Monday, March 21, 2011

Pianist Envy

"Sing us a song, you're the piano man. Sing us a song tonight. Well, we're all in the mood for a melody, and you've got us feeling all right."

- Billy Joel

Have you ever been inexplicably drawn to something? Something you couldn't quite explain? Something that somehow spoke to you... and only you... as if there was some hidden language between you and your source of inspiration?

Since you're reading this, I sincerely hope the answer is "yes." For, otherwise, the subsequent blog entry will probably be of little use to you. If you're with me - or at least, interested in seeing where all this is going, then welcome aboard... because that mysterious attraction I alluded to in the first paragraph is exactly how I feel about the piano.

There's no way to be sure exactly when or how my love affair with the piano began. As a child, I dismissed it largely as "old person's music" and instead turned to the more pop-tinged MC Hammer and Michael Jackson music that encompassed the bulk of my childhood music collection, before adolescence and a broader approach to the arts set in.

Over the last decade, though, it has been a gradual, ever-growing appreciation for its sweet, simple and yet extremely evocative sound. What started with the radio hits of artists like Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and John Legend has evolved to touch a bit more on the classical masterpieces that have made the piano one of the most popular and integral instruments of the musical world.

The funny thing is that I only really noticed just how deep my love for the piano goes in the last couple of years. A number of my favorite artists - from those more popular stars mentioned above to more underrated talents such as Jamie Cullum and William Joseph - center their gifts on the piano as their central mode of expression. I've even recently taken a more developed liking to the oeuvre of classic rock/soul artist Billy Joel, whose seminal hit "Piano Man" is quoted atop this post.

Come to think of it, it's interesting to note that Mr. Joel's hits may, in fact, have been the foundation for my love of piano in the first place. I remember being a little kid and listening to his "Greatest Hits, Vol. I and II" album collection (yes, I said "album." I know I'm dating myself here. Lol). Even with my limited exposure to music, there was no denying that songs like "Just the Way You Are," "Only the Good Die Young" and "Uptown Girl" had the ability to make this silly kid come alive in ways few other songs could at that time.

And as I've grown older and wiser, the piano has come to represent something else entirely. In today's musical age, that of Autotune and thumping club beats, it's nice to know that music need not be complicated with layers of adjusted vocals and the artificial tones of synthesized instrumentations.

If nothing else, piano is simple. It's elegant. And it allows the music to speak for itself. No hiding behind an over-produced audio track and no fancy T-Pain-esque vocal stylings designed (let's be honest now) to hide the fact that the "singer" at the mic has little to no vocal talent and/or nothing worthy to say. Mind you, this regards music in very general terms. Some of these tunes are too infectious for words, and I'm not ashamed to admit I have used the "I Am T-Pain" iPhone app. Who doesn't love "Blame It (On the Alcohol)"?

Yet the fact remains that the piano harkens back to a long-gone era, where jazz reined supreme and today's standards were the law of the land. I was fortunate enough to discover a local jazz club recently, and the experience of taking in the piano - coupled with commanding vocals - was not one I'll soon forget.

Armed with my fedora and a lovely lady by my side, it was one of the most memorable nightlife visits in recent memory, and it has played its part in helping me realize that - in my wonderful ways - I am an old-fashioned kind of guy. Yes, I love today's pop culture just as much as the next guy (well, mostly...), but I feel a special connection to the piano's soothing melodies and the timeless songs that it serves as the foundation for.

Yet, despite my pianistic passion, there is one objective I have yet to achieve. For years, I have wanted to learn to play the piano for myself. Much as I have taken to creative writing to satisfy my hunger for storytelling... much as I am drawn to the karaoke mic to showcase my love of music... I desire to be able to translate my reverence into another medium by playing the instrument itself as well.

And, well... I guess that's kind of the point of this blog entry, dear readers. I'm tired of postponing the pursuit of my passion and harboring a secret jealousy for those with the gumption to go for it. Like Billy Joel. Like Elton John. Like Stevie Wonder. These men have an amazing gift, and while I may never (ok, WILL never... lol) reach their level of talent in this respect, I owe it to myself to give it a try.

So, in my typical 11th hour attempt to transform a matter of personal opinion into a life lesson, I urge you all to search your hearts and minds. Surely, there is something in there that you've longed to do, longed to try, but never mustered up the dedication, willpower and/or courage to do so. I know there is something of this nature lurking in your heart. For mine is full to the brim... with pianist envy. ;)

Happy writing and living, all...


