Guy Clark, the legendary songwriter, passed away yesterday; May 17, 2016.
And it's broken my heart in such a way that I can't make sense of it.
Guy is on a long list of musical celebrity losses in the last 6 months. Lemmy, Bowie, Prince, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Billy Paul, Joey Feek, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, Vanity, Phife Dawg, and Maurice White, have all shed this mortal coil to join the Great Gig in the Sky. And those are only the ones I can think of at this exact moment. There's more. And there's gonna be more still.
Obviously, mortality is part of the human condition. The unavoidable birthright of all things. And clever as we are, as cunningly as we've delayed it, in the end, it always end the same.
So why do we all sit agape on social media, pining the loss of our musical heroes, and questioning who will fill their shoes? There's a slew of reasons, I imagine.
Of course, it's easily argued that when we grieve the death of someone we know, or even just a celebrity that we've "grown up with", we are in fact grieving our own mortality. The inescapable finiteness of it all. Nobody WANTS to die. Even the poor bugger with a noose around his neck, a valise of Vicodin, and a bottle of Beaujolais, doesn't really want to die. He just wants the pain to stop.
But perhaps even more is afoot.
Personally, when I reflect on the loss of Prince, Bowie, Merle, or Guy Clark, I'm grieving the loss of my "culture". These are artists that I have been a big fan of, to be sure. They've all influenced my writing, my performing, my understanding of what art can do. It can entertain, certainly. But it can also educate, inform, challenge, frighten, comfort, validate, condemn… it's endless what art can do. If the artist has the skill and the desire to do it.
I think what folks of a certain age, and a certain disposition might be feeling, more than anything, is a sense that there is a loss of hope.
These artists that we are losing in increasing rapidity offered us, above all else, hope. Hope that things could be different. Hope that love could conquer all. Hope that all was not, in fact, "vanity, vanity". Hope that we, the receiver of this art, were maybe, possibly, actually understood by the artist. Hope that we were not, in the end, alone.
Are there artists working today that offer such succor? Of course! There's likely more now than ever in human history. But where are they? Who are they?
That's the trick, isn't it? There is so much on offer, every second of every day, that it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is for me, anyway.
With the media culture we now live in, there are simply too many options. Too many choices. And all of them are delivered through magical algorithms that merely reinforce our own prejudices, and ignorance of what might be "new" or challenging.
This isn't some evil plan by invisible powers. Merely the inevitable destination of the commercialized, capitalistic system in which we live. And it's not going to change in aggregate.
It can however change for you. And for me. It will require work. Some of which will be tedious. All of which will be time consuming. But since we don't have only four television stations, and local tastemaker DJ's to guide us towards the light any longer… we have to do it for ourselves.
I'm lazy about this. Embarrassingly so. However, I'm going to do my very best this year to seek out new music. New artists. Fresh songs. Wanna join me?
I knew Guy Clark. I loved him. He did a lot for me and my little career. I owe him big. So, in the month of June I'm gonna look for an artist I've never heard of before, that carries that same ethos that Guy embodied: literate, smart, funny, melodic, open hearted, but with the clear-eyed gaze of a skeptic.
If you folks know of an artist like that, turn me on to that person.
Here's to new music, old ideas, fresh approaches, and great artists. We need them. I need them. And, they need us.
*(Kasey Todd, Dan Cohen, and I took a few minutes and played one of his songs yesterday at Blackbird Studios. This is take 3. Take 1 the guys were learning it. Take 2... well, take 2 I broke down and wept on the final verse. Which surprised me at least as much as it did the boys. I wasn't embarrassed, as much as I was just surprised. I hope this little performance can turn some folks on to checking out Guy's music. He was an incomparably great lyricist and melodist. I also hope us performing this song is received with the tremendous respect we felt when doing it. These "tribute" things can be pretty self-serving and gross. And that's the last thing I want to be guilty of doing. Let him roll...)