3 A.M. found me standing in front of the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. The strip was bustling and moving, a flip book of colorful cartoon characters. But, for all the bright lights and revelry, the feeling in the air was hard, mechanical and gritty. Some of the most beautiful architecture in the world can seem pretty soulless in the midst of blind hedonism and consumerism.
But then, to my right, just below the sounds of the strip, a solitary guitar started playing. A street performer, sitting against the Bellagio fountain retaining wall, slowly began performing a cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” by Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole. It was the small voice in the madness. David vs. the Goliath of casinos with a construction budget higher than the GDP of many countries.
I turned to listen. In the space of a moment, the atmosphere began to transform. A crowd began to gather around this musician, standing in utter silence as Las Vegas raged around us. It was if the small spark of humanity had been forgotten and we were just then being reminded of it.
With us musicians, it gets easy to think about music as one would talk about sports teams. “They’re good”, “Meh..” or “They suck...hard.” We get caught in the triviality of who can play what, how fast and who we’re playing with. We get caught up in what celebrities we can call “good buddies” around town and get inwardly focused on getting as many people attracted to us as possible. We even might spend our time trying to emulate other musicians.. (All of which you deserve a smack for...)
As musicians, we can’t forget why we play, even though it’s easy to. It’s not about the guitar or the drums. It’s not about who will hear you or how hot they are.
What any musician knows, once we silence everything and really feel it, is that music isn’t really even the goal. The goal is in the unblocked opening of the spirit and in bringing it’s contents into the physical world through the creation and manipulation of sound waves. We are artists of the spirit and heart, music is just the medium. When that musician performed on the Las Vegas strip, he was connecting everyone on a higher level, using music. But it wasn’t the music that he was communicating. It was the emotion and the idea.
As a true artist, a real musician, this is what we do. This is our calling. Fu*k off with your ridiculous guitar solo. Stop talking about "rocking out" or "melting faces". Music isn't a joke, even if it is meant as one. What are you saying with it? What is it communicating? Where is the honesty in it?
Look at any artist. You can tell the ones who are truly authentic to who they are and what they are communicating, can’t you? It is not only your duty, but your purpose as a musician to open and cultivate the spirit and the heart to strengthen and connect the clarity of your honest and unique message to the world.
If you do this, I promise you, people will listen. It may be David vs. Goliath. It might be hard to be heard. But once your music reaches the ears and then the heart of someone else, they will start listening. Then there is connection. Then there is communication. Music is only truly played in the energy between the performer and an audience. Now, you have your reminder. Get out there and change the atmosphere.