Into The Generous FrayMusic — By Lenora Rand on September 27, 2012 at 4:26 am
“Generosity is the hallmark of the artist.” I heard T-Bone Burnett say that to a room full of aspiring writers, musicians, painters, poets, filmmakers, dancers, and actors one day about 25 years ago. I honestly don’t remember much else he said after that sentence came out of his mouth, but that was enough. I’ve thought about those words again and again through the years, about what it might mean for me, as a person who sometimes tries to do art. I asked myself if I was really giving myself away, versus holding back, if I was giving freely, all that I had, or being tightfisted with the truth, sparing the sordid details to protect someone . . . that someone basically being you know . . . myself. I haven’t been that generous a writer through the years, not nearly generous enough, anyway. I’m working on it these days. But being generous is hard. And being frugal is a virtue too, isn’t it?
To be fair, generosity is, I suspect, a tall order for anyone, when it comes to life. Or art. It’s also somewhat subjective, I suppose. Was I being truly generous in that story, was that guy fully giving himself away in that song lyric, that musical note, that sculpture, that monologue? It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s one of those things like pornography—you know it when you see it.
I felt like I saw it last night.
The Fray were in town. We went to see them—my 17-year-old daughter Hannah and her friend Alaina, my husband and I. Hannah has been a fan of this piano-driven, pop rock band since she was a kid—maybe 10 or 11 or so. Songs like “How to Save a Life,” and “You Found Me,” found her, connected with her, inspired her to write songs herself, to give herself away through words and music, gave her courage to part the curtain for a second or two and let people see inside, see the funny, fearful, hurting, gentle soul lurking there. She started writing when she was 12 and has been doing it ever since, songs about loss and shame and war and race and failure, about family and friendship and love.
So I went to The Fray concert already feeling fairly warm toward them. After all, my daughter loves them. And I’ve heard a lot of their music. When Hannah is in the car, we listen to what she likes (“not NPR, Mom”) so I’ve gotten familiar with many of their songs. “The Ungodly Hour” and “Be Still” both get me every time. But of course, I’ve been aware that even though (or maybe because) they have a fair share of platinum singles to their credit, they aren’t always especially critically acclaimed. They are rarely accused of breaking amazing new musical ground, or astounding anyone with their originality. They are frequently called “adult contemporary” or “adult top 40” with a curl of the lip in some circles, circles I actually wander around in fairly regularly.
And yet. And yet.
At their concert last night they were so generous.
They are in the middle of a long tour, a new city every night for weeks on end. It seems like a grueling schedule, and you could imagine that night after night performing the same songs in the same order, over and over would start feeling like a J-O-B, like any job. You show up. You do what you are supposed to do. You do it well. You go home.
It didn’t seem like they were doing their jobs last night. They seemed present. And accounted for. They gave us more than just words and music, they gave us all the truth they could muster. They did as the writer Red Smith suggested — opened a vein, and let it bleed, sang and played and danced and ran through the crowd with as much as they had, no scrimping, skimping, penny pinching.
I left feeling like I remember feeling the first time I went to a Springsteen concert in the 80s—like I’d been to church. Church the way you want church to be. Believe it’s meant to be. Could be. Maybe. If we were all a little less . . . oh I don’t know . . . economical about the whole thing.
And I left last night feeling grateful. All the way down to my flip-flops grateful. Grateful and wanting to be more giving. More bounteous. More big-wide-open-hearted, myself.
Which is what generosity will do for you, I believe. Wherever you find it. And wherever you let it live.