This week has been a sad one for music lovers everywhere with the passing of Aretha Franklin.
I've been listening to her "Amazing Grace" album almost constantly, still awed with what it does to me whole body when she really lets go and wails those big notes.
It can very easily become so impressive that it makes me want to never sing again, simply because once she's done her thing, well, why bother. The world (including me) would simply be better off just listening to her again. She's that good, that impressive and that sweet.
This is a bit of a habit of mine, to get despondent when I hear someone better than me (which isn't hard). It kinda makes me think "well, what's the point". When it can be done so much better, why bother?
But that's a false economy. It's the way business might work, in some areas, but it's not the way art works.
In Rob Bell's first book, Velvet Elvis, he writes about one of those velvet artwork pictures that were "popular" (really?) in the early 70's. Pictures were formed from composite pieces of velvet.
He talks about how, when the velvet artwork was first invented, imagine if the artist had stood back and announced that all art creation could stop now because we'd reached the pinnacle of art making and no more needed to happen.
How ridiculous, and sad, and uninteresting life would be. It would be ridiculous for one of the world's great artists to say that, let alone the creator of a velvet artwork.
Why? Because no matter what gets created, no matter how good or ugly, how skilled or unskilled, humanity is never done with art - because art isn't about a linear journey to perfection. Creativity is built into our DNA, more than any other animal. It's part of why humanity has evolved beyond other species.....our ability to continually create, in art and in all fields.
Art drives us to express something and, as emotional beings, thinking beings and spiritual beings, we are continually experiencing life as something meaningful and we are driven to express it, whether positive or negative, happy or sad, peaceful or angry, worshipful or degrading.
Humans are lead to expression. It's like a continual CTA on our lives (that's marketing speak for a Call to Action).
With Aretha's music ringing in my ears, this week I watched the Netflix docu-series The Defiant Ones. I learned a lot about music writer, producer, rapper and business man, Dr Dre. Not being particularly a hip hop/gangster rap kinda girl, I had never much paid attention to his work (or so I thought - turns out he may have had a hand in a lot more music I've listened to than I realised, but that's another story).
Dre has a fascinating story and a killer ear for track production. It was impressive and inspired me to go and listen to more of what he has done.
But what I loved most about watching the series tell his, and Jimmy Iovine's story, was that I captured, just a spark, of what makes me love music. That moment when something really magical can happen, something that tingles with beauty and meaning and power and the feeling that it's not just a song or a lyric or a sound, it's something that will touch people, change the landscape of culture, speak a truth that can do something incredible.
The series covered all kinds of music, from Springsteen to Marilyn Manson to NWA to Lady Gaga and many, many more. All genres and eras.
And it ends with a bit about Dre's donation to a Compton school of the money to build an arts centre. It's the kind of philanthropy I wish we could always expect from people who've clearly earned more money than they could ever spend usefully on themselves or their families.
This stands in contrast to the headline I read this morning stating that Aretha Franklin left no will, and so there is, surprise surprise, some legal mess ahead.
I'm sure Aretha also gave away money - this isn't a dig at her, I have no idea what she might have done with her fortune.
But Dre's clear and calm manner, his sense of dedication to give back to the community that raised him and it's many needs, and his commitment to improve the future of kids who, perhaps like he was when he attended that school, have huge talent and no real or safe way of following a musical path out of that neighbourhood, is beautiful.
Dre has heard the CTA on our heads at this time in history.
As the Liberal Party take the dive into leadership struggles and the prospects for our PM are scary, crazy or downright evil (IMHO), and as conservatism seems on the rise throughout the western world, I can't help but think we all have a CTA on our heads.
We live in a time when human choices could wipe out our species, and certainly wipe out a lot of our species, within the life times of those alive already. We all have choices to make, directions to choose and a call to contribute to, not detract from, the world we've been born into.
I worry that I am not meeting that call on my life, to do something meaningful, positive, uplifting and to use the skills and opportunity I have been given, to the best of my ability. But I'm trying.
And try we must, for our very lives depend on it.
Thank you Aretha, for using your talent to the best of your ability and kicking it out of the park. I can't wait to sing hymns in heaven, knowing you'll be leading the singing.
Thank you Dre for your inspiration and dedication to your talent, and your leading by example.
What's your CTA right now? What choices are calling you?