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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.

An Adbusters "One Flag Competition" entry from Rory Brady of London.

An Adbusters "One Flag Competition" entry from Rory Brady of London.

Here’s another clearly subversive yet wholly inclusive idea from Adbusters: design a flag that represents global citizenship. The “One Flag Competition” combines individual creativity with global community to powerful effect. Here’s the call to action:

“We invite you to create a flag – free from language and well-worn clichés – that embodies the idea of global citizenship. A symbol that triggers pride and cohesion, whether worn on a backpack, displayed on a door, or flown on a flagpole. A symbol for anyone to declare membership in a growing and vital human cooperative. We invite you to prove that design has a real role to play in the fate of our world.”

I’ve looked through the flags and voted. It was a tough choice as they are all provocative and compelling. Looking through the gallery made me long for a global flag that would fly over us all, reminding us to pledge allegiance to our fellow humans, our fellow creatures, our glorious ecosystems, our potential evolution here together – and to stop kneeling before economies, military might, and the trappings of empire. Go vote and be inspired!

(photo by David Gonzales, New York Times)

After my last post I went surfing (swimming?) around to learn more about pools, New York City and big community ideas. It led me to yet another example of looking to the past for inspiration, finding multiple uses for a single space, bringing people together for recreation and camraderie, and, yes, heavy doses of creativity and persistence.

Case in point: the floating pool. Based on the floating pools of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that were moored in the East and Hudson rivers in New York, the 21st Century version came to life last year.

It promotes community (free recreation for New York City neighborhood residents). It’s shell and framework is an old barge (sustainable reuse). It encourages use of public space and our park system (it is part of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy). It solves land use limits (Real estate for public use too expensive or non-existent? Create “land” on the water!). The innovations of this approach go on and on.

Come on in! The creative water’s fine.


I saw this Treehugger post recently and thought it was a fine example of creativity meeting sustainability and a truly third way – head on in a perfect blend.

Much of what the Works Progress Administration (WPA) did in the 1930’s involved building and renovating new parks and public pools. For many years I benefited from some of those programs every time I hiked through Devil’s Den State Park in Northwest Arkansas. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), part of the efforts of the WPA, built Devil’s Den (just as they did for so many other parks at that time) and each time anyone steps on the trails or sleeps in the cabins in the park they are enjoying the work of the CCC – over 70 years after those paths were cleared and those stones were set.

The idea that caught my attention in the recent Treehugger piece involved pools. Specifically the massive public pools built during the Depression. The people who designed the pools clearly thought about how those public spaces could be enjoyed all the time, not just during the summer months when it was warm enough to swim, wade and sun bathe with neighbors (or your whole neighborhood – simultaneously, in fact – by the look of these huge facilities).

The architects developed designs that allowed the pools to transform when drained. The empty pools became fall and winter spaces for paddle tennis, shuffleboard, volleyball, basketball, and handball – even roller skating rinks. The indoor locker rooms and changing areas for the pools were adapted for boxing instruction and evening dance halls for teens. Mind you, this was before skateboards, or they might have turned them into off-season skate parks.

Space and resources were not wasted. Year-round community-building was encouraged. A sense of having created something worthwhile and versatile was instilled.

Our country has just passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It is very much like the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 that funded the Works Progress Administration. This time around will we use our resources wisely? Will we come up with flexible solutions that work for our citizens in all seasons – and for decades to come? Will we invest in projects that build community and culture in innovative, practical ways?

I hope so because that’s the kind of stimulus we need.