Thoughts on a great big world

A Great Big World has finally released its latest single, joined by Futuristic. (I’ve often complained—as in my earlier post, "Has Rock Gone Soft?"—that too many young musical artists take FOREVER between record releases.) Hopefully their next album will be forthcoming soon.

I don’t quite know why I like this duo so much, given their over-the-top earnestness, lack of grit, and absence of irony. Maybe it’s the childlike wonder and innocence they express. Or the pristine quality of their choir boy vocals. Or their courage to sing songs like this, reflecting a great big worldview.

I continue to encounter a great big world when I play the street, seeing a broader swath of humanity than ever before. When I did street singing decades ago I never questioned whether listeners would understand the songs I was singing. I do now. (Music is universal of course, but it helps to understand the language of the lyric.) Now I’m considering whether to sing tunes in different languages. Yet another example of how a small business (me, inc.) needs to serve a global market. Not to mention the generational thing: many Millennials don’t relate to the older tunes I grew up singing. My very youngest fans don’t seem to mind, however.

Testing out new material on a carefully selected focus group.  Photo by Aimee Dilger
Testing out new material on a carefully selected focus group.
Photo by Aimee Dilger

Probably THE most fun thing about playing the street—versus performing in clubs—is the possibility of ANYONE from my past bumping into me. (That’s highly unlikely if I play a nightclub, given that most of my friends no longer live in bars.) A few days ago my favorite high school teacher (in fact, my favorite educator of all time), Father John Howard S.J., happened upon one of my downtown street performances.

Jack—as we knew him—taught me Homeric Greek at Boston College High School a few short years ago—preparing me for what I thought would be a glorious academic career teaching dead languages. (That was before I was afflicted with the rockin' pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu—an incurable disease.) So it was a tad embarrassing to be singing the Sam Cooke lines, “Don’t know much about history” in front of him. But he must have been bubbling over with pride to see a former student rise to the pinnacle of success, playing bottleneck slide guitar for tips in the Public Garden. (I don’t bother to tell most people I have a side gig as a corporate consultant. It would ruin my image—and cost me some quarters in my guitar case.) But then again Jack is enough of an iconoclast to appreciate the unconventional. While in training to become a Jesuit priest, he once told my class of impressionable 16-year-old boys that THE most important book of all time was Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. (I didn’t even pick up on the oddity of that for about 20 years.)

All of this has me ponder (once again) what constitutes success anyway. In the short term, it’s often been connected with helping my clients—to out-innovate the competition, enfranchise cubicle serfs, and have some serious fun at work.

But when I played the street a few days ago I defined success more simply and more personally: touch a few people and earn enough to buy a veggie burrito at Chipotle. (Done! I was even able to afford extra avocado.)

But success in the largest sense? Well, it’s a great big question. And A Great Big World may be singing about it.

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  1. Success, for me, is tied to the definition of "wealth" I learned from Rolf Potts, author of "Vagabonding." He suggested that rather than measure wealth by the size of our bank account we measure it by how much time we spend doing what we choose to do as opposed to what we feel obligated to do.

    In an instant I went from feeling poor to feeling massively rich. Still do.

  2. You've come a long way with that Yale education..... that's more money than you guys earned on any given night at the exit.

    Maybe this great big world is a small world after all.

    1. As long as we define "happy" to mean something more than the temporary state. "Content" is a better word. After all, if you hear that a friend is sick, that might make you unhappy, but it doesn't take away success or contentment.

    2. Well, I've always felt happiness is overrated. At least the "emotion" of happiness. (Happiness is a tricky word.) I'd rather ride the roller-coaster, fully experience the highs & lows, find meaning in all of it, and contribute that to others.

      Looking at success in the big picture: as I get older/younger I'm seeing how important "purpose" is. Simply HAVING a purpose (whether or not you're fulfilling it) can be a great start.

      But maybe happiness for you includes all that.

      1. Having a reason to get up every day makes a big difference. I can't imagine success without purpose.

        It's a movie aimed at kids, but we watched Inside Out with our little one, and it's a brilliantly written thought experiment on emotional self-awareness. And one of those movies that an adult can find humor in, if you can find a kid to pretend you're watching it with.

        1. Thanks for the tip. I'll put it on my list. Yeah, that kid is never far away from me—the subject of my post tomorrow.

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