It’s a dizzying time. We text, we tweet, cars are poised to drive themselves and drones buzz through the air.
What is so special about artists though, (or some of them) is that they have the gift of being able to tap into what is timeless and universal. Great musical artists can do this particularly well. They tap into our need for music which is as primeval as the earth at the bottom of the sea and as immediate as a heartbeat.
I am reminded of a scene from H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. He sits in his contraption peering through the looking glass as horses and buggies and ladies in Victorian dresses float past then give way to automobiles and eventually skyscrapers. The diorama keeps changing and changing still. Yet, he is removed from the idiosyncrasies of time; he watches intently but is not really of these periods.
There are musical artists who are like this, the troubadours. They sometimes comment on their times but are not necessarily of them which is what makes their work so powerful. They tap into our universal need to be lifted out of the daily grind, to be told stories, to be moved and shaken up and to remember that there is more than what we see.
When Steve Forbert sings:
“Big clocks were tickin’, trains came and went
Sad, ragged figures limped in the hallways
And dug through the trash
While old folks and young folks passed in a flood
On dashing somewhere
Wrapped in their lives and gone in a flash”
it could be 1965, it could be 2005, it is ephemeral.
Same could be said of Leonard Cohen:
“Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.
Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.
Well I’ve been where you’re hanging, I think I can see how you’re pinned:
When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.”
And Gregory Alan Isakov:
“Remember when our songs were just like prayer
Like gospel hymns that you called in the air
Come down, come down sweet reverence
Unto my simple house and ring… and ring”
When these artists sing, they actually seem to re-arrange the particles in the air and things seem to shift. They have an almost shamanistic ability to bring people out of themselves and allow them to have a profound experience. The more we more towards a mechanized world, the more we need art and culture and song to bring us back to ourselves, to remind us of what it means to be human and to connect in real time