“You can’t eat a song.”

Lyle Lovett interview in Acoustic Guitar, July 2012

The interview is a gem. I might blog one other thing in it that I felt to be relevant to the conduct of philosophy. But it’s the little things that matter – his use of capos, how he started songwriting (“I tried to learn a song written by somebody else and couldn’t figure it out”), his “process” (make up stuff while doing something like driving and keep thinking about it). You really want to read this.

The quote I want to examine in full:

As essential as the arts are to people like you and me, to our emotional state and well-being, they aren’t essential to the economy. You can’t eat a song. It’s a privilege to do something that’s supported by other people.

Something about this strikes me as peculiar. First, he distinguishes between people who are really into the arts (“you and me”) from everyone else. Yes, he concedes there is necessity (“You can’t eat a song”), but he lumps that in with “essential to the economy.” That’s not quite the same thing as necessity; the issue is what is important for human being (he brought up “well-being” not much earlier). “It’s a privilege to do something that’s supported by other people:” he’s grateful, but a hierarchy has been set. The arts are worthy of support and this has already been conceded.

I’m not saying Lovett is arguing esoterically for the superiority of the arts. But he’s a sharp guy and his words seem to be carefully chosen. We have necessities to take care of.  And artists should be grateful. No one is arguing either. The argument for the arts has always been greater than “we have the necessities covered, let’s do something else.” The Aristotelean contention that leisure is a precondition for contemplation or philosophy slyly hides that people have willingly been killed for idols, their heritage, the junk around the house important to them. Leisure is perhaps for a specific sort of art, something that may not be an art. It may be the space within which we ask questions.

1 Comment

  1. 1. I don’t know. Balloon manufacturers are supported by other people. People buy balloons to make their kids happy. If nobody bought balloons there would be no balloon business. You can’t eat a balloon either.

    2. “He talked about how you can’t force yourself to be creative,” Lovett says. “He said, if you’re stuck, you just need to change your pace and do something that’s completely different.

    I agree it’s a good idea to take a walk or something when things get tough creatively. But, I force myself all the time. I deliberately make a decision to write, to get myself out of “normal” mode and into “creative” mode.

    3. It is definitely the “space within which we ask questions” and the space where we receive answers to questions we didn’t even know we asked.

    Sorry for the lengthy reply so early in the a.m. Your article inspired me, Ashok.

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