Regardless of what path you walk in life, there are often guides that inspire you and draw you toward a specific direction. Maybe you became an accountant because you loved the specificity and language of numbers in grade school. Perhaps you became a chef because you felt loved when your parents made you a flavorful and warm home-cooked meal as a child.
In my case, I became a pianist because of the artistic and personal freedom it gave me. I saw other pianists like Beethoven, Thelonious Monk, and Tori Amos create such gorgeous, rich, and powerful work. They inspired me to find my own artistic and creative path.
Luckily, we can find inspiration anywhere. You might be doing your morning jog and pass by a house with a blooming garden. Its colors, textures, and smells bursting at the seams.
You might be watching this, as I was one day, and be totally mesmerized . . .
Something as simple as the design of a chair, with its balance of sharp angles versus wide curves and soft textures vs. hard surfaces, can ignite an imagination:
There is literally inspiration everywhere. I find it beneficial when I am creatively stuck or when I am simply bored to call on my creative muses. I love to geek out on what I love most.
Here is a short list of some of my inspirational go-to’s:
Just about ANY Madonna music video. (I have been a big fan for years.) Her talent lies in her sharp point-of-view. The music and the visuals honor her perspective. She leaves nothing to chance. Badass women are my superheroes.
Any performance by Michelle Kwan at a US Figure Skating Championship. She schools us all on the confluence of intricate technical skill, gritty athleticism, graceful artistic expression, and fiery charisma. It is Asian power on full display.
An album called “August and Everything After” by Counting Crows. The lyricism and emotions in this album will reach into you. A collection of songs drenched in devastation and yearning never felt so good. Lead singer Adam Duritz’s voice is comforting and expressive. Imagine being wrapped in a soft blanket, sitting on a recliner in front of a fireplace, and holding a cup of warm coffee in your hands on the coldest winter day ever. This is what this album feels like. It is a masterful work. Here is a song from that album called “Anna Begins”:
A Piano. Any Piano. All Pianos.
So, what inspires you? What gets your creative fires stoked? It is ESSENTIAL to have a list of ideas, people, music, or artwork that inspire you that you can access quickly.
Find it, wherever and whatever it is. Be it on Youtube, Instagram, in a book, in your bedroom, or anywhere outside your front door. Geek out on it privately or publicly. Hold onto it for dear life and cherish it often.
Just as food and water feed our bodies, our inspirations will feed our spirits and enrich our lives.
As a bonus, she was 15 years old when she did this. This was a close call. Find out if she won at the end . . .
This week, I wanted to share some of the music that I have been getting into over the last couple of months.
me old school, but I still enjoy full albums from artists. These days,
everything centers around releases of singles. The market for music is
so crowded that it is easier for one song from an artist to break
through than a whole album. The huge decline in album sales over the
last decade has been a significant factor. The music business is a
business after all, and when the bottom line suffers, change becomes
imminent. The world of streaming in which the average music enthusiast
curates their own musical listening experience is the new normal.
Well, here at Tropical Shade of Green,
the album still gets all of the love. I appreciate the time and
thoughtfulness an artist invests in creating a full-bodied artistic
statement. Every song is a facet of a complete creative vision. These
are the kinds of works that I feast over.
are my music recommendations for Summer 2019. All three of the
following albums are masterpieces that make resounding, uncompromising,
and powerful statements.
Madonna: Madame X
This past Friday, June 14, 2019, was commonly regarded by Madonna fans the world over as “Madame X”
Day. As a long time fan of her work, I would be remiss not to recommend
the bold and masterful new album that she just unleashed. Madame X
is the persona who inhabits the universe in which the songs in this
collection exist. She is a spy who travels around the world living
multiple lives and spreading her own subversive manifesto of love and
makes this album so unique is its experimental nature. The music
literally takes unexpected, and often abrupt, changes in tempo and
style. Madonna raps, uses vocodor distortion on her voice, and once in a
while lets her natural vocals soar into tender moments of
vulnerability. For example, there is a song sung completely in
Portuguese and another one that uses a children’s choir backed up by a
magnificent and euphoric disco inferno of Madonna’s own conjuring (see
below to press play).
words “weird” and “bizarre” have been used by major news outlets to
describe this album. I personally would take that as a compliment, but
clearly, they missed the memo that this album is political and defiant.
