An artist on her creative process

Annie Lennox, artist.
Annie Lennox, artist.

 

True confessions time: Back in the ’80s I had a crush on Annie Lennox, and it’s never gone away. Me and millions of others.

It wasn’t just her striking good looks and the magnetism of her performances that drew me in. It was also the complexity, nuance, and fierce intelligence in the music she made with Dave Stewart as the Eurythmics. Her solo career has been just as compelling.

I was thinking about this today after stumbling across a pair of videos in which Lennox talks about learning how to become an artist and sheds light on her own creative process.

The first was part of a series of short videos by The Atlantic exploring the idea of creative breakthroughs. To be an artist, she says here,

You don’t have to be the best, best, best. If you love doing what you’re doing and you have a passion for it, it’s good enough.

The second video was produced by the Victoria and Albert Museum to accompany an exhibition of celebrating her image and creative vision. That video opens with a discussion of the nature of inspiration:

The inspiration for song writing … hmmm … I think it starts with this capacity to respond to sound, to rhythm, to melodic line, to chordal progressions. And also at the core of it is something about needing to express something. I think that human beings are like sponges for all the externals that are affecting them.

To bring a lift to your Friday afternoon, here’s a performance of one of my favorite Eurythmics songs, recorded live in Sydney, Australia in 1987.

“I would rather go out for a hotdog than write a song I didn’t like”

prine 2On a cold, gray February Monday, a short documentary on creativity, featurng singer-songwriter John Prine.

Let me say this about Prine and his music. Despite the best efforts of friends and bandmates, it has taken me longer to appreciate Prine’s music than it should have. In part that’s because, to my casual ear, much of it sounds the same. His finger-picking style of guitar work doesn’t vary all that much from song-to-song, and his voice falls into a natural rhythm and intonation that likewise carries over from song to song, and album to album.

But … listen to the lyrics. That’s where Prine’s brilliance shines forth. This documentary, from former Today Show correspondent Mike Leonard, takes a look at creativity and the creative process, with Prine as the chief example. You can read more about this documentary here, and then more about Prine and his ties to Chicago and the Old Town School of Folk Music here.

And finally, take a break from your Monday morning and listen to Prine perform “Paradise,” one of my favorite songs.

 

Watch this video

Then you’ll understand why I love playing music with my friends.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a chance to make a road trip down to Carthage.

Art had the voice

The-Concert-in-Central-Park-1982-

I have mostly given up reading Salon. I find its strident, braying liberalism and misleading clickbait headlines as tiresome as the Daily Caller’s chest-beating conservatism and misleading clickbait headlines.

But occasionally Salon surprises me with an actual gem. Like this morning’s long interview with Art Garfunkel, whose soaring angelic voice gave range and depth to the poetry of Paul Simon’s lyrics. As a duo, Simon & Garfunkel created music that allowed them to transcend the folk revival of the 1960s and secured for them a place in the pantheon of musical greats. They were, and remain, peerless artists.

The interview with Garfunkel is full of wonderful moments. It’s not even really an interview. It’s alternately a reverie, a monologue, an inner dialogue externalized. There are occasional questions and lengthy, sprawling, often poetic replies. Like this:

You know, I walked across America so I got a real feel for the geography. Bloomington’s near the middle of the state, near Indianapolis, right? So this is very American. The land is kind of flat with a little bit of curvature—a very sweet curvature to the land, yes? We think of Bloomington as a college town, correct? So fall means back to school in a very rich way. It’s wonderful, that back-to-school feeling of September. It’s a rebirth. The air gets autumn keen and the spirit sharpens up.

As I mentioned, I’ve walked across the U.S. and now Europe, so I know the land. There are many different version of the land: industrial, wasteland, uninspired land. But campuses are a Walt Disney movie. They’re a dream come true. They’re such a cut above almost all of it. Campuses are so pretty, if only the kids realized it. The rest of the earth is something less than that. The skyscrapers downtown, the used-car lots, the hamburger chains, everything that makes up the normal American scene. But not the campuses. They’re pretty. Those trees …

There’s a lot more like that.

Do you know this about musicians? Making music is a place we go to. It’s a real comfort zone. On the Monopoly board, it’s the box marked Go. When you pass go, you get $200. It’s our favorite box. When you go into a song, when you respect your own God-given talent, there’s something automatic about flexing those muscles. You go to that comfort zone and lo and behold, you find other musicians there. That’s the great thing about making music, but it’s also why Paul and Artie can be very squirmy around each other. We’re so damned different, but when the song and the music is happening and Paul is playing guitar—and Paul Simon plays brilliant acoustic guitar—you go to that place comfortably.

I could post any number of Simon & Garfunkel songs, but for me, none displays the crystalline beauty of Art’s voice as well as “For Emily Wherever I May Find Her.”