on the outside looking in >

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I recently watched the movie Standing In The Shadow Of Motown. The entire movie was good, though I was a little less into the guest spot cameos of people covering the hits (Bootsy on bass > oh yeah – singing classic Motown? not so much). There was a lot of talk in the movie how unknown the Funk Brothers were and are, since back in the day album credits rarely listed session musicians. Drummer Steve Jordan said at one point; the band was so happening that you could put any singer in front of them and they’d have a hit. Often times studio musicians recognize this and just accept that as part of the gig, but the sheer number of hits and almost complete anonymity of these Funk Brothers is truly eye-popping. One of the most brutal examples of this came during a section featuring guitarist Robert White (who wrote the well known intro to My Girl). The guitarist was at a restaurant and My Girl came on the radio. Someone in the restaurant came up to the booth White was dining at and was gushing at that intro “do you hear that? It’s amazing!” and Robert White, who wrote it, looked up and said “yeah I…” then stopped, looked down, and said “I’ll order the BBQ chicken”. His friend asked him later – “why didn’t you tell him that was you?” And Robert responded “nah – he’d never believe some old washed up guy like me”…the friend stated Robert was always on the outside looking in. I was struck by that. Here was a guy who was on many, many number one hits, playing with an amazing roster of talent, living what many would consider “the dream” and he was on the outside looking in. But he isn’t alone.

Shut Up and Play the Hits features the last show of LCD Soundsystems (the show is very good) interspersed with the quiet, somewhat desperate and doubting day to day unwinding life of James Murphy as he calls it quits with LCD Soundsystems. If you want another example of someone on the outside looking in, watch this. The contrast of high energy concert with an almost bleak depressed “everyday life” as Murphy goes about his business makes the whole thing even heavier. A part of me wondered if Murphy was shooting for some melodrama, in being emotionally neutral, or even flat – but the interview brings out the gnawing doubts he lives 24/7. Outside looking in. And this got me thinking..why?

Why do so many artists feel like they are on the outside? Why do so many artists die with a deep sense of failure? What does it take to finally feel like one is “in”? Is it being hip? Famous? Clever? Rich? Knowledgeable? Productive? Respected? Well connected? I give a couple of high profile examples, but I have spoken to many artists with similar struggles. I submit the answer to this is perhaps quite simple. It has (in fact) nothing to do with any of the above measures of success. The answer is essentially “anti-ambition” in nature.

Ambition is the desire to be above one’s neighbor. Ambition comes from the word literally meaning “to go around” especially to solicit votes, hence “a striving for favor, courting, flattery; a desire for honor, thirst for popularity,” in early use always pejorative, of inordinate or overreaching desire; ambition was grouped with pride and vainglory. Contrasting that is aspiration (and passion etc – but that’s another post). Essentially ambition is mans opinion of man, thus it is essentially vanity. A proud and arrogant person will never have enough “votes”, just like an alcoholic will never have enough drink, or a materialist will never have enough “stuff”.

You might think I am suggesting one completely disregards the opinion of man, and that would not be far from the truth, but it would be an oversimplification. The fact is we are human and we are serving one another with our gifts and abilities, so we have a rightful need of worth being determined by value as such. Doing something well is generally recognized and rewarded. The bible is filled with examples of people doing quality “things” and being rewarded. The bible also says a poor man walking in integrity is better than a rich man whose ways are perverse. Soul crushing compromise may be one of the main sources of artistic emptiness – but it still does not properly define the theme “outside looking in”.

I would like to link to 2 articles, one by CS Lewis : The Inner Ring which is great advice for anyone at any stage of life.
And a second one by George Macdonald : The White Stone which GM called the essence of religion.

I know some folks who see the length of GMs article will close it for the simple reason of length (we live in the land of Twitter like communications), but I heartily recommend you have a read, it is worth the time.

Both articles deal with the “inside” better than I could, but for the sake of brevity i will close with this;

If I were to summarize my points it would be like so:

1) The only “in” is from God. If you seek Him first, in a relationship with Jesus Christ, all other relationships will fall into place.

2) If you do not know God, you will be perpetually “out” and no amount of money, recognition or success will satisfy.

With this I will close and wish you a fantastic day!

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