On Tuesday I saw Jason Mraz and Raining Jane play at Radio City Music Hall. Wow. What a beautiful, beautiful show. It was the kind of show that I can't stop thinking about. Not only was it sonically gorgeous and beautifully staged while remaining all about the music, but in the moments where the artists spoke to us, I felt completely, 100% connected to what they spoke about. The concert was a gift. To be honest, I don't even own any Jason Mraz albums (although now I am absolutely going to listen to all of them)---my boyfriend, O, is the longtime Mraz fan. Going into the show, my knowledge of Mraz was all from O excitedly playing me YouTube videos of songs from the Mraz cannon from time to time (and sometimes even adding interpretive dance) over the course of our relationship. Mraz's voice is undeniable, and when O mentioned going to see him at Radio City I was definitely on board. However, it was one specific video that O showed me a couple of weeks ago that made me say, "Hey, did you get those tickets? We're going to the show, right?"
Mraz, in pajama bottoms, straight-up jamming for a small audience at a Borders in London. After O played me that, I knew I had to see this guy live. The incredible thing about the Radio City show was that all of the honesty, magic and humility that comes across at this tiny unplugged show completely came across in the grandeur of Radio City.
Raining Jane opened and talked about their journey to eventually working with Mraz and collaborating on the latest album. I obsessively look up artists' ages on Wikipedia in an attempt to amass proof that I haven't passed my sell-by date as an artist yet, and Raining Jane's story is definitely more evidence that if you keep doing what you love because you love it, it all works out in the end. When Mraz entered the stage and he and the ladies started harmonizing together, tears started streaming down my face. Beauty. There was an intoxicating effortlessness and joy throughout the performance.
During one interlude between songs, Mraz talked about his creative process and the importance of writing for ten minutes in the morning. Okay, Mr. Mraz, I thought, the universe is sending me a message through you! I am a huge believer in stream-of-consciousness writing in the morning, a spiritual practice I learned from The Artist's Way, but I've been super lax about writing my pages lately. Not coincidentally, I've been feeling a bit creatively stunted lately, too. Okay, universe-by-way-of-Jason: Thank you for the reminder.
At another point, Mraz talked about how folks have criticized his newer work, saying that he's changed or that he's "too positive." That they miss the old Mr. A-Z. Of course he's changed and grown over the course of his career, he said! Then he explained that he considers his relentless positivity "an achievement." Wow. That one hit me in the gut, too. As someone with a tendency to fall into depression then spend months trying to crawl my way out, I understand exactly what Mraz was talking about. Keeping a positive mental state is often daily work. Preach, Jason, I thought. Preach.
I wonder if the couple behind me realized they were playing out exactly what Mraz was talking about when O and I heard them starting to huff and puff when Mraz started talking about his work with environmentalism. Apparently Mraz has an interest in organic farming and has his own land where he has built a small farm. As Mraz described the land and his spiritual connection to the food he grows, the dude behind us sighed and said, "Really?!" Clearly the dude was bothered by the political turn that the show was taking, and after intermission, the couple was gone. Too couched in what their expectations of what a Jason Mraz show was going to be, they didn't like it when the artist in front of them had opinions that didn't deliver exactly what they wanted.
While the vast majority of the audience was present and enraptured by what the artists onstage were giving to us, some other folks walked out when Mraz brought an Egyptian singer playing an oud onstage. When he began singing in Arabic, more tears welled up in my eyes: his voice was absolutely gorgeous. The blend when he harmonized with Mraz sent chills from the top of my head to my neck and through my entire body. I've been Googling daily trying to figure out who that Egyptian singer was in the days since the show because his voice affected me so much. But again, I could see a few audience members were not receiving the show that they thought they signed up for as they left the theater.
Luckily I was too high on the music to be bothered by a small minority of audience members' behavior (although more than once I thought, "What the hell. As big as Jason Mraz is, there are still some idiots that will talk through his show???"). But in the days since the show, I've been trying to figure out what it is that makes people react like this to artists that they say that they're fans of. Yesterday, I read an article by Talib Kweli called "In Defense of Ms. Hill" that has brought me a little closer to understanding it. Kweli's article is a response to another article called "It's Finally Time To Stop Caring About Lauryn Hill." I admit that I can't really bring myself to read an anti-Lauryn article---I only read Kweli's response. Lauryn Hill created two of my favorite albums of all time (Miseducation and the Unplugged album) so I'd really rather not increase my blood pressure by reading anything that tells me to stop caring about her. One of my strongest musical memories is listening to The Miseducation over and over again on a portable CD player while my parents were driving us around Virginia for a trip to see our extended family, entranced by Ms. Hill's voice. Kweli talks about the insanity of getting upset with artists that have given us so much joy through music. How in the world can we dismiss an artist who has already given us so much beauty? They don't owe their art to us; we were lucky to receive it.
Today it hit me: I think this anger with artists happens because of the balance between consumption and creativity. If our personal scale tilts toward consuming more than creating, we tend to become more critical of the artists we love because we don't understand the inevitable change that happens to an artist's work over the course of their life. Consumption breeds consumption; we want more instead of feeling gratitude for what the artist has created. When we create art ourselves, we understand that what we made yesterday has to be different than what we create today.
Just like the couple behind O and I at the Jason Mraz show, there is this tendency to want our artists to repeat the same thing they gave us in the past, even though they have changed. While I'm no Lauryn or Jason, and I pray for 1/1000th of the success that they have had, even I have experienced a little of this. Recently I met someone who loves my older work. I played them some of the new stuff I'm working on for my new album, and they clearly were not as jazzed. Who I was in 2010 is not who I am in 2014, and I could see the veneer of disappointment on this person's face when my new stuff didn't connect with them in the same way as the older stuff.
I was talking to O about this tension between consumption and creation and why we're mad when the artists we love change, and he pulled up the below interview with Jay Z. In it, Jay quotes his verse from the DJ Khaled song They Don't Love You No More. "People look at you strange saying you changed/Like you worked that hard to stay the same."
Jason Mraz, Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli, Jay Z. Millions fall in love, then millions revolt when the high they first received doesn't repeat itself. I'm guilty of it, too. But next time I start getting overly critical of an artist, I think I'll write a song, instead.