Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rest in Peace, Maurice White

Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, passed away today. I have loved Earth, Wind & Fire's distinctive, jazz-infused music since I was a kid growing up in the 1970s. I remember when my schoolmate/neighbor Brandy Singleton's older brother used to play Earth, Wind & Fire records in his parents' garage. The power of music paired with poetic words to inspire and uplift is mystical; there is some connection between sound and word and synapse and emotion for which there may be some scientific explanation--but that explanation does not capture the essence of how that connection can be transformative.

Music has always been my comfort, my adrenalin, my fuel. It can fire me up, it can soothe my soul, it can help me shed tears that need to be shed--and when it seems like there will be no joy or hope again, music reminds me how beautiful life can be.

"September" is such a perfect song! I loved it as a kid, when I was naive and hopeful; I love it now as a man when I am no longer naive but--in my better moments--still hopeful. When I hear "September," images flow through my head the way that the old newsreel clips scrolled across Spock's tricorder in the classic Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever." I think of Brandy's brother and elementary school and times that I drove around with an Earth, Wind & Fire tape delivering sounds of joy and I think of meeting my friend Erika for the first time at (fittingly) the Friendship Cafe. The soundtrack of our lives evolves as we evolve. The music remains the same and yet it is different each time we hear it, because we are different. As the saying goes, you can never enter the same river twice (watching the X-Files and seeing Mulder and Scully wonder about the fate of their son William is a lot different as the parent of a 17 month old than it is as a childless man who had no thoughts of becoming a parent).

I just heard "September" less than an hour ago on Sirius XM during an airing of "Artist Confidential," followed by the band members explaining the song's origins. The song's auditory river is different every time and yet it is comfortingly the same because of the pure joy it radiates.

Hearing "September" for the first time since Maurice White passed reminds me how much I have changed over the years and yet how much who I am at the core will never change: when I was a kid, I was curious, talkative, filled with naive enthusiasm and sensitive but strong. Now I am curious but I know that some questions have no answers; I am talkative but I have learned the value of silence; I am filled with enthusiasm but no longer naive; I still feel things deeply (which may seem like weakness to some) but I know that true strength flows from passion and compassion, not just the ability to generate force (mental or physical).

The passage of time is so mysterious. Sometimes a day seems to last forever and sometimes three decades pass in a blink of an eye. Earlier tonight I caught part of the ESPN 30 for 30 show about the 1985 Chicago Bears. Can it really be 30 years since they wiped out the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl? It seems like only yesterday.

It is breathtaking to see the footage of Walter Payton running nimbly and then using his forearm as a club to gain an extra yard. Never die easy, indeed! And yet it is sobering to realize that Payton did die, many years ago. Jim McMahon noticeably shows the ravages of all those hits he took and all those painkillers he consumed to get back on the field as quickly as he could. The specter of CTE looms over every one of those crushing blows delivered by the Bears' legendary 46 defense.

These words might not seem to have much to do directly with Maurice White but I think that he would understand and appreciate my larger message--and I hope that he would be warmed by my heartfelt thank you to him for the joy he has brought and continues to bring to so many people. Is there a greater or more meaningful power than to use one's talents to bring joy to other people?

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