I was sitting at my desk (as I often do) listening to music (as I often do) when some familiar lyrics — a conversation between a father and son — grabbed me:
Dad, I broke my promise to you
if you’re wondering where I’ve been
I thought I knew what I was doing
but I was wrong again …
I understand, son
I understand, son
I understand …
That’s the chorus of Pedro the Lion’s “The Bells,” a song I’ve listened to dozens and dozens of times over the last 12 years. Every so often, the song captures me and my soul opens up and I’m fighting back tears in my office. Today it got me thinking about what it’d be like to be an artist whose stories could open souls and elicit tears.
Art is like magic that way, isn’t it?
“The Bells,” like many Pedro the Lion songs, is remarkably simple — guitar, bass, drums, vocals — so clearly the magic is not in the tools. We know this because these same tools have brought us our best art and our most contrived kitsch.
James Taylor, Paul Simon, and the Beatles used the same tools as Sugar Ray and the dudes who wrote that “I smell sex and candy …” song. Think about that.
The difference is not in the tools; it’s in the craftsmen. It’s in what the craftsman wants.
Some use their tools to say something (a meaningful story), while others use the same tools to hear something (applause). Some use their tools to give something (the gift of art), while others use the same tools to get something (the drug of attention).
Whatever the medium — music, film, design, writing, etc. — the art and the kitsch are made with the same tools. So before we get to work, let’s get to work on ourselves.
Scott McClellan is the Editor of Echo Hub and the Director of Echo Conference. You can follow him on Twitter: @scottmcclellan.