The inner-ear of the artist

I wish James Taylor was my grandpa.

We’re pushing it, age-wise, with him being my grandpa — he’s probably closer to uncle-age for me, but that’s okay. Grandpa sounds better for some reason. It’s more sage-like.

I’d hang out with him in Massachusetts and we’d make cool musical instruments and build fires together (I even saw him collecting maple syrup straight from the tree on Facebook once — we’d definitely do that together).

Then we’d head to the barn where I’d jam out with his band (yep, if he was my grandpa, I’d obviously be an expert guitar picker) as the leaves turned outside and the sun set on the Berkshires.

JT represents the calm, creative soul that I hope to age into. He’s a man who’s survived the wild and craziest of the 60's and come out of it a better man.

He was the first musical love that I can remember. When I was about 10, I sat with my dad and watched his PBS special. My dad had his Greatest Hits tape, which I proceeded to repeatedly play until it wore out.

Most of my childhood days were spent with Sweet Baby James running through my mind. I snickered and felt rebellious when he said “chicken choking, motherf*cking…” in Steamroller.

Through James Taylor’s music, I escaped the calamities that littered my childhood, but in reflecting back while listening to it, I’m reminded of the simple, happy times spent with my parents and loved ones even though things weren’t always that great.

My wife and I got to see him in concert and it was one of the most enchanting evenings of our lives. Nothing brings a smile to our faces and an ahhhhhh to our breaths like reminiscing back on that evening in Tahoe.

It’s nice to see he’s still going strong. He just made an album with original material, so although his body may be aging (which you can hardly tell), his creative muscle is still growing.

I just caught an interview of him where he said something incredibly profound when asked about the inspiration for his new album…

“I tend to think of myself as the first person to hear these songs, not really the author of them.”
James Taylor (Jonas’ imaginary grandfather)

Did you hear that? He hears the songs, he doesn’t author them…

People who create great art are incredible listeners.

They’ve removed all static between their sense perception (their physical art, be it songwriting, drawing, coding, etc.) and the creative voice that lurks deep in their soul.

Right now, I’m finding inspiration in great orators and people with a dynamic, genuine stage presence because… well… I’m terrified of the stage, but I know it’s something I must overcome.

What strikes me about these people is how clear they come through without sounding scripted. Their thoughts are COMING TO THEM crystal clear. They’re at the point where all they have to do is say what they’re ‘hearing’ to the audience.

If this message from the great unknown was clouded by their small, fearful, egoic thoughts (“Do I look good?” “How’s my posture?” “Am I sweating?” “Why isn’t that guy listening to me?” “What can I say to REALLY knock their socks off?” etc.), they’d immediately lose connection with the audience.

Think of how often we do this kind of pep-talking to ourselves. Even if we’re ‘quiet people’, our smaller minds are constantly in blabbermouth mode.

Maybe a worthy exercise is to follow the routines of great creatives who’ve come before us and take a walk down a country road, a run through some mountains, or a seat along the shores of a small pond in Massachusetts.

Anything to quiet our rampant monkey minds so we can listen to that ever-present voice that speaks softly but powerfully behind the fuzzy signal of our inner dialogue.

Are you listening? What’s it saying?

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Jonas writes short daily maxims here at Higher Thoughts. To get them delivered straight to your inbox as soon as they’re live, click here.