For whatever reason, with technology now, I listened to Tom Waits’ Closing Time this morning. Perhaps for the first time in over twenty years. It used to be one of my favourite records. In retrospect, in my university days, I was a more dedicated student of music than I was to economics and philosophy, my double-major. In small apartments, I would listen to my favourites and my undiscovered, for hours and hours, rather than opening the books I needed to open.
It was my intention to write a review here, of a forty-seven year old record. About how each song touched me. About how, with a little prompting, I remembered every line. About how I noticed things I hadn’t noticed the first hundred times I listened to it.
Then I realized that for me to review a highly regarded old record was a silly endeavour. But I gained a new perspective on the thought. That my opinion of an old record is sort of meaningless, compared to how an old record I love is more a reflection, or even a review, of myself. At one time.
Everyone knows Elvis or the Beatles were great, but sometimes it’s our more obscure and subtle tastes that really reflect how we feel. About the world and about ourselves.
That one might like old country music reflects a feeling of yearning and the appreciation of simple language. That one might like old jazz denotes an appreciation of sophistication and racial harmony. That one might be drawn to folk music might expose a thoughtful awareness of poverty and the simplicity of three chords. That one might like rap might shine a light on one’s angst regarding injustice or urban humility.
I don’t remember who said this, when asked about the many kinds of music there might be. It was someone famous and well-respected. It might have been Duke Ellington. But his answer was this. There are two kinds of music. Good music and bad music. And with respect to the scholars and the professionals, it really is true. If music makes you think or feel or dance or smile or cry, it’s good music. If it doesn’t make you feel anything, it may not be technically bad music. But it’s just sort of nothing.
I think the purpose of any artistic endeavour, whether it be a dumb Jim Carrey movie or a revered classical symphony, is to make you feel. Feel something. In that sense, Bob Dylan’s or Tom Waits’ gravelly voices can sound as beautiful as the most accomplished violin players in history. Kris Kristofferson’s sixteen line song might be up there with Dickens or Shakespeare. Or a heart drawn on a birthday card by your five year old kid or grand-kid, can be as beautiful and perhaps more touching than the Mona Lisa.
Of all the thousands of cliches we all know, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, might be the most true and perhaps the most profound. As long as our eyes keep looking for it.