I was wandering the internet the other day, no doubt seeking some universal truth or maybe just some freshly-unearthed cat memes. A run down my Twitter timeline led me to this link, a collection of Carpenters songs stripped down to just Karen's vocal tracks and maybe a bass line.
I was transfixed for a while, both tumbling back in time to when I was sporting some very Carpenter-esque bell-bottoms and other 70s embellishment, and absolutely frozen into place by Karen Carpenter's angelic, transcendent vocals. Go, listen, and then come back and read the rest of this. Go.
I sat there on my sofa, eyes closed, earbuds effectively acting as a time machine and a temporal barrier to anything 2012. Later, reading the comments on the post, I saw that others had done the same, immediately plopped in the middle of a restless Saturday spent housecleaning with parents, hearing the now nearly lost sound of the needle dropping onto vinyl and wandering for a precious millisecond until it found the first groove on the LP and tracked its way through to the end. I remembered those little spaces between songs on an album, the breathing room between songs, when you could see one tiny etched line that guided the tonearm to the next song, and the next. Album sides were an unbroken inward spiral, and if you were lucky your favorite artist would put a pre-Easter egg Easter egg on the album, sticking some little final song at the end for you that would go undiscovered until one day you forgot to get up and pick up the needle, and it would start, and you'd marvel at the intersection of whimsy and technology.
I listened to her voice, there on the couch, and thought about what it would be like to be an aspiring singer hearing something this perfect for the first time. Would you give up? Would you listen to her command of dynamics, her perfect pitch, the liquid clarity of her voice and just go do something else, never to pick up a microphone again? Would you feel so under-equipped, so unarmed, that your dream would die?
You've been there, haven't you? You design a few houses and then spend a day at Falling Water, you pick up a guitar and strum a few chords and then someone plays some Richard Thompson. You play a few open mics and then you listen to Karen Carpenter, all artifice stripped away, all cheesy double-tracked 70s doo-wahs pulled out without mercy to leave you staring at the reality that you will never get there, ever, and why even try?
You write some things, and you read a William Styron paragraph and you wonder about maybe just chucking your keyboard over a bridge somewhere, maybe giving it a temporary life as a bird, a more lofty life bestowed than your clumsy fingers will ever give.
Or maybe you find a flicker of inspiration. Maybe rather than compare, you exult in the ability of the human mind and your intricate corporeal machine to muster such beauty. Maybe, just maybe, that Styron paragraph and that Thompson chord and that Carpenter vocal are allowed to just saturate your soul and remind you that there is always room for more art, more beauty, more inspired passion in the world.
Maybe no one is under-equipped. Maybe some are just under-inspired, and overly scared, and maybe all it takes is just to try.
Maybe the beauty is truly in the work.