The café I’m writing in is playing Johnny Cash’s masterful cover of Trent Reznor’s classic song, “Hurt.”
It reminds me of an Oxford Goth club I visited many years while teaching in England. I was by myself, drinking something ghastly, all decked out in silver brocade vest and white tie, talking with a young woman at the bar. The club was dimly lit, and the dance floor was crowded. Conversation rose and fell in counterpoint to the music.
Then, the sound of acoustic guitar rang through the air. And an old, quavery, voice began to sing.
In an instant, the club went silent. Everyone stood at attention. Waiting. The piano came in. The music built, chord by chord. Louder and stronger. We could have it all. A needle. An empire of dirt. A man who let us down.
The images flowed by. A crown of thorns. A broken chair. A friend.
For four minutes, not one person moved. Finally, the piano stopped. The guitar stilled. And lastly, The Man in Black sang the final words of the song.
The song segued into something I no longer recall. Conversations started again. Dancing resumed.
I remember little of that night, though I know I threw out my ghastly drink, and danced, and talked with a few more people before heading back to my hotel.
But I remember that moment. I remember that song.
Because art matters. I could tell story after story, and I’m sure you could, too, about all the ways that art has entered our lives and left us changed. We’ve shared moments with friends. We’ve sobbed uncontrollably. We’ve been moved to silence, or to shouts of joy, or surprise.
Whether it gives us respite from our pain, or a few moments stolen from the grind, or whether it makes us feel angry, or alive, or uplifts us and changes some key part of ourselves…we need art. And art needs us.
It is Alvin Ailey’s dancers moving me to tears dancing out the impact of the murder of Black people by police. It is Ronan of VNV Nation shouting from the stage that we are perpetual light, and must lift our arms to the sky. It is Van Gogh’s painting of the Gleaners reminding me that poor people used to be able to harvest the final grains from the fields. It is too many movies, songs, paintings, short stories, and novels to ever name….
Art places us smack in the middle of the human condition.
It does not matter if it’s a splash of color on a brick wall, or a snatch of someone singing, art connects us to ourselves, and to each other.
What kind of art do you make? Do you doodle? Plant things? Sing in the shower? Tie your scarf a certain way? Dance, paint, knit, or build?
Whatever it is that you do, I hope you honor that today. And I hope that you do more of it, even if you never let it express itself outside of your apartment.
The world needs creativity. And creativity forms this world.
Let’s create something beautiful, with even the smallest sliver of vision, beauty, or hope, today.
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