"What you are is
God's gift to you; what you make of it is your gift to God".
Actually, I recently heard a paraphrasing of the above quote that went, "Life is God's gift to you; what you do with it is your gift to God"...which I mention simply because I think this preserves the original expression of the thought, but puts it into words I find a bit more suited to this page. Moreover, I have to confess up front as well certain unmistakable feelings of irony that the light bulb of inspiration to use this line here (in any form) was flicked on while watching the Academy Awards...not that I'm against seeing great work -- and in particular great art -- rewarded, by any means. Still, somehow on those occasions -- and they were, surprisingly, not all that infrequent during the Oscars telecast, I have to admit -- when precisely the right words for describing what art means are uttered by those whose heads hang a little lower than usual not out of overwhelming humility in the face of being honored for excellence in utilizing their gifts, but the fact that they're weighed down by umpteen-carat diamond chandeliers suspended from their earlobes...well, forgive me, but the overriding stamp of "wealth" just plain cheapens the words for me. (Note: There are surely certain exceptions to this generalization, I have no doubt...nonetheless I likewise have no doubt you get my point.) To be honest, I've gotta say I find the annoying clang of a Salvation Army bell outside every shopping mall at Christmas time possessed of a richer tone...after all, at least the motivation of the latter is a cause for the good of others. But then, so are the earlobe chandeliers from the perspective of the publicity-seeking jewelry store from whom they're on loan for the night. Funny, I don't remember anything about the fairy godmother asking for a plug with regard to Cinderella's gown and glass slippers...but then, maybe that's what really shows us that the story is a "fairy-tale". And, maybe that's why fairy-tales ever remain so highly popular. Some may dismiss them as all too silly. Some truly "insane" might view them as noble. But, of course, one is only considered truly "insane" if one actually believes that such nobility is possible...and maybe even goes so far as to see it in the world around him.
And, yes, I do thank God for the gift of being insane.
Anyway, as that brings me back to the original thought that sparked this tangent, I like the sense of responsibility implied by that line...by the thought that life's a pretty big gift to try and think about returning in respectable measure. I mean, after all, it's kind of hard to go out and buy a bigger, better version, box it up and ship it off to Heaven, offer it the world around you or whatever, don't you think? It would be a nice, convenient and easy way out, I must say. But, if that's the kind of thing you've got in mind, well, who's the lunatic believing in fairy-tales now?
At the same time, I'm not saying I like the responsibility angle of that thought as a means of embracing some kind of masochistic guilt trip. You know, you OWE something in return. Okay, I think we do, considering, but that's beside the point. Rather, I view the whole concept primarily as a challenge. And, while I know there are some individuals out there forever looking for a short cut to any and every destination, personally I like a challenge. But, even if you happen to be one of the short cut types, well, actually this works for you as well. Because, if you believe what we're told in the book of Genesis, God created life out of absolutely nothing...beyond imagination, anyway. Yet we've been given the distinct advantage of already having "life" and/or "what we are" as the raw material to work with in "what we do with it" (..."what we make of it"...whatever). And, based on the different gifts that each of us are born with to make use of, there are a lot of different -- and indeed equally valid and worthwhile "what we do with it"s to choose from.
On a related note, I realize, of course, that there are many "occupations" or "lives", if you will, that could be ascribed to God Himself...I mean, all-knowing, all-powerful and present everywhere at the same time inherently offers a lot of options. Nonetheless, being of the artistic vein myself, personally, I've always thought of God as the first artist...after all the words that open the Bible are, "In the beginning God created...". And, based on that (to me, anyway, completely logical conclusion) it seems not at all a fairy-tale-like stretch that He'd have a special fondness for artists and their creations. I mean...talk about people made "in His own image", right?
Be that as it may, this isn't intended as a sermon or weighty theological discussion of any kind. I'm merely throwing out there for your consideration a few of the thoughts that started wandering around my brain after that aforementioned light bulb flicked on to illuminate them. And, at the same time, I'm attempting to draw some type of legible map from that light switch to the Michael McDermott show this page has been created (no pun intended) to describe. Or rather, I should say I'm attempting to draw a legible map through my own exploration of why the light bulb of that line flicked on to instantly illuminate the image of Michael McDermott, and the certainty that this was the central thought I'd been searching for around which to create this page's preface.
With that end in mind, let me just sketch in a
couple of additional side roads that explore the
Well, I guess I'd have to say that the point is when you consider what Cinderella was able to make of her life with only those miniscule moments -- and I'm not talking about catching a rich prince as an aim and end of life...I'm referring to the fact she acted in a way that proved her desirable to and worthy of nobility -- maybe her whole story's reduced to fairy-tale status simply because she's set the bar of achievement so high we prefer to think of that whole scenario as unrealistic than