It creates its own unconventional sonic landscape to make its
perspectives clear. This album is a portrait of an established and
iconic artist who has nothing more to prove but is taking enormous
creative leaps and risks in her work.
Above all, Madame X has
a complete work is beautiful. It feels like a journey to colorful and
exotic places infused with modern production, SICK beats, and the
emotions of a woman who has found her own way. Get a beverage of your
choosing. Finding a quiet place. Listen to this album all the way
through. Take in every subtle nuance and drastic turn, one glistening
and magical layer at a time.
Here is one of several standout tracks from Madame X.
Give it a minute to let it break its own ground at the beginning. If
you happen to be standing on a dancefloor, it won’t be long until you
are skybound into this piece of disco heaven . . .
Here is the video to one of the recent singles released from this album. It is a retelling of the Joan of Arc story portrayed by a queer, trans-identified, openly HIV-positive, African American rapper name Mykki Blanco. As a film, this is quite striking . . .
2. Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari
am relatively new to the music of Kishi Bashi, but I was instantly
mesmerized when I saw him perform at a show at the Basement East in
Nashville a couple of years ago. His work is stunning, and this album
lives up to his growing legacy of elegant pop music layered in textures
of strong melodies and evocative arrangements. Along with a lovely and
soothing voice, Kishi Bashi is a multi-instrumentalist and composer. His
live shows are more than worth the price of admission.
new album delves deep into an unsettling period in US history. Its
songs are meditations on the unjust internment of Japanese immigrants
during World War II by the US government. Thousands of them, including
whole families and children, were kept in concentration camps against
their will for periods of up to five years. The precedent that this
created has paved the way for the numerous detention centers housing
thousands of immigrants indefinitely all over the US today.
album is gorgeous. With its references to such a unforgivable period in
history, the music itself is light, airy, and even whimsical at times.
You would expect a more heavy-handed and angry expression, but Bashi
imbues this album with a softness and delicacy that invites thoughtful
introspection. There is a subtle and quiet sense of mourning that
colors each song. It is refreshing that no guns are blazing and no
indictments are made. Sweeping melodies and harmonies lift up the
courage and resilience of the people who were interred. This music is a
testament to their strength.
Here is a lovely track and video from the album called “Violin Tsunami” . . .
3. Sara Bareilles: Amidst the Chaos
have been a casual fan of Sara Bareilles for a while. The tone of her
singing voice is among my favorites of the many occupying our music
landscape at the moment. The songs on her newest offering really caught
Here new album Amidst the Chaos is
largely a reaction to the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election
and her grief at losing Barack Obama as President. A sense of loss and a
gritty struggle to maintain composure in a time of unrest are palpable
themes in the music. The songs are confessional and intimate. This work
feels less like a pop album and more like a hard but necessary and
lyrics are poignant and strong, and more than any other instant that I
can remember, Bareilles vocals absolutely soar. If there was ever any
doubt that she could really sing, this album would violently shut up the
haters. The beauty of it is that she’s not over-singing or trying to
impress anyone. There is an understatement that serves each song
perfectly and fully.
is a live performance of one of the album’s standout tracks called
“Saint Honesty”. I love this song. (In case you’re wondering, the
album version is just as good.)
three albums sustain a depth and vision that have clearly been refined
and honed with the greatest effort. I want to honor the work of these
incredible artists by inviting you to enjoy what they have created.
Madonna, Kishi Bashi, and Sara Bareilles on the streaming platform of
your choice and enjoy the bountiful feasts they have spread before us.
They will give you a nourishing that will feed your soul and sustain your spirit.