new things like old things. New things would be more successful if we let them be new.
2) Sometimes, though, even when we mess up and think that new things need to be like old things, magic still happens.
I used to be the kind of person who had a lot of ideas about the world. I liked to take people to book stores because I thought that if they could see how smart and original I was among all of the book titles, they would most definitely like me. When I was still in high school, this worked out alright. I thought the “discoveries” I was making about the world were truths. I thought that I was moving to some better, more noble end.
Then, I started to be wrong. It started out with small things. Like someone would ask me if judgment was spelled like judge-ment and I would say of course so. Because that just makes sense. Or someone would ask for a book recommendation, and I would give them my favorite book, and they wouldn’t like it. And all of this seemed really strange and unforeseeable.
Then I started to be wrong about bigger things. I would misjudge other people’s emotions. I found myself regularly overhauling my philosophical ideologies. If you ask some of my closest friends, my most used phrase is “I realized” or “I had the realization that.” I constantly think that I am having revelations. And maybe I am, but chances are I’m not “right” about them, if they are happening so frequently that it takes me more time to tie my shoelaces than it does to decide I’m a “new person.”
I thought that all of this was really unique to me. And then I started learning about Alfred Adler in my psychology class. Adler was really into impressionist art. He thought it told a lot about the world. In class, our professor showed us a picture of an impressionist painting, and he asked us what it would look like if we had our noses pressed up against it. All it would have been is seemingly random brushstrokes of color. And then he asked us what it looked like from where we were sitting. We told him it looked like a stream in the woods, but that’s about all we could make out. Everything else was blurred and beautiful.
"Soleil Levant" - Claude Monet
And I started thinking that God must think we are really funny. Some of us spend our whole lives with our noses stuck to His painting, sure that we know exactly what that random brushstroke means until we are bumped a little and we have to figure out a new random brushstroke. And then some of us think that we are better than those other museum patrons, thinking that we are seeing the full picture. But even those people aren’t able to say more than if the painting generally resembles a stream or mountain or pond.
I think we can see whatever we want in that painting so we should make sure it’s beautiful.