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SWAIM SCHOOL FOR BETTER LIVING: James Taylor - JOY

Vacations can come in many ways, often we view them as an escape from reality.  The reality of making a living, of cleaning your house, of bathing your children, of paying your bills.  Reality.  What if on the other hand, vacations were an escape TO reality.  What if the beautiful and nobler things in life were really better truer glimpses of reality?

At the James Taylor concert last week, I think I understood an escape to reality.  It was inspiring, I would dare say spiritual.  Taylor is an icon.  His close to 50 year musical career is recognizable by anyone who has ever owned a radio.  His calming, reassuring voice was a contrast to the bewilderment and chaos that engulfed the late 60 ‘s.  Now in his late 60’s,  his mellow voice has only gotten better.   What a treat to hear him engage the crowd, indeed.  He seemed to be enjoying himself as much as anyone in the building.

JT told his story of humble beginnings in the music industry.  After his first band crashed(The Flying Machines), he borrowed money from his folks and moved to London in 1968.  The Beatles had just embarked on their own record label and were eager to sign new, young talent.  JT got the job.  The Beatles were hard at work recording the White album and Taylor recounts that he would often follow them in the studio and record some of his own stuff on their heels.  He felt like the luckiest man alive he said, and he credits The Beatles for discovering him.

In contrast,  1968 in the US was NOT a  time of great certainty or clarity  (sound familiar).  MLK, RFK both gunned down; the Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned ugly, the Black Panthers and Malcom X, the Mexico City Olympic protests, and the Vietnam war. The world was a crazy place (sound familiar). Against this discouraging  backdrop James Taylor had the courage to speak of something intangible.  He wasn’t ignoring the global strife, he was growing homesick ( a very human experience) in the UK and he began writing and recording songs about which eventually became some of his most recognizable and enduring tunes, such as  “Carolina on my Mind”.  The song still has the power to transcend the current uncertainties we are facing.  JT was busy creating beauty and reminding his hearers that the unseen world of the heart and mind were as powerful, and as real, as the voices filling the networks with rotten news.

At one point in the concert Taylor was busy setting up a song, “Walking man”.  He said, something to the effect, that he had written and recorded a dozen attempts to capture the intangible that he sings about in Walking Man.  He was always certain what he was trying to say in these songs, not always satisfied with the way he had expressed it.   Then he said and I quote, ” I’m not even sure I wrote it, but maybe I was just the first to hear it.”

Wow!

The implication is clear that music, and for that matter all true art, has a transcendent quality and perhaps points us to a greater reality.  So maybe art does not originate in us.  Maybe it merely passes thru us.  Is this unique to Taylor?  The Finnish Composer Sibelius was reported to have said that ” God throws down the pieces (of a symphony) and I merely put them together.”   This begs the question, were does art come from?  And who is paying attention.

Glimpses of homesickness, a sense that there is somehow more, fill Taylor’s music.  This is not to be confused with mushy sentimentalism.  He is pointing to a greater reality.  A real vacation.  For 50 years he has been trying to capture that intangible in his music and the only word to describe the experience of Taylor in concert Live,  is Joy.  I have read the definition of Joy as being life in the excess (thank you Eugene Peterson).  CS Lewis’s work is filled with attempts at describing it.  And here is  Taylor, smiling, clowning, drawing you in, whispering, then shouting, that Joy is really still worth seeking.  As always, Taylor wears a quizzical expression, and he does his best to make sure that we pay attention to this present reality.

So in our busy and hurried lives, living out our reality,  Stop. Listen.  Look.  Smell.  Taste.  It is all around us and often catches us by surprise.  Things that are more real, more eternal than we can imagine. Use your imagination, block out the bad news long enough to see that beauty is still around and probably in abundance.  Just stop and listen.  Maybe you will be the first to hear.  James Taylor is a great place to start.

And Carole King made a short unannounced performance too.  Life is good.

Cheers

KS

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