The Evolution of an Artist

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I saw Steve Martin last night at The Mendel Center. Imagine my delight when the word prompt of the day from WordPress was ‘laughter‘. I have to write this one.

My sister and I saw The Jerk when we were in high school. Throughout the movie, we kept looking at each other and rolling our eyes. It was the stupidest movie. After a few days of recalling scenes in the movie and laughing our asses off about it, Momma remarked, “For a movie that was so horrible, you sure are laughing a lot about it.” I suppose Steve Martin is one of those comics that grows on you.

I was thrilled to get the chance to see him. I wish they had just let him talk and do his own thing, but they chose an interview-style setting which seemed to constrain him.  More than a couple of times he jokingly grumbled about being interrogated. Being the stellar performer that he is, he made it work, and I suppose he covered a lot of topics that he normally wouldn’t pursue. And, of course, he made us laugh – over and over again.

I also saw Art Garfunkel over the winter. He had throat surgery and almost lost his voice, so his voice was a mere shadow of what it used to be. But that hint was just enough to bring it all back into focus. At first I longed to hear his old voice. He talked about how much he loved singing, and he could never dream of stopping. I thought that was so sweet. I’m sure he longs for the voice he once had and the energy of his youth, but he still finds joy in it.

Over the course of the show, I started to see more of Art Garfunkel the man and less of Garfunkel the aging star. A pile of tattered white envelopes lay on a stool onstage. As a bookend to each song, he read a note hastily scribbled on an envelope or a poem he’d written in the heat of a moment. Charming stories about his rocky relationship with Paul Simon trickled into his act. Another song would highlight the next decade, and he’d start all over again. I had expected to hear a singer, but what I experienced was the expression of a well-loved lifetime.

I love seeing these old stars as they travel around the country in their last acts. Small venues filled with gray-haired fans and a few midlifers come to life with memories and emotions of days gone by. I find the nostalgia nice, but it’s their evolution as a human that intrigues me. If they have evolved at all and not been consumed with drugs, alcohol and money, they seem to become more well-rounded and whole. The man no longer works so hard to express himself. The artist literally becomes their art.

In 2008, Robert Plant toured with Alison Krauss. She’s one of my favorite bluegrass artists, and I saw them on a sunny July day on the banks of the Mississippi River. They played bluegrass renditions of several Led Zeppelin hits. My ex struggled and complained because could not get the past out of his head. I was fascinated by this interesting evolution of his music. He didn’t feel stuck in making the same music over and over for the crowd. The exploration of a different sound seemed to be a normal extension of an evolving human – the evolving artist.

Raising Sand is still one of my favorite albums.

Steve Martin played the banjo for us last night. He told jokes. He made fun of himself and told stories of celebrities he’d known. He even gave advice to a couple of aspiring stand-up comedians. But when a man asked him to recreate his funny “man-woman” walk, he was visibly uncomfortable. He paused for a moment and then stuttered that he just didn’t like trying to recreate something he’d once done. “It just wasn’t his thing,” I think he said. Like Plant and Garfunkel, Martin seems to be exploring the path ahead of him while standing firmly in his own shoes.

Why recreate the past when something much more interesting could be right around the corner? 

 

2 thoughts on “The Evolution of an Artist

  1. I LOVE Steve Martin! He is such a talented man, and quite under-appreciated in my opinion. We have several of his music CDs and he came to town a few years ago, but the tickets were way out of my price range. Maybe I should start saving up now for his next swing through town! I have a lot of admiration for those artists who continue to look forward, try new things, try out that unusual film roll, or song or fiction genre. I may not always like what they come up with, but I respect them so much for continuing to evolve as a person.

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