Even Charlie Peacock needs a muse, the artist’s artist that he is.

But what is it, a muse? How is it different than that other strangely similar word, amuse?

The difference makes a difference. The one is an old word from the 14th-century, meaning “to dream, to ponder,” or as a noun, “an inspiring goddess to a particular poet.” The other is “to not dream, to not ponder, to not imagine, to not think.”

To “amuse” then is problematic. And if that is true, then amusement and amusing have their own problems, which were playfully and painfully, definitively and insightfully examined by Neil Postman in his remarkable book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” To put it in other terms, to be amused is to be distracted, and therefore to become disoriented. We begin to lose our way in the world.

One of our best writers and clearest thinkers wrote a book on this, and simply called it, “Lost in the Cosmos.” Knowing me as some of you do, you will know of my intellectual apprenticeship to Walker Percy, who has taught us to see. Someone else who has done that is Peter Berger, long a professor of sociology, and an astute observer of the world too; among many books, one was called, “The Homeless Mind.” Some years ago I wrote a book too, and in it I reflected on what I had learned from Percy and Berger about who we are and the world in which we live.

One day I got a letter from Charlie Peacock, very out-of-the-blue, telling me that he had read my book, and wanted to talk, if that was ever possible. A month later I was flying to Tennessee, and so we had lunch together then, him and his wife Andi Ashworth at their home, the Art House, outside of Nashville.

When I walked in, he gave me a cd with new music he had been working on, and one tune was titled, “Homeless in the Cosmos,” remembering both Percy and Berger. I smiled, pondering the possibility that the two had been muses for Charlie, inspiring the brilliantly creative poet/musician he is– and we sat down for a memorable meal that must have lasted four hours. Over the years they have become people I like very much, and I am always wishing I could see more of them.

Last night I was surprised by joy when I Charlie told me that his new album, “Lemonade,” has that tune on it, and many more. I hope you listen, and listen again.

(And at least for today, Charlie’s album is the top of the charts on iTunes, jazz albums.)


Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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