Last Thursday I went to 55 bar to see my teacher and guitarist extraordinaire Wayne Krantz perform with Michael League (bass) of Snarky Puppy and Josh Dion (drums) of Paris_monster. Like every Thursday night at the 55 bar, Wayne grooved, funked, rocked, and shredded his way through a fresh creative stream of unique modern music. I’m ever impressed at the fact that his playing is both technically precise and supremely spontaneous. Wayne’s music carries on the spirit of jazz (highly creative and centered around improvisation) without exactly sounding like jazz (Wayne rocks and grooves, he doesn’t swing). Although he told me afterwards that it felt like a bit of an off night, to an outside observer he, Michael, and Josh were in top form, demonstrating the height of musical possibility. I left the show extremely impressed and feeling like I urgently needed to go practice so that I can reach such a high level of musicianship.
On Friday I joined a new friend at Rockwood Music Hall and saw my first true rock show since I’ve moved to New York (wow, it had been far too long since I’d seen a good rock show). They are an L.A. based band is called Veers and my friend described them well as “smart rock.” They combined intelligent chord changes, tasteful instrument/vocal tones, and interesting song-forms over rhythmically precise rock grooves (i.e. “smart rock”). I’m sure the lyrics were thoughtful as well, but you know, it’s a live rock show in a relatively small room— to my ears the lyrics invariably get drowned out in these situations. After the show I met the lead singer and also chatted with some other musicians in the local NYC music scene. I heard casual talk about people jetting to Australia to play shows, or potentially doing an arena tour, or being music director for an up-and-coming indie rock songstress. I left the show happy to have gone, but feeling like I urgently needed to go immerse myself in the scene and meet the right people so that I too could have cool opportunities to travel and perform.
Urgent is one good descriptor of Manhattan (sidenote: it’s also a great Urgent). This city buzzes with an energy that sometimes seems to scream: “WORK HARD, PARTY HARD! You’re tired? DON’T SLEEP!!! THAT’S WHAT COCAINE IS FOR!” Kids, don’t do drugs. Also friends, family don’t worry, I never touch the stuff either— I hear it gives you double vision (I wish I could say that that is the last Foreigner reference in this blog post). Furthermore, whether you live in New York City or not I think most of us are victims of the sense of urgency created by the technological age that we live in. We walk around everyday with these little handheld super-computers giving us access to countless text messages, contacts, emails, songs, pictures, videos, podcasts, audiobooks, news stories, and social media accounts (not to mention the entire rest of the internet). We see pictures of our friends and family going on fancy vacations, or winning awards, or getting job promotions, or getting married, or having babies, etc. and it’s easy to think: oh my god I need to do that! I need to get married now! I need to have a high-powered job now! I need to be rich and famous now! Our sense of time and possibility is shaped by our setting, and personally my setting seems to be telling me that time is running out and I need to move quickly if I want to accomplish anything.
Yet there is another perspective on time housed right in my back yard. Saturday I took a solo stroll across Central Park on a beautiful sunny day in route to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Upon arrival, I instantly remembered how much I love going to art museums by myself (an activity I hadn’t done since my first semester of college at Lake Forest College when I would often take trips to the Art Institute of Chicago). It is a fine thing to go to a museum with friends, but I am never able to fully immerse myself in the experience of the art unless I am alone and free to roam at my own pace and let my own sense of taste guide me. During this intimate communion with the museum my thoughts slow down and I can get in touch with a different experience of time, for the mere act of taking time to gaze at a piece of art is a meditation.
Yet the art itself often also points to a story about time that is different than our prevailing cultural view. Take for instance this statue of Ugolino and His Sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux created from 1865 to 1867.
This work is a visceral depiction of angst and desperation and an incredible technical feat of expert marble sculpting. It also represents a feat of patience and diligence which is rare in our culture today. The work is telling us: “yes it may take you two years of your life to create something this great— it may very well take you a lifetime, and you may be working on a single pinky toe for a decade— but you are taking this time because as an artist, you are attempting to create something that is timeless.”
Sure, there is no art that is literally “timeless”— every human creation is tied to the time in which is was made, and everything material will sooner or later deteriorate, yet somehow I do believe that the attempt to create something timeless is still a worthwhile pursuit. For viewing and creating these works of art does indeed expand our normal sense of time and let’s us touch something meaningful that extends both far into the past and far into the future.
If you are at all inclined, I encourage you to treat yourself to a solo date at your nearest art museum. I am certainly spoiled in that I’m a mere walk away from one of the greatest collections of art in the world, yet I think that any art museum will do. I strongly believe that the act of taking time to appreciate a painting or a sculpture in its every minute detail will make you a better person. The constant motion and rapid pace of our age (especially in a place like New York City) presents you with one hypothesis about time: time is running out! Days, months, years, and lives are short so let’s get to work, and then part hard! YOLO! Yet the art museum presents a different perspective: nothing great is made overnight. Greatness is made through slow, deliberate steps towards your goal. Furthermore, you don’t only live once (YDOLO!)— your physical body will perish, but your great work may live on throughout the ages, being born again and again for each new generation to appreciate and interpret…for to them, it feels like the first time.
Yes I just ended this blog post by jamming in another completely uncalled for Foreigner reference! BOO YA!