Several weeks ago, I wrote about a wonderful concert my wife and I attended at the Hollywood Bowl. In an LA Times interview prior to the show, the artist, Latin pop sensation Juanes, spoke about his mid-life career burnout. The Times reported:
He was burned out with touring and recording, and his young children were always crying, "When is papi coming home?"
"I was bored, I wasn't feeling good about things," acknowledges the artist. . . . "It was a crisis. I felt lost. So in this moment of transition I thought, 'What do I do now?'"
The answer was provided by the Spanish-language MTV channel, Tr3s: "Do an unplugged show." The result was a CD, a DVD, a #1 album and multiple Latin Grammy nominations. Working without all the synthesizers and electronic backup, Juanes found himself re-energized. His fans were enthralled.
Many of us have seen "unplugged" concerts (if only on television) The venue is more intimate. The audience is seated closer to the performers. Pyrotechnics are generally absent. And familiar songs, made almost uninteresting by constant repetition on the airwaves, take on a very different feel. Unfettered somewhat by the expectations of the audience (i.e., that the music sounds just like that on the album), the artist can put a bit more of him or herself into the music -- especially true if they are a singer-songwriter.
This image of "unplugged concerts" was suggested to me by something I heard earlier this week. There was a slight difference; the reference was not so much to music, but to stories. Stories that we read or hear over and over. They may represent different versions on the same basic narrative (the four Christian gospels are an example). Or they may be the same narrator telling the same story in different contexts. But many of us find ourselves, when confronted by a different version, saying, "Wait a minute! I've heard this before, and the version you're telling now isn't right, or it isn't what you've told us before!"
Well, of course, story-tellers (singer-songwriters) have every right to make the story their own at any time they tell it. The problem is ours, as we come to expect a certain outcome based on prior experiences. And our attachment to that expected outcome may limit our ability to hear the story/song in its different form, missing the nuances or multiple layers. This is point number one: we need to be attentive to the nuances between stories, for contained within them is a deeper story -- the individual's own story, not just that which is told in the words of the song/tale.
Point number two is a little different. We often get trapped in the surface-level stories we create about ourselves that we lose sight of our own deeper realities, our hopes, fears, insecurities, strengths, etc. And our being constantly "plugged in" to music, the cyber-world, work, sports, food, election coverage, or whatever, helps shield us from that deeper self. So, maybe, for some of us the weeks between Thanksgiving and the resumption of school in January may provide time for us to unplug from the usual distractions and return to our core stories. Maybe we can return mirroring the description of Juanes:
"He has realized a new ambition for what his music can be, of the many things that his music can take in,". . . "He's growing as a musician, he's playing better than ever. It's a new stage for him. I believe the best is yet to come for Juanes."