The Soul Man Who Walked Away
I became explicitly aware of Bill Withers through working with Kevin Russell in Shinyribs. (We have covered two of his songs throughout the years. We just played one this past Saturday.) I had no doubt heard some of his material, but was not overtly familiar with him. He is still someone more on the periphery of my vision. Everyone in Shinyribs is older than me, so perhaps it is just an age thing. However, there is so much music in the world that is easy to let something, even something important on occasion, slip past you.
Anyway, the above Rolling Stone article is interesting if you are a fan or not. Apparently Withers is one of the few people who retired from the music business willingly at the top of their game. The article dives into why Withers made that decision, among other things.
I only just found out about Jon Stewart’s decisions to retire from The Daily Show tonight. I realize many of you have probably already heard about this. I don’t need to be the one to tell most of you that we have been lucky to have him on television since 1999. The Daily Show has been a place we could go to laugh and remain sane in these years of insanity. Not only is his own contribution tremendous, but without him we would have never had The Colbert Report. I have only seen one episode of The Nightly Show, but hopefully that and whoever takes Stewart’s spot will keep this kind of truth telling comedy going.
I think the most important thing Stewart is done is helped people decode the bullshit that is cable news. It’s true that many people before Stewart knew that something in our media wasn’t right, but sometimes it helps to have someone that can adequately verbalize what you feel. Night after night he was not only able punch through the mask of talking head absurdity, but provide people with the tools to do it themselves.
Why is it that, so often in our society, comedians are the only ones that can get at the truth? If we had a mainstream news media that was actually doing its job, Stewart wouldn’t have been needed. However, many of us unfortunately know that he, or someone like him, was needed. Because he could do what he did through humor, he was able to get away with things that others could not. One of my favorite quotes, that I have probably used too frequently here is Oscar Wilde’s quote, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”
Hopefully there will come a time when someone like Stewart isn’t needed, when we can actually trust television media to give us an accurate picture of what is going on in the world. I don’t think that time will be soon though. In the meantime, lets be glad that he was able to slip unnoticed through the gates, in this kingdom of madness.
Above is Jon Stewart’s famous Crossfire appearance. Crossfire was a show on CNN. It was a typical cable news program where you would have one rightwing pundit and one leftwing pundit debating the issues, without any kind of real insight give. There also was no weight given to either argument, letting the viewer know if one or both were at all rooted in fact. Jon Stewart went on and at the time did the unthinkable: He told the truth about why this kind of show was so meaningless. Crossfire didn’t last much longer.
I am finding out late, as keeping up with my own blog has not allowed me the time to read his like I once did, that Andrew Sullivan is retiring from blogging. I am deeply saddened at this. I think Sullivan’s The Dish is the best blog going, a blog which greatly influenced this one. Sullivan is someone whose interests seem to know no bounds. You can go there any day and find discussions on politics, religion, art, and any number of topics. Although his blog skewed slightly to political issues, I would say only slightly. Some days you will pull up his blog and find a poem at the top of his page. Sullivan is Catholic, gay, and moderately conservative on some issues. (If you use the word conservative in the way that it used to be before the anti-science, corporatist, religious right completely took over.) I am none of those things. However, I knew that anytime I went to his page I would be opened up to new ideas, and most importantly, made to think.
There are several minor stylistic things that I stole from Sullivan, like not allowing the typical internet comments to play a part in the discussion. (As they usually just end up consisting of endless tirades and insults.) If Sullivan had a reader write a thoughtful dissent to what he wrote he would post it. He allowed the best of his critics a voice.
But more importantly was the idea that a blog didn’t have to be something narrowly defined. That in its own way it could be a kind of art form and window into the world. Political ideas, poetry, videos, and all manner of things could exist on a blog in the same way they do in our real lives. His blog created a community that was hungry for ideas and that wanted to think and be challenged. His blog inspired critical thinking and how many things in our media saturated world can you say that about? It was the first blog that I remember that was outward looking and not just a diary of the self. Although you felt like you got to know Sullivan through his writing, he was much more concerned in trying to shed light on the world.
I am hoping that this is a premature retirement, that like many musical acts he will return after a brief interlude of rest. If not, his blog was extremely important to my life and I know to many others. Although there is still talk of The Dish continuing in some form, I advise you to check it out while he is still at the helm: