One of the times I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance , I was living in Boston and coming to terms with the idea that there are so many people trying to be heard. There are so many voices in this world. So many needs. I became very depressed. The idea of Quality as expressed by Persig in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, seemed to be directly responsible. Only certain voices were worth hearing as defined by some incredible esoteric formula. I thought of all of the people that are truly talented. But the average attention span for digesting and owning media in a human’s brain isn’t capable of hearing everything.
This depression lasted for quite some time. I guess in some ways I am still not over it. It led me to another set of conclusions about working. Especially working in something satisfying and monetarily rewarding. I thought about all of the food that is delivered to us at our supermarkets. How many people who plant or harvest corn play the guitar? How many can sing? How many have musical aspirations? Or dream of themselves in better circumstances where they entertain people with their talent? But someone has to plant the corn!
Around this time, there was a guy I helped produce plays with in a small Brookline community theater near Boston. I mainly did the music, but I did other things as well. He was a chemist at MIT and his other dream was producing classic plays by Chekov and Ibsen. He was doing these things. One day a male lead quit. He was very talented. He was from India and in scrubbing his Indian accent to get more parts, he had mastered a giant array of accents. He had a master’s degree in theater. He quit the play because he got a job managing the Dunkin Donuts right across the street from Berklee.
The MIT Chemist guy was telling me about this. He seemed kind of flabbergasted by the whole thing. Why would someone do something like that? Give up a part in a play he had always wanted to be in to manage the Dunkin Donuts? I kept asking questions to draw him out, because this point of view seemed so absurd to me. Finally his responses led to, “I don’t know. The guy has no dreams. He’s never going to have a house or a family or a couple cars in the garage. I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to accomplish. You have to stick with something. You don’t give up.” I was really speechless, but I did manage to respond, “You know. Someone has to manage the Dunkin Donuts. When people go to the Dunkin Donuts and want coffee or something, someone has to make sure that happens.”
Yes there is a separate idea of intention. If you intend to be a farmer or a Dunkin Donuts manager, then you should be those things. But how many people accomplish what they set out to accomplish. Certainly there are career paths that are almost set in stone. Become a doctor – follow this path. Become a lawyer – follow that path. But outside of doing something like that, there isn’t so much certainty. And for some people, the idea of certainty in life is a death sentence. I could hold my hand up to be counted as one of these. Perhaps it’s some kind of pathology that makes this happen, but more than likely it’s just different personalities.
But without certainty, there can be a lot of defeat. And it’s unfortunate that there are so many careers that we immediately associate with defeat. Barista! Oh you majored in philosophy, but couldn’t hack it. Or… Oh you couldn’t figure out what you wanted to do with your life. Here you are serving coffee. But the aesthetic of a profession or wealth shouldn’t really indicate the level of success or happiness in life. But it does. And even when a shitty artist makes a lot of money and becomes famous, people take them more seriously. Even when a criminal gets away with a large amount of money, society seems to give them some respect.
But someone has to be a foot soldier in Napoleon’s army. And without the 100’s of thousands of foot soldiers, Napoleon is nothing. Someone has to plant the corn! Someone has to manage the Dunkin Donuts. And when those people go home, they don’t dream the lesser dreams of the poor and defeated. They dream the dreams of great people. We are all great people. And the more we let the mass marketing of corporations define greatness, the more we cower in defeat. Paying taxes to subsidize wealth in ever increasing amounts, because somehow we believe that the amount of money a person makes or the level of fame a person has attained says something about the talents that person possesses. I’m not saying anyone can do any job. And certainly we want qualified people doing the jobs that are critical to our society. But the inmates are running the asylum here. We have reached a point where the only qualifications we think of as important are being rich and/or famous.
I don’t know whether Kutiman was thinking about all of these voices. All of these separate aspirations when he began his project of splicing youtube videos into amazing works of art, but this is what it makes me think of. More than ever with the internet, I am aware of all of the talent in the world. All of the voices clamoring to be heard. And Kutiman seems to have this awareness as well. He seems to be saying, “I hear you in all your isolated loneliness. Let me show you how great you are.” And this metaphor is a jumping off place for a profound shift in consciousness that I think is necessary and happening right now in front of our eyes. The Mother Of All Funk Chords is rising like a tidal wave. All of our voices will be heard in ways we can’t control. With meaning we can no longer recognize as our own.
Yes someone has to plant the corn. But that doesn’t mean that his voice is any less important. Because The Mother Of All Funk Chords is us. In all our clumsy gracelessness, there is still a depth of beauty that refuses to be defined by our net worth.