Prayers of Beauty, Prayers of Song
I travel a lot and I truly appreciate the technology of transportation: Jets, ships, cars, freeways, traffic signals, hotels, restaurants, etc. They create such ease in our lives and give us lifestyle choices that our parents didn’t have. They contribute so much to my constant first choice: to be headed onward.
As good as travel technology is, it doesn’t come close to enhancing life in the way that artists—living and dead—can bring joy, beauty, and magic to our lives. Artists capture moments that are universally shared. They give birth to bonds that both create community and contribute to community. At times, they are a shared cultural clock. My generation shares events like the Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. It was an important, common part of our lives. My kids know about it as a part of music history, but it isn’t part of their history and it never will be.
For many of us, our decades are chronicled in the music we shared at those ages and we can have flashbacks to very specific days, loves, events, and losses in merely hearing the opening bars of a song from that time. We have internal clocks of incredible photographs from throughout our lives–photos that are beautiful and photos that are tragic, and we tell time by them. The young rebels, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Emilio Estevez, and the Bradley Coopers, the Marilyns and Nicoles, Downtown Julie Browns and Lindsay Lohans are ID badges for our generations. They define what we wear, our hairstyles, our speech, our ways of being in relationships.
Artists provide a foundation of consistency. I still sing the songs of my youth (and of my parents’ youth.) Audrey Hepburn and Steve McQueen are alive in my memories.
We each have the special art forms of our lives. Mine have always been music and comedy. I love to sing, and I really love to laugh! They are entertainment and medicine, therapy and spiritual strength. Singers and comedians have shaped my thoughts and my politics. They’ve taught me about romantic love and given me love for our universal humanness and taught me to find joy in my own humanity.
At this age, when I come upon artists, I make certain I find some way to thank them. I acknowledge their art as a gift and buy the pieces I love. I put money in the street singer’s guitar case. I contribute to project funds for artists. I applaud comedians for waving their wands and granting me laughter. I contribute to museums.
Beyond ideas, not much survives time. From our ancient history there are a small number of crumbling buildings and some tool designs that still work. What has survived is every single piece of art that we can find and protect. We enshrine them and make pilgrimages to see them. We read the ancient books and plays and still sing a few old, old songs. It’s the artists and their art that have mattered the most. In some way, I thank them every day. They are as much a part of my spiritual experience as any gift from the Great Unknown.
I’ve had some great partners in music. My favorite songwriting partner is Laura Joplin and absolutely the best singer I ever worked with is Cyd Pepper Stanton Kriletch. Pepper and I had a favorite singer-songwriter, Mickey Newbury (1940-2002). Mickey wrote the lines below. When I first heard them, I heard them as a prayer. 44 years later, I still hear them as a prayer. Let’s pray them again:
“I came to hear the music, I came to hear the sound.
I came to hear the music, it brings me down
A long, long road, from now to then.
We sang our songs. Let’s sing them again!”
Prayers of Beauty, Prayers of Song