Winter 2023 Newsletter

I sense generations of lives lived, and a knowing, hopeful look towards the future in Jordan Casteel (2020)’s beautiful portraiture of Medinilla, Wanda, and Annelise. From New Museum exhibition: Within Reach.

Dear R&A Community,

“You won’t find the same person twice, not even in the same person.”
– Mahmoud Darwish

It seems in this season where things do not grow outside that this stillness fixes our gaze to inward change and evolution. I have been noticing that there seems to be a cultural shift away from New Year’s resolutions to something more mindful, ongoing and improvisational. I like this. In each new moment, a new universe. Maybe it’s all the meditation and mindfulness we are now doing (or contemplating doing) that the idea of planning for a new year, new me just rings false. Maybe we are just heartsick thinking of the violence in Gaza, Israel, Ukraine, Congo, Columbia…Perhaps we are steeling ourselves for the ugliness of the presidential election cycle to come and the fragility of all our institutional sand castles.

On the matter of personal evolution, a memory of tender, gracious conversation recently occurred to me that took place between the legendary music producer Rick Rubin and the indeterminately cool artist and musician André 3000 back in 2019 on the podcast Broken Record. They were having an open and frank conversation about the nature of creative work and the struggle to reinvent oneself. In speaking about the metaphorical waves of his generative output, André spoke openly about the struggles he was having, feeling like his wave had “dipped low” and had “got[ten] stuck”, saying plainly when asked if he was making any new music that:
“My focus is not there, my confidence is not there…I tinker. I tinker a lot, but I haven’t been motivated to do a serious project. In my own self…where do I sit? Maybe I’m nothing. Maybe my history is handicapping me in some way.”


“You don’t have to be new to make new music.” André 3000 in conversation with Rick Rubin on the Broken Record Podcast on December 17, 2019. (c) Pushkin Industries.

The weighty shadow of André 3000’s public persona as part of the rap duo OutKast seemed to have penned him in at that time, constricting who he thought he could be. However, there were also lovely seeds of his recently released instrumental album, New Blue Sun, scattered all over their conversation from over four years ago, like little fireflies emerging at dusk on a summer night. André spoke about feeling that “I am at my best when I do this random instrumental thing. It makes me feel the most rebellious”. And despite what people might expect from him as a musician who made his indelible mark with his words, that he had been feeling mostly that lyrics “bombard you” and that he likes “music [he] can have [his] own thoughts to.”

You can hear both the pleasure of this new unexpected direction, as André imagines a world tour taking place in flea markets, and the despair and uncertainty of where these new passions would take him. Rick Rubin then said to him the simple yet profound, “you don’t have to be new to make new music,”. Their conversation continued with a litany of successful artists that felt the urge to become someone else or pivot dramatically in order to continue to express themselves in an authentic way (e.g. The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Radiohead and Kid A). This invitation seemed to connect with André, who added to the discussion a cautionary parable about a blues player that after his fame and success needed to “hire a woman to break his heart” to continue writing sufficiently melancholic and lamenting music.


André 3000 on CBS This Morning, December 6, 2023, “I don’t sit and try to rap every day like when I was younger…I miss those times a lot, but it’s like life changes, life moves on.”

The interview ends with André talking with guarded, yet growing pleasure about the joys of “messing around” with playing saxophones while listening to John Coltrane and daily dedications to learn the bass clarinet, Coltrane’s first musical muse, with the goal of being able to play along with what he hears. “I want to serenade whomever is around,” André offers. As we hear from the podcast producer at the close of the conversation, he has gone and done that, playing flute for customers in front of a Starbucks. Oh the small rebellion and quiet courage of that.

I try to imagine all the emotional undulations of his creative moments of self-doubt and discovery that followed their conversation, and that ultimately resulted in among other things an album of featuring his flute playing and composition released to the world that starts with the track titled,“I swear I Really Wanted To Make a “Rap” Album, But This is Literally The Way The Wind Blew Me This Time”. I wonder as I connect it to my own new evolutions this year, what inflection points that might have moved him from despair and uncertainty to a beginner’s mind that can, as the musician Jon Baptiste has said, “revel in being lousy” in order to experiment with and then sustain creative acts.

In each new moment, a new universe.

To our collective continuing evolution.

Reveling in being lousy,

Courtney

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