I saw a bumper sticker the other day: “Siri for president.” I laughed out loud. Who wouldn’t want a truly smart person to lead us who could provide direction, information, and assistance on nearly anything, in a pleasant voice, even-tempered, polite, professional and unbiased?
I suppose it would, after all, take a skillfully programmed, artificial intelligence to do that. Which is sad, when you think about it. Why can’t humans be as intelligent and as nice?
Singer-songwriter, Julie Gold, who gave us the Bette Midler song, “From a Distance,” was interviewed a few years ago and was asked what she might have been if she had not been a musician. She said,
“I've never had any other loving heartfelt desire. From the minute I heard music I knew why I was born. To make music to play, to listen to music; and for some reason I have been lucky enough to live this beautiful life as a musician. I don't know. I don't know what else I would have done, because I love music too much. For anyone who has that calling and is trying also to make a living at it, it is really hard. Getting gigs and getting listened to. Getting respect, it's hard. It’s what bonds us all because we have been so rejected and dejected. Yet we know in our hearts why we are here.”
“We know in our hearts why we are here.” What a beautiful statement of self-confidence and yet humility. Since a child, she knew she was born to be a musician.
I truly wish we had a musician, or a novelist, or a poet, or a painter or sculptor, to be our president. They live out of their hearts. They understand human emotions. Most of them have had to work hard, grueling years, often through long periods when their gifts were never noticed, rejected and dejected, as Julie Gold said, with no financial rewards. They know how to survive. Many of them, even those who have highly succeeded, have no real interest in fame or big money. They produce art because they have lived it, and they love it, and it touches us where most of us live. Broken relationships. Lost love. The brutality and waste of war. The lethalness of hate. The wreckage of greed. Death. Loss. Grief. The thrill of intimacy. The glory of color. The magnificence of music. Songs that bring us to tears or lift us into heights of euphoria. Novels that leave us collapsed in frightening self-awareness and longing or help us enter a world of tenderness and utter compassion. Paintings that astonish, overcome us, and move us to reverence. Poems that reveal our deepest feelings and send us exhausted from their truth.
Could sculptors Frederic Remington (old west figures) or Gutzon Borglum (Mt. Rushmore) have led our country well? Could we have been in good stead under the presidency of Walt Whitman, Georgia O’Keefe or Ansel Adams? Would Etta James or Aretha Franklin or Toni Morrison or Mary Oliver been capable to run our nation properly? Yes. In every instance, yes.
Picasso once said, “We artists are indestructible; even in a prison, or in a concentration camp, I would be almighty in my own world of art, even if I had to paint my pictures with my wet tongue on the dusty floor of my cell.”
Give us leaders with that kind of passion and devotion to ideas and yearnings greater than themselves and we would have some kind of government.
Writer William Burroughs—iconoclastic, brutally honest, visionary—once said that artists are the real architects of change.
How right he was. They lend their brilliance to us in gifts of words, photographs, songs, paintings, sculptures, ideas, insights, vistas and images, lyrics and sounds that inspire us to acts of courage, to deeds of transformation, to insights into ourselves and our world that challenge us to love better and to live openly and alive.
I may very well write in Mark Twain this year. What a president he would have made.
Copyright © 2016 Timothy Moody