Quincy Jones - a man dressed for action!

Quincy Jones - a man dressed for action!

Austin got some much-needed rain (and some unwelcome hail) in recent days but its not enough to end our drought or to wash away the lingering notes (and hangovers) of our yearly music feast/fest/conference, South By Southwest (SXSW) – or, as the locals and long-time attendees call it, with casual familiarity, “South By.”

I’m just getting around to reading last week’s Austin Chronicle interview with Quincy Jones, this year’s SXSW keynote speaker. Quincy! If you don’t know who he is or only know about a few of the ways he has touched your life musically or otherwise, go read the Wikipedia entry about him. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Amazing, huh? Yes, without him there’d have been no “Thriller,” no “Color Purple,” no “We Are the World.” Etc. etc. etc. And that’s just scratching the surface.

One section of the interview in particular caught my attention. Quincy is talking about the importance of American artists like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane – and he expresses his dismay when recently realizing that most American kids do not know anything about these artists: “They have no idea of the basis of their culture. They don’t know.”

When the interviewer asks Quincy what it is that kids can learn from artists like these, he answers as follows:

“Let me put it like this: The only two absolutes are mathematics and music. Music is the only thing that engages the left and the right brain simultaneously. That’s the intellect and emotion, simultaneously. Nothing else does that. Maybe romance [laughing]. And that’s it. That’s some powerful stuff, man. That’s why it has healing abilities for autism or Down syndrome. It’s a healing process. The melody itself is the work of God. There’s technique for counterpoint, and there’s technique for harmony and all that stuff, and that’s a science. But melody, there’s no technique. That’s straight from God.”

I’ve written songs for a long time and I know what he means: “The melody itself is the work of God…melody, there’s no technique. That’s straight from God.” You simply have to be open to it and ready to receive, ready to channel, ready to capture it, accept it. Boom! And you better be ready…or it slips on by and you (and others) never get the joy of sharing it.

I’ve heard people (Christians?) twist Biblical passages any number of ways over the years, like rotten, writhing communion pretzels with shards of glass baked in, but one of the appropriations that has irked me the most is from Luke 12:35 – “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” The passage is about readying yourself for God and it is often used in conjunction with dire projections of the “end time” or the “rapture.” Well, fuck that. My turn to co-opt it.

That passage is about being ready to receive God because life is going forward for you, not because the world is ending. It is about readying your temple at all times for God’s visit because God has things to share with you and if you aren’t ready for them you will miss them – not because you’re gonna miss the Good Ship Heavenward cruise blimp, skating by to lift you up while the sinners writhe in fire in Las Vegas and Hollywood. Being “dressed for action” means listening at all times because “melody itself is the work of God,” it is “straight from God,” and if you aren’t listening (and prepared to act on what you receive) then you’ll miss a more crucial joyride: being engaged in the creative process with the original creative gangsta, Big G!

Now, you do not have to be a songwriter or musician or even able to carry a tune to know that if you’re prepared for whatever it is you do in this life that the ideas and opportunities simply flow better. They come more frequently, more fully, more directly from God, the Love Force, whoever or whatever it is you pray to or call to when in need or expressing joy. All of those cosmic gifts, all of that guidance is God’s melody getting passed your way because you were dressed for action.

Quincy’s right. Music has healing abilities. But for real healing we cannot just listen to the “music” of others. We have to make our own in whatever form we feel called to pursue: songs, quilts, bird feeders, landscaping, rave production, teaching physics, basket weaving, you name it. To hear the melodies God wants us to hear we have to be practiced in listening and dressed for action not because we’re afraid, but because we’re ready for The Loving.