Saturday, March 12, 2011

An Agnostic Prayer

"The way I see it, it doesn't matter what you believe just so you're sincere."
-- Charles M. Schulz

The above quote, from "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz, seems pretty harmless, doesn't it? A nice, simple call to accepting people for who they are and entirely in keeping with the positive vibe of The Crooked Table.

Apparently, not everyone thought so.

Upon putting the Schulz quote on my Facebook wall yesterday morning, I received a message from one of my "friends" who clearly took the quote as an affront to the Christian faith and felt that my soul needed salvation... based only on the quote, I suppose.

Of course, me being the experienced communicator of the written word that I am, I crafted a response message. Ultimately, I felt that sending it to this person would be a bit crass so instead... naturally... you can read it below in its entirety, including a pretty thorough description of my thoughts on religion. Enjoy... and feel free to sound off in the feedback section:


I actually do remember you, and while I appreciate your concern for my soul, I do feel that it is harsh, extreme and, frankly, unnecessary.

I fully respect the fact that you are a Christian and it is your right to believe whatever you wish. However, just because you feel so strongly about certain things doesn't mean that you can't remain open-minded to what others believe, even if they directly conflict with your chosen faith.

I was raised Catholic. I was baptized, had my communion and even went to youth group in preparation for my confirmation. But, when all was said and done, my heart wasn't in it.

So a few years ago, I had something of a crisis of faith. I no longer followed the Christian faith, and this led me to feel alienated from the world around me. More specifically, from people like you who think that theirs is the one and only way to see the world.

Ultimately, I realized that I was fully entitled to feel as I do. It wasn't me who had the problem. It was the world that needed to become less obsessed with labels and more accepting of the perspectives of others.

I put that Charles Schultz quote on my wall because I wholeheartedly believe that people should follow their heart and believe what feels right for them. Your message especially shocked me because of just strongly you reacted to a well-intentioned, seemingly innocuous quote from a man who - by all accounts - seemed a very gentle, good-hearted human being.

Holding too tightly to your own personal views on things only fosters hate in people’s hearts, in my opinion. What makes this world so amazing is that everyone has their own unique perspective on things, whether it’s religion, politics, art, etc. A world where anyone who doesn’t agree with your opinion is branded an outcast and shunned from society is a frightening notion to me. Hasn’t our history seen enough persecution, religious or otherwise?

As far as I’m concerned, judging a person based on race, sexual orientation, religion or any other personal matter is just plain wrong. This is not to say that I think you’re a terrible person because I don’t agree with you. I fully understand that – from your perspective – I am in need of being saved or doomed to feel the Lord’s wrath when the end of days does come. And, in some small way, I appreciate that you reached out to me as you did, misguided as your efforts may be.
Let me be clear: just because I don’t consider myself a member of the Christian faith doesn’t mean that I worship Satan, participate in the occult or any such nonsense. I know that I am a good and honest person capable of compassion, generosity and love. In fact, I do prescribe to many Christian ideals, regardless of my dissent with their religious origins. I simply don’t regard religion as the “be all, end all” when it comes to who a person is. It’s simply one aspect of an individual, and as long as that person respects the fact that I have identified myself as an Agnostic, I have no problem respecting their religious views.

Writer Arthur C. Clarke said it best: “The greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.” I don’t judge you for being a Christian nor do I think that the fact that you follow the Bible is a reflection of who you are as a person, either for good or bad. Some of the most dangerous people in history have proclaimed that they were doing God’s work, and some of the kindest, most endearing people lacked affiliation to any particular religious sect.

So my advice to you is not to be so quick as to think that anyone who doesn’t follow the Christian faith needs rescuing. Some of us have merely chosen to follow our hearts down a different path, and it’s not a reflection in any way on who we are or how we go about living our lives. In fact, my morality is one of the qualities I most cherish in myself.

I manage to live my life positively and open-heartedly without judgment or hatred towards others without relying on religion as a foundation. I’m not trying to bash people who are fueled and recharged by the spirituality they receive at church. People should all live moral lives and try to be the best people they can, and if having religion in their life is a necessity or prerequisite for that, that’s perfectly fine and entirely their business. But when they feel that their personal religious conviction entitles them to “educate” the rest of us, that’s where I have a problem.

Regardless of my disagreement with your stance on this, I hope that you don’t harbor any ill will towards me. Again, I fully respect your perspective. I just don’t agree with it. And if that upsets you in any way, I truly am sorry. Perhaps you should take this as a chance to become a bit more open-minded that not everyone shares the same viewpoint as you do. If not, that’s fine too. I just thought I would let you know where I’m coming from and fully respond to your rather explicit, presumptuous message.

I wish you and your family nothing but the best in the future."

That's all... Happy writing and living, folks!