Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country is a memoir comprised of the author’s greatest one-liners, the most memorable of which has a simple message: “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable.”
That is why, before sitting down to write my last editorial for The Suss, I listened to Ornette Coleman’s 1959 classic The Shape of Jazz to Come. Jazz, especially free jazz has always given me energy, and perhaps because of the heavy subject matter often tackled in this column, or perhaps because of a reluctance to write my last editorial, I found myself scant of energy.
My mind walked with Charlie Haden’s basslines and I found myself writing an article that contained something I usually outlaw from anything I edit; a first person narrative. The free spirited nature of Coleman’s playing led to me let go and drop my self-imposed rules.
The spark felt while listening to music brought me back to Vonnegut, a literary hero of mine since I read Slaughterhouse Five at age 15. Vonnegut was a wise man, the kind of man that the world needs, and he certainly understood the importance of the arts.
I read Slaughterhouse Five because, at 15-years-old, I was bored of life in rural Kilkenny and needed to escape into something; the time traveling escapades of Billy Pilgrim were perfect for me. It’s the same reason John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood captivated me as a child: these views into other worlds made the boring life I led more bearable.
This space has often been used to point out what is wrong with the world of the arts and entertainment; that is not a source of regret. The counterproductive and ultimately pointless nature of awards season still rings true and we as a society still feel oddly comfortable handing our money over to entertainers and artists who have shown that they don’t deserve it.
If any regret does exist on my part, it is that perhaps this space hasn’t always reflected my love for everything artistic. Of course, I love the arts; I wouldn’t write about them or critique them so heavily if I didn’t care deeply about them.
Vonnegut was 100% right: a drive to work on a summer’s day is made more bearable if Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap plays on your stereo, a walk home in the rain made better if you get to watch Annie Hall once you get home and a long flight around the world is better passed by reading Stoner.
Your examples may be different from mine, but the important thing is that you have examples. The arts are the greatest labour of love known to man. You or I could be the next Vonnegut. Don’t just appreciate, participate.
Like Vonnegut said: “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”
Odrán de Bhaldraithe