I spent the latter half of a work day on Saturday watching the Soul Train awards with my client. Normally I wouldn't watch a music awards show because since I am a creature of habit and my music range is limited to about fifty artists, I don't know most of the bands or individuals being presented to or by (some of you can verify this; I only listen to new music when you give it to me, never because I sought it out myself). But there I was, at the mercy of my 84-year-old lady's entertainment whimsy. It was either WTTW news or Soul Train. Soul Train won. Odd choice, I thought, but apparently it's her bag.
So there we were, not enjoying either Vivica Fox's cleavage nor the Black Eyed Peas' sub-par performance of "My Hump," when onto the stage walks Stevie Wonder, a beacon in this, the soulless land of a musical genre gone wrong. Mr. Wonder (whose title is so appropriate) is there to give out the, get this, "Stevie Wonder lifetime achievement in songwriting" award. He gives his prepared speech explaining the tradition of the award, how he thinks it strange to be presenting an award of his own name, etc. Then, just before he is to announce the winner he pauses, says, "Now, I want to say something else before we give this award out. This is for all the musicians and producers in here tonight: you have to remember that you have a responsibility as an artist. You have to remember that the music you create is out in the world now, forever. I'm just asking you tonight to be aware of the music you put out there, because it's infinite. And now, I want to announce the winner of the Stevie Wonder award: R. Kelly."
Wait. What? Did I hear him right? R. Kelly as the winner of the lifetime achievement in songwriting award? I mean, let's forget about his personal life for a second, the underage sex partners, the miscellaneous acts of deviancy and indecency. Put all of that aside. The beauty of his music, that's what is on trial here.
Have you stopped snickering at my last statement? Go ahead, take a minute if you need to. Now, can you separate an artist from his art? Can you take his professional life and split it apart, truly and completely split it from his personal? Not only is it improbable to do so, it's impossible. You see, an artist has a unique position in the world in that his creative output is a reflection of the innerworkings of him, his soul. Likewise his soul's whim is what drives him to create the music that he does. In addition, his personal endeavors are motivated by his soul's desires. So, if the outcomes of both his professional endeavors (his music) and his personal endeavors (his sexual deviancy) are the same, are we not to assume they came from the same source (his soul)? I might be going out on a limb to say that R. Kelly is soulless. So I won't. And actually, I think he has a soul, but it's full of spite and sadness and longing, which is what makes him believe this world is all he will ever have, which makes him want to destroy it with his patented brand of "R&B to pee on a thirteen-year-old girl to."
But I digress. I don't care much about R. Kelly in the long run, except that someday I hope he finds enough joy in his life to make a song worth repeating the words of (didn't he once believe he could fly? When did he convince himself he was earthbound eternally?). Really, all I want is for "artists" like him to do one of the following:
A) Thank God for your singing/writing/producing talent and stop before thanking Him for getting you where you are today. God didn't ask you to sing about your humps, or if her man is on the floor, or how you just want to be some man's dessert. Nah, He gave you the gift to sing/write/produce, but I bet money He'd rather you sing about something NICE (i.e. not contradictory to His idea of goodness).
B) Stop mentioning God altogether when you accept your award. Know that your superficial shout-out to the Almighty is NOT indicative of the relationship He wishes you had with Him. The God you think you're thanking is shaking His head and better odds He's listening to nothing rather than Charlie Rich.
C) Truly thank God for your talents and use them to sing about good things. I know, doesn't that sound trite- good things- but I mean it; wouldn't it be wonderful if the audience got more excited to hear about the love and joy you feel for your life than anything Mariah Carey has to offer (please reference: any song on "The Emancipation...")?
It should be noted: Not every award given was illegitimately so. John Legend, for example, won several awards this year at S.T. He thanked his fellow musicians, his family, his fans and, only once, God, adding that it was because of God that he could sing at all, and for Him he was trying to do good in the eyes of. Amen, John.