Wendy found Norah Jones in her stocking this Christmas. Not literally, that would've been a gift for me, but her new CD, "The Fall". We've been enjoying it quite a bit. However, if I had paid heed to one disparaged purchaser on I-Tunes, I'd have missed out on this treat. An armchair critic reviewed the CD, giving it low marks and pining, "What happened to my Norah?"
Apparently, these guitar-driven tunes, not unlike something you might hear from Rickie Lee Jones, aren't what this listener expected. She wanted "Come Away With Me 2" or "Norah Sings the Standards", I'm guessing. Perhaps Norah's slice of Americana pie wasn't to her liking, but the question she poses - What happened to my Norah? - touches an artistic nerve with me.
While there are certainly some entertainers who are willing to sell their soul to sell a few CDs, books, or movie tickets, it is admirable, I think, for an artist to follow their muse, even if it takes them out of public favor. The artistic spirit is a restless one, and stagnation is nothing short of calamitous. Wrongheaded inspiration, such as a vanity project, can lead to such missteps as Waterworld , the extra 300 pages in a Tom Wolfe novel, or any number of art-rock concept albums. But, to not risk, to not dare, leaves the rest of us mere mortals here on the ground with nothing to show us what's possible. Evolution and creation may be diametrically opposed in Southern Baptist pews, but in art, both are required. One must create, and then one must evolve before they create again.
I'm sure a number of onlookers gawked when Salvador Dali went from bowls of fruit to melting clocks. A lot of fans tuned out when the Beatles stopped rhyming 'June' with 'moon', missing out on "Revolver" and every masterpiece thereafter. And why couldn't Woody Allen keep making those Marx Brothers-inspired slapstick flicks like "Bananas"?
The word 'artist' gets thrown around too often, to be sure, but a word that doesn't get used enough is 'audience'. We are called 'the consumer' more often these days. As a consumer, we feel entitled to get exactly what we want from our favorite actor, filmmaker, author, or musician. However, as an audience member, we are a more active participant, a part of the creation process. We watch the arc of our favorite artists' journeys, and we accept that some steps may take them out of our comfort zone. They may make a Holocaust film after we fell in love with their comedies, an acoustic folk album when we know them for their edgy guitar rock, a Broadway musical about rollerskating toys when we want more songs about cats. No, wait, scratch that last one.
But, even though I find little that's redeeming in the work of Sir Lloyd Weber, I will say, he's followed his muse, even when it's led to wretched excess. Good for him.
And good for Norah, who is following her muse and inviting those open-minded enough to join her on the journey.