The artists get there first.
It is a thesis I have argued for most of my life. Something about gifts and vocations, about sensibilities and instincts, that allows artists to feel what is going on before the rest of us do, even as they playfully offer us their art. Filmmakers, novelists, poets, painters, actors, sculptors, and musicians—yes, musicians too, each in their own way artfully reflecting and promoting visions of what it means to be human.
This past week has been one for the musicians. A week ago Meg and I had dinner with Charlie Peacock and his wife Andi Ashworth in Nashville. Together they have lived their lives for others, in and through the music that has been theirs, and over time through the life of the Art House. Andi is a wonderfully gifted writer, and I would listen to her on anything; Charlie has been making his own music for most of his life, but has also spent years making the music of others. Most recently he won a Grammy this year for producing the Best Folk Album, the Civil Wars’ “Barton Hollow.” And he has had the vocation of trailblazer as well, creating visions for a whole generation of musicians who have followed him in making music that is for everyone everywhere. Sometimes I write for their Art House America blog, and am glad to do so.
On Thursday Meg and I went to hear the Fray in concert in Washington, and as I listened I found myself drawn into the stories that are the heart of their music, some that I know very well. After the concert we stepped into a longer conversation, one that we have joined many times over the years of their life as a band. They have tried to do a difficult thing, and I am always glad to hear them try it one more time.
And then this weekend I have joined the Jars of Clay and others for a few days of conversation about the vision and work of the Blood:Water Mission. We have been talking together about their hopes and dreams for a long time now; and we have seen this work of Blood:Water develop and deepen, growing out of their music as it has. Tonight they gave a house concert for the little group of us who are here at the Snowbird Mountain Lodge, somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina. There is something more than wonderful about gifted musicians going acoustic, allowing their skills and sounds to be heard more fully– and these four guys are masters at that.
As I have listened to the musicians I know, a question has grown, and I have asked it again and again: can you sing songs formed by the truest truths of the universe, but in language that the whole world can understand? It is a question for singers and songwriters, but also for butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers too, each of us in our own vocations finding ways to connect what we believe with the way that we live– in language that others can understand. Not easy, never easy, but it is our common calling.