I am a fan of two late Southern writers who, as it turns out, were lifelong friends: Shelby Foote and Walker Percy.
Actually, I had a correspondence with Shelby Foote about 30 years ago when I was young and seeking a mentor. We exchanged letters and spoke on the phone mostly about his writing and my music. We never met in person, as I lived in Eden Prairie and he in Memphis.
Foote was a novelist who between the years 1953 and 1973 wrote the three volume opus on the Civil War which his fame greatly rests upon. He brought a novelist’s eye and sensibility to history writing. Later even more fame came to him when he was featured in the Ken Burns Civil War documentary series.
His good friend Walker Percy was a medical doctor who came to novel writing quite late. He made up for lost time however and is highly regarded for his insightful novels that have a distinctive philosophical bent. He was a sort of existentialist Catholic which is an odd combination especially for an American Southerner.
I am re-reading “The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy” which is a great look into their relationship and also a rare glimpse into each of their creative endeavors. They constantly gave each other creative advice and encouragement through the years and their recommendations to each other in terms of books, art and music is a treasure.
One quote from a letter to Foote from Percy exactly captures a feeling about religion and God that resonates with me:
“My Catholicism consists just now and mainly in the deepest kind of hunch that it all works out, generally for the good, and everybody gets their deserts.”
I have been thinking a lot lately about why some music attracts my interest and other music does not. Then I thought about the music of two of my contemporaries who for reasons that will soon become obvious will remain nameless. Both of these contemporaries are solid technical musicians and prolific composers. They are also both very well known.
Musician One creates very ornate and highly technical music which in many ways is beyond reproach. Yet his music doesn’t reach me and I have repeatedly attempted to like it more. I respect it and it can be pleasant to listen to but it does not connect with me.
Musician Two also is also highly proficient and even more prolific but his music often reaches me on deep level and has on more than one occasion inspired me.
So why this difference I asked myself?
I then sought out interviews both written and on YouTube with these two composer/players.
Here is what became obvious. Musician One was arrogant, quite conceited and, for me, the tell tale sign of self-absorption was when he occasionally referred to himself in the third person.
Musician One also disparaged musicians who were not his equal.
On the other hand, Musician Two had a sweetness of character and was profuse in his praise of others. He had a humor about himself as well. This comes through in his music which is often touching and poignant as well as light and joyful without being the least bit trite. On the contrary.
Obviously this sweetness of character and humility appeal to me. I strive for these same qualities myself but far be it from me to judge myself. That is impossible. I think these qualities I hold in high esteem extends beyond music and to authors, painters, clergy and these days politicians as well. This is a simple enough comparison but I never quite broke it down to the basic elements before. I have learned something here.
I am looking for an earnest humanity in all endeavors.
Here endeth the sermon.