Art Is Essential

Back in 1969, I had sensory overload. I was freed from high school for one thing. As a part of a class of 500, high school was mostly sensory deprivation.

My mom was on the art museum board. I had been doing some drawing and painting and Mom took me to the museum director to share my art. Haha, he said it was psychotic. That should have been encouraging as I remember some wise words that consensus is not science. Black sheep and outliers stand out with great discoveries that have advanced science. At a time when the consensus was to send people like me to get scarred for life with Agent Orange or administer the final solution to Vietnamese farmers, being psychotic made me the sane one.

Anyway, the museum board was taking a bus up to L.A. to see an exhibit of 114 drawings and paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. There was room for the neighbor girl and I on the bus with the ladies. I’m so glad Van Gogh had his brother to keep him alive. As luck would have it, I later saw the same exhibit in San Francisco and New York. That’s three tear-filled times!

All this came to mind as we had lunch and Dawn was putting a Valentine card she had painted into an envelope. I have been amazed at her artwork and am afraid she might be found out and move to the city. Don’t tell. The painting was of a cow. I sing, “You’re a cow!” She can sing better.

The summer of 1969 was famous for Woodstock. But two weeks earlier was when George Wein freaked out and invited rock and soul bands to his iconic Newport Jazz Festival. In an earlier Newport Folk Festival, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band had broken the ice for Bob Dylan to go electric, much to the dismay of die hard folkies. Breakthrough infections happened back then too.

This is definitely sensory overload. Part of the lineup at Newport: George Benson, Anita O’Day, Jimmy Smith, Jeff Beck, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Roland Kirk, Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, Miles Davis, John Mayall, Mothers of Invention, Dave Brubeck, Stefane Grapelli, Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, B.B. King, Buddy Rich, Johnny Winter, and Led Zeppelin. Needless to say, I don’t remember it all.

When my dad said, “Why don’t you do something constructive?” I took that in a way a Bolshevik or Maoist might. The only good art to them was patriotic songs and posters glorifying “the workers.”

In a conversation recently with my oldest good friend (also an exceptional artist), he mentioned capitalism in a negative light. So I looked it up to see what’s up with people who didn’t understand Marx. Up popped an article on Vox, a traditionally left-leaning website. They quoted Kevin Williamson, a phony conservative who writes for the phony conservative magazine, National Review. The gist of what he said was that we need just enough capitalism for the economy to thrive and pay for “necessary” socialist programs.

I hitched across the country to be at Newport and pay my $4.50. Vincent’s brother, Theo was a dedicated brother. But he did make money from Vincent’s art. Maybe “constructive” should be defined by the money spent to enjoy it.

What capitalism has done is make it worthwhile to excel. Although George Wein loved music enough to want to share it with as many people as possible, the fact that those people worked jobs and saved their money so they could get to Newport shows that the multitudes are made up of individuals doing their thing to make it work for each of us.

Ever since 1969 I haven’t looked at the world the same. And to think I get a free concert and fine art every day here at home. Life is good.

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