Artists Speak Truth To Power

We cans sure use some can’t we?


John Lennon would have turned 80 this week.

That’s kind of a jarring fact. It’s also jarring that he has been gone as long as he lived, having been murdered outside his home in 1980. He was only 40 years old.
I was 16 when John Lennon died and his shocking loss was a traumatic experience for me and my friends.
It was so hard to fathom—how someone so young, so accomplished, so brilliant and so important could be taken away in an instant.
How could John be gone? He was a Beatle. He had just made a comeback with an album tragically and sadly called “Starting Over.”
How could someone so amazing and important be gone forever?
Forty years later, we all know how fragile life is. Tomorrow never knows, as The Beatles song goes.
When John died, we ventured to Central Park to attend a vigil. It’s a memory I will never forget, hundreds of thousands of grief stricken people gathering to pay tribute to an artist who touched their lives deeply.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Truer words have never been spoken.
The great ones touch our minds and our hearts. Great music and  great art can make us happy or sad, it can force us to confront truths we are sometimes uncomfortable to acknowledge.
The best artists hang it all out there. John Lennon was not afraid to take risks, he was not content to be trapped in a box and labeled as one of four cute mop tops.
John wanted more. He was daring and that spoke to me even if I winced at some of his work. That’s another characteristic of the truly great. They push their audience. We won’t like everything they do, but it will surely be interesting.
I wonder what John would have been like at 80; what he would have made of today’s scene.
2020 has been quite a year.
We are fighting a pandemic, a recession and confronting racism, inequality and calamitous climate change all at once.
These are the times that we turn to our great artists for insights.
Art can be clarifying, but it seems in 2020 we are lacking clarity.
I may be too old to be be current, but I just don’t see the artists leading the way these days.
They don’t seem to have the cultural relevance that they did back in John Lennon’s day. If I’m wrong, I’d love to know.
Recently, the social critic Bob Lefsetz wrote a piece about artists. It was fascinating.
An artist, Lefsetz wrote:

Endures negative feedback.

Takes risks on a regular basis.

Does not create to satiate the audience but themselves.

Creates because they need to.

Works without the audience in mind.

Knows that they will oftentimes be ahead of the audience.

Knows to ignore their most vocal critics. It’s usually more about the person who is criticizing than the work.

John Lennon did all of those things—-all those years ago.
All I know is we miss that kind of leadership and artistry and we need artists/leaders more now than maybe ever.

Imagine: Art Endures

Last week marked the 37th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder.
In three years, he will be gone as long as he lived.
For me and for millions of others, the loss still stings.
I was 16 when Howard Cosell broke the tragic news on Monday Night Football.
Although my friends and I were only six when The Beatles broke up in 1970, we were devoted and devout fans. Yes we missed the band when they were active, but we didn’t miss out on their music. It was a big part of our lives.
It still is.
Thanks to The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM I get to listen to the band on my morning commute to the office. It’s great to have The Beatles and the solo music of John Lennon as a part of my daily life.
Great music and great art endures. It’s timeless.
The issues of the day come and go—worries bubble up and fade– but a great song, a great movie, a great book, a great painting– they last.
And so the music of John Lennon endures.
My friends and I joined 225,000 people in Central Park a few days after the tragedy for a vigil to honor Lennon. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime; throngs of people singing, crying and trying to make sense of a senseless act of violence.

All over the world, people mourned. In Palm Beach, fans were welcomed onto the grounds of John and Yoko’s home to pray and grieve. It was interesting to read the coverage in the Palm Beach Daily News last week chronicling John and Yoko’s ties to our area.

Years later, hundreds of fans streamed  into a tent on the grounds of Old School Square to view Lennon’s art work– a testament to his lasting impact.
That’s the power of great art and great artists. Their work resonates and lasts.
Readers of this blog know that I’m a huge admirer of Bruce Springsteen another artist whose work has endured.
William Taylor, founding editor of Fast Company magazine, recently went to see “Springsteen on Broadway” which has gotten rave reviews. It’s an evening of intimate songs and stories about Bruce’s life. The magic of great art is that it somehow becomes about all of our lives. We gain insight and clarity from music, art, drama and literature.
Here’s what Mr. Taylor shared on Facebook.
“Well, some folks have asked, and now that we are back from NYC here is my very brief reaction to Springsteen on Broadway. The show is as overwhelming as people say it is. It is a funny, joyous, unbelievably personal celebration of life. It is also an aching, painful, unbelievably personal meditation on mortality, the unbearable sadness of so much of what happens to us and how it shapes us. What’s also striking is the sound. The theater is so small, the sound system so good, it feels like you are inside the guitars, like you can feel the strings on your skin.  And when Bruce, time and again, steps away from the mic and talks or sings directly to the audience, with no amplification, you truly can hear a pin drop. I am man enough to say I reached for the Kleenex three times, which actually showed some good emotional restraint. I know tickets are impossible, but keep trying….”
That’s the power of music. That’s the power of a great artist to touch and move an audience.

We won’t be talking about the small bore politics of the day six months from now never mind decades from now .
But we will be listening to John Lennon’s music.
Of that I’m certain.
When WPBT recently ran a special on The Beatles, we watched and smiled. The music is amazing. The chemistry still crackles.
It’s genius. Pure and simple.

A Bright Light Lost

Jose Fernandez played with a Little Leaguers enthusiasm.

Jose Fernandez played with a Little Leaguers enthusiasm.

Yes, we know there’s no crying in baseball.
But yesterday and today the tears are flowing.
Jose Fernandez, the 24-year-old Marlins superstar pitcher was killed in a boating accident off Miami Beach. And just like that a bright talent was lost–forever.
Fernandez was more than a baseball player to Marlins fans of all ages. He was an inspiration. He fled Cuba at age 15 and saved his mother from drowning during the dangerous trek. He made it to America on his fourth try after being jailed and shot at–the lure of freedom so great that he was willing to risk his life repeatedly.
Later, when asked if he feared facing a great hitter, he shook his head. After being shot at what could a hitter possibly do to him.
He went to high school in Tampa and emerged as a rare talent. The Marlins snagged him in the first round of the draft and gave him a $2 million singing bonus. He rocketed to the majors and had immediate success. Two-time All Star–strikeouts galore. A preternatural talent with Hall of Fame written all over him. His passion for the game made him an enormously popular teammate. South Florida loved him. He was special and he was ours. And now he’s gone.
My son broke the news to me Sunday morning. It was a shock and he was very distraught.
“He’s my age,” he said and implicit in that  comment is that Jose Fernandez was too young to die and  also acknowledgement that yes tragedies can happen–we are all so fragile, tomorrow is never guaranteed and even when you are on top of the world you can lose it all in a flash.
It’s a helluva lesson.

Yes, we know all that intellectually but emotionally it’s hard to wrap our minds around unexpected tragedy.
The permanence of it and the unfairness.
My son is a lifelong Marlins fan. He’s a native Floridian and this is his team. He loves them as much as I love the Yankees and the Mets (yes, I grew up a fan of both).

So I started to follow the Marlins. It was something I could share with my son.
We’d talk about the team and its players and go to some games. In fact, my Father’s Day gift this year were really great seats to see Jose pitch against the Mets. It was a great day and he mowed down the Mets lineup with strikeout after strikeout.
Jose Fernandez was my son’s favorite player. So this hits hard.
I flashed back to when Thurman Munson was lost in August 1979 and how it felt surreal.
I was not yet 15 and Munson was one of my favorite players. The team captain and seemingly indestructible.
It hit me hard.
A year later, in 1980, all of my friends were devastated by the murder of John Lennon. That too hit hard. How could these icons, seemingly larger than life, be gone?
A small contingent of us went to a vigil in Central Park just to be with others who were feeling the same sense of loss.
Most of us never get to personally meet the athletes that we admire or the rock legends whose music shapes our lives but we feel a connection and so we mourn.
When people die young we are left to wonder what they would have accomplished. How many Cy Young Awards would Jose have won?
Would a few more good years from Thurman Munson have put him in the Hall of Fame?
Would John Lennon, gone at 40, and just back in the game after five years away from the studio, have written another song like “Imagine.”
We will never know.
It’s trite (but true) to say we should be thankful for each day. It’s cliched (but important to hug our loved ones and reconcile with those we need to reach out to). But today, right now. It’s just feels lousy and unfair.
We lost Jose Fernandez. He was a bright light. And now he’s gone.

New York State of Mind

Simple elegance

Simple elegance

We just came back from a long weekend in New York City and it was wonderful.
New York in September defies description.

The weather is perfect, not hot, not cold and you find yourself walking everywhere.
We measured our steps on our smart phones and found that we walked close to 7 miles every day. We loved it.
New York crackles with energy. The restaurants are busy all day and people walk, bike and run in Central Park from sunrise to sunset.
Two of our favorite walks were through Central Park and on NYC’s famed Highline, an abandoned elevated rail line that has been converted into an amazing public space.
In Central Park, we visited Strawberry Fields which honors the life and legacy of John Lennon.
It’s hard to imagine that in a few months, it will be 35 years since he was gunned down outside The Dakota on Central Park West.

My friends and I were 16 when John was murdered and it left a deep hole. We grew up rabid Beatles fans even though we were in first grade when the legendary band broke up in 1970.

A bunch of us travelled to Central Park for a vigil honoring Mr. Lennon a few days after he was shot. It was incredibly sad but somehow soothing to be with a community of people who were as impacted as we were.
Last year, a few of us who went to the vigil returned to the  city to mark our 50th birthdays. It all goes so fast.
Howie and Linda Cohn (yes, of ESPN fame) were there as were my friends Scott Savodnik and Ben Willemstyn.

We took photos on a Central Park bench, just like the Simon & Garfunkel song “Old Friends”. You remember the line: “Old friends, old friends sat on their park bench like bookends…Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly, how terribly strange to be seventy.”
We saw Simon & Garfunkel in the park when we were kids too. And joked that we would be those old men someday. And I guess we kind of are. (If not quite 70).
Memories seem to be enhanced by place.
We made some new ones walking the 1.5 mile Highline, a narrow trail that features native vegetation, public art and spectacular views. It’s a monumental achievement. Simple, but beautiful and vibrant with people of all ages enjoying what had been an abandoned rail line.
When we headed back home it was with thoughts about place making and walkability.
Are there places in Boca- Delray that can be reclaimed like the Highline? Most certainly, there are.

Cities like NY, Chicago, Charleston make you rethink the mundane and consider the possibilities.
Why don’t we walk more (in cooler weather at least) but prefer driving even when we visit downtown?
What are the next cool neighborhoods?
Great cities inspire. And nothing inspires quite like the Big Apple.