For the first anniversary recording of the Lou Harry Gets Real podcast, I shared some thoughts about creativity, belonging, and a song I heard a year ago. Here’s a lightly edited version of what I shared.
On today’s show, we have three different worlds of music coming together.
Some of you may already know our musical guest, Joshua Powell, who has created a unique sort of folk mysticism in his haunting, beautiful music and who we’ve been wanting to get on the show for about, oh, a year now.
Shannon Forsell not only has played leads in musicals and charmed audiences with her cabaret act, but she’s also taken an Indianapolis arts company in danger of disappearing and transformed it into one of the city’s shining lights, The Cabaret.
And then there’s Jim Ansaldo, who has been an inspiration not just for his good work but for the attitude he brings to his work. Among other things, Jim incorporates spontaneous music into his improvisation projects.
And then there’s me–a guy with no musical talent whatsoever who is still stunned that he gets to hang out with people such as these.
See, I’m just a kid from Wildwood, a honky-tonk Jersey shore town where I learned about music from AM radio, 8 track tapes, the Columbia Record and Tape Club. and a girl who quoted Dylan to me as a way of breaking up.
“I’ll see you in the sky above and the tall grass and the ones I love…”
I tried reading Rolling Stone and Cream but they were beyond me. Instead, I learned about music from Mad Magazine, where the writers would often offer a parody lyric “sung to the tune of..” whatever. A common culture was assumed. And I figured I needed to know it.
Without the benefit of Spotify, I listened and tried to figure out what I liked, gravitating to an odd combination of folk music and Broadway, with the obligatory Springsteen factored in.
Real, live musicians, though, seemed a world away. Musicians were the people whose pictures were airbrushed onto the t-shirts I sold at The Fun Shop.
Creating something from nothing, musicians and filmmakers and theater people and visual artists and even radio people belonged to a different species. And they were a different breed from me. After all, I was just a guy from Wildwood.
I don’t believe in signs, but I do believe in wonders.
And I relish coincidence.
A year ago, I was nervously driving to what would be the first of these podcasts.
Here’s what I didn’t tell my Producer.
Like many people in the arts, I spend a lot of time thinking and hoping that someone doesn’t find out I’m a fraud. That I don’t deserve a platform. That I don’t deserve to be heard.
Driving to that first show, I flashed back to a night back in my hometown of Wildwood, NJ, population next-to-nothing (at least in the winter).
One day, I was asked by a friend to fill in on his weekly radio show on WCMC-AM while he was out of town. “Just play records you like for an hour,” he said. “And talk a little in between.”
I can’t remember if I was a freshman or a sophomore in high school at the time, The records I chose were an odd mix. If memory serves, I dropped some Arlo Guthrie and Phil Ochs and maybe some David Bromberg in there. Clearly, I wasn’t thinking about ratings. The music was a relief, though, because, in between songs, I froze.
I didn’t have anything to say and didn’t have the confidence to fake it.
I’m sure nobody was listening, but I was embarrassed nonetheless. What the hell was a schlub like me doing with a microphone in front of him, talking to strangers?
So about 40 or so years later, I’m on my way to the Aristocrat for that first podcast. And I tried to clear my head by listening to the Broadway channel on Sirius XM satellite radio.
And on comes the absolutely right song.
It’s a tune–actually part song/part monologue–from a musical you probably never heard of called “Now. Hear. This.” by Jeff Bowen, Hunter Bell, and Susan Blackwell.
The piece is called “Golden Palace.”
In it, a woman talks about her vision of where arts happen.
The Golden Palace is located just over the horizon. You can’t see it but it’s up there in a high up, out of reach, top of the world place. There, inside, are scientists, and mathematicians, destined to lead the way.
There, inside, are novelists and fine musicians, building great works of art.
She goes on…
The Golden Palace is where the beautiful people and the great thinkers, of this and previous generations, convene to bask in each other’s brilliance, and to create all the great works of art.
It’s ALL goin’ down in the Golden Palace: Michelangelo’s David, To Kill a Mockingbird, the X-Men. Yes, great work. Worthy work.
And the people that populate that place and pump out those important paintings, and poems, and pieces, are deeply intelligent, stunning, clean, privileged people.
There is no room in the Golden Palace for girls like me. Girls who come from what I come from.
I parked the car out front, across the street, and kept the radio on.
Near the end of The Golden Palace, the woman says:
I see my hands resting on the keyboard of my laptop. I look past my hands and the keyboard. I see through the panes of my studio window, out into the sharp winter woods.
I am typing this sentence, she says, at the MacDowell Artists’ Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where I have been granted a residency to work alongside some the greatest artists and writers on the planet, to write the words you are listening to right now.
There is a Golden Palace.
It’s a Chinese restaurant, located at 321 Nashua street in Milfod, New Hampshire
It’s not over the horizon,
It is not out of reach
The Golden Palace is anywhere we make it
It is anywhere we make anything we want to make
And there is room for all of us
Illiterate boys and the poets that they become
Awkward girls with big faces, and big feet and strange ideas
We all belong here
My fingers begin to move, to pluck letters, to arrange them in order…
It takes a lot to convince a guy from Wildwood that he belongs in a place where people think and care about music and poetry and ideas that aren’t purely utilitarian.
Over the past year, it has been an honor, a pleasure, and a kick talking to the people I’ve talked to and listening to the people I’ve listened to on this podcast in the past year.
And, honestly, we couldn’t do it without the generosity of the Aristocrat and you, the live–paying–audience.
I’m still NOT totally convinced that I deserve to be in this Golden Palace.
But it’s a beautiful place.
And the people I get to hang out with are pretty damn amazing.
I appreciate that privilege.
And, with your grace, I look forward to another exciting year.
P.S. On the way to the show, I once again was listening to the Broadway channel. This time, playing as I was pulling up was…
…”I Feel Pretty” from “West Side Story.”
Like I said, I don’t believe in signs.