Aretha Franklin. I woke up with "Chain of Fools" in my head. I don't know her, I'll never meet her, she was from a different time, yet here I am on November 11, 2014 involuntarily singing one of Aretha's songs.
Can you imagine being a fixture of pop culture in the way that she is? She's etched into the subconscious of millions of people, spanning decades. That song will live on indefinitely. Even if the zombie apocalypse started today, there would be someone who would wake up on a chilly morning silently singing, "chain chain chaaaaaaaiiiin..." That's incredible. I wonder how it feels to be her. To be a household name. Even people who can't recall a song of hers know her name, they know that dress, they know those gloves. That stuff lives on forever. Can Aretha herself really perceive from the narrowness of her one-person vantage point the permeability of the work she's done? Does an artist ever quite fathom the reach of their message?
I wonder how many artists like her set out to change the world. How many hoped to become as abundant as the air we breathe, a fixture of our culture? The purist in me wants to curse this way of thinking, to call it too self-aware, self-indulgent. But on the other hand, what is so bad about setting an intention? I think the trap is being focused on outcome rather than process. If one gets too wrapped up in the impact or reach of one's art, they might lose the authenticity needed to really self-express. But I don't know that. This idea is so big, experiential, I'd have to try it both ways before having anything real to offer to the conversation.
I'm directing my first improv show five months from now. Right now it only exists on my mental calendar as a spacey, hollow blob on the springtime block. It has no form, it has no space -- the theater space it will be in isn't even built yet-- and it has no actors. And as of now, I have yet to put on a director's hat. My co-director and I have never worked together in this way before. I have a vision for the vibe and subject matter of the show, but until we get those people onstage introduced, bonded, warmed up, out of their shells, working together, trusting one another, on board with the vision, committed to the work, the show can't even begin to exist. It's baffling what it takes to put on a show. I'll have to do something I've never done before -- massage art out of people. I'll be an artistic snake charmer. The thing I want to harness won't come from marble, clay, canvas and paint; it's something intangible that lives inside of other people. People I don't even know yet. Paramount to this endeavor is trust that it will all come together. Trust in myself to charm those snakes. Trust in the hearts and minds of these beautiful actors who will, in turn, put their trust in me and my partner to create a safe and stimulating space in which to come alive.
In this case, there is so much unknown and so much to think about that it seems overwhelming to start considering the reach. Do I want to change the world? Why do I even want to put up this show? So I can prove that I could do it? It certainly didn't begin that way. It began as a spark. My partner and I were rehearsing for an improv show in her living room when she brought it the idea to pitch a show to direct together. Neither of us had an idea of our own but the moment we started talking, we knew it had to be about music, musicians, the industry. I honestly can't say who said it first. It was just there in the room with us. It's the thing we have in common and what we talk about endlessly if we aren't improvising. There was almost no decision to be made. The idea just sparked into reality and within seconds we went to work.
That was five months ago and although I haven't been working explicitly on it every day, I'm always thinking about it on some level. I have raised my antenna and I'm absorbing every wave on this frequency that I can. I'm in the middle of reading my fifth biography of a musician. First it was Linda Ronstadt, then Patti Smith, then Anthony Kiedis, and now Dave Grohl. I don't know these people and it's likely that I'll never meet them but their influence is all around me. It's in the lives of all the artists they've met and worked with, it's in fashion, it's in nostalgia, it's all around in nearly imperceptible ways.
It occurs to me that the question I was going to pose -- Could I that? -- is not sufficient. It's too small, loaded with hesitation and doubt. The question I'd rather ask is this: Am I already doing that? These people probably weren't thinking globally or cross-generationally when they got up in the morning and made their art. If they ever thought that way, it was probably after they had already reached around the globe.
So, am I today making a lasting impact on the lives of the people I meet, work with, perform with, perform for? There's no way to know the answer for sure but I think the key to harnessing that power is in authenticity. By staying true to myself, acting from a place of self-expression and humility and respect for the power of art to influence others, and by just being really here and now, present to each moment, I can have a lasting impact on those around me and start that ripple that becomes a wave.