The Miracle of Art


If you ask me what my favourite song is that I've written, I'll almost always say it's the most recent one. Deep down, I know this isn't necessarily true, but it’s simply a manifestation of the recency bias. Put another way, I tend to think more fondly of my most recent songs compared to older ones.

This isn't unique to me from what I gather, I've heard a few explanations and rationalisation for this phenomenon from other artists on my local scene. One explanation is that you get tired or bored of your older material after months or years of touring and playing them over and over, so when you get a new idea for a song, and when a new song comes to life, it provides respite and it represents a break or departure from the old material you've played ad infinitum. 

This preference for newer material relegates the older ones to the background. Another way to say this is that the old stuff is the opportunity cost of the new, or time spent practising and performing your new songs is time not spent playing the old one. There's nothing wrong with this on the face of it. After all, we're meant to continue creating, writing, and producing new songs and stories and ideas. But tension arises when you consider the fact that sometimes, people only want to engage with the older, more familiar material. 

Just as every artist will tell you about their preference for their newer material, every artist will also tell you about that one song from years ago that gets requested over and over at gigs, live streams and events. Again, there's nothing wrong with this. It is a joy to create something that brings people joy, and it is flattering to have them express their fondness for your material in the form of regular requests. However, it is inevitable that as time passes, your relationship to your old material will change. You might find that the old songs no longer represent you, or that you don't recognise the person who wrote them, or that you're in a different head space or situation compared to that which applied to you when you first wrote them.  And yet these requests don't go away. You still have to find a way to give the performance your audience deserves when necessary. 

I've previously written about how works of art are like snapshots that capture a time, place and emotion. Time will pass, you'll move on from that place (literally or figuratively speaking), and emotions will subside, but the artwork will remain. It will continue to represent a version of you frozen in time. It captures your experience so that future versions of you can look back and relive them, or reminisce, or long for the good times, or be thankful for difficult times gone by.

I experienced this recently. Two weeks ago I wrote about a performance I gave at my friend's wedding as per her request. What I didn't say is that the songs I performed (again, requested by the bride) are some of the older ones I've written, and the opportunity to perform them allowed me to reminisce about a different time and place, and suite of emotions. It was a joy to play those songs at my friend's wedding, knowing that it was my small contribution to a lovely day, but also because it helped me appreciate how far I've come. 

One of these songs is called Special Is What You Are. The other is called This Is Our Place. One thing these songs have in common is that people tend to find them uplifting, at least based on the feedback I’ve received. Another thing they have in common is that the songs both came from a really dark place, which is something people struggle to believe when I tell them. I may dedicate a future post to telling the origin stories of these songs, but for now, suffice it to say that as I reflect on this, I realise that there’s something amazing about channelling a negative experience into a work of art, like a painting or a sculpture or a poem or germane to this post, a song that people love, so much so that it has become a wedding request. This, to me, is nothing short of a miracle. One might even call it the miracle of art.

PS: Just a reminder that my latest single, Feels Like Rain is out now, everywhere. You can listen to it on several platforms. Please share it with a friend, share it with your social networks, and consider subscribing to the newsletter (below), my YouTube channel, or wherever else you listen to music.

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