David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 23: Beth Hart (Thankful)

May 19, 2020

As a child and as a middle-aged man (does 58 still count as middle-age?), I can sometimes use a good kick in the pants.

As a child I squandered opportunities to learn the very thing I most learned to love throughout my life: music. My parents had me take piano lessons when I was young (the piano is a key figure in my parents' and my lives; if interested read Piano Center Stage). I banged away, poorly and without motivation, for a few years but abandoned the instrument as an early teenager, because it just wasn't cool enough. I wanted to be more Brian May than Freddie Mercury, and while I loved Elton John, I was the first to agree with him that a piano was no instrument for looking sexy.

Truth of the matter is, if I had picked up a guitar and tried to learn it, I might be forgiven, but I did nothing.

As I got older, I realized that the piano, with its great range of tone and deep resonance, could take listeners to dark places in our psyche, id, libido, whatever the psychologists claimed really ruled us.  Take a piano's resonance and overlay it with a sexual tension born out of voice and lyric, and the piano could be the sexiest instrument in the world. More importantly, it had the range to capture the light of heaven as well as the fire of hell.

I recently realized this with the amazing singer/songwriter Beth Hart, whose War In My Mind showcases her amazing piano-playing abilities, smoky-deep voice, and sensual lyrics. Hart is no newcomer to the music scene, releasing 13 albums since 1993. I just happened to finally discover her. Somehow I missed her until this last year, thanks to my sister, Lisa, who is the one person able to still seem to find me cool music I have completely missed.

Beth Hart's seductive voice, steamy lyrics, and impassioned piano playing come to a head (leave it alone) on many songs on War In My Mind, leaving a listener frequently breathless. However, the highlight of the album is the exquisitely gorgeous "Thankful," where many of her demons, erotic or not, are left behind in a glorious statement of thanks. I hear it and I get the kick in the pants I need as an adult. Gratitude is something easy to forget in a time of uncertainty, of militant mentality on all sides within our society, and of great loss both personal and professional over the last decade.

The link below is to a live version of Hart's "Thankful," because I know many of us will be thankful when we can see live music again. I only discovered this performance while searching for the best link, and it comes from barely 6 months ago. Hart's song is another live performance in an intimate setting (similar to what I described with Justin Currie), so intimate that you wonder how the drummer can play without hitting a fellow musician or audience member. The intimacy allows you to see the beauty that is Hart, her background singer, her band (make sure you get to the very end to see the group embrace among Hart and her rhythm section), and her song-writing. I am thankful for this reminder of what matters.

Look, just go and listen to the damn song, because I am pretty sure most people reading this have never heard it. Listen to that simple piano melody provide the dainty melody. Tell yourself what you are still thankful for. I start with 5 musicians being about to take such a simple melody and lyric and transform it to a majestic testament to what it means to be human:

I feel my father holding me/I feel my spirit learn to breathe/

I look into my mother's eyes/I know this must be paradise.

Or

Thank you for the big climb/thank you for the fall/thank you for my life/thank you for it all.

Or

I hear whispering in the trees/I hear their towering melodies/They share their ancient memories/They sing
"we're all family."

Or

It's a beautiful life in all the little things/So I stand in the light and I see everything.

Or

Thank you for the laughter/Thank you for the chance/Thank you for the madness/Thank you for the dance.

I dare you not to be moved, especially by that line. I dare you, whether 11, 58, or 90, to forget the value that art has to our psyches. Shakespeare might have written "first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," he is a reminder that the last thing we do, let's kill all the artists.

"Thankful." Beth Hart. War In My Mind. Provogue. 2019. Link to live performance here.

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Day 24: Elvis Costello "How To Be Dumb." ->

See full unfinished list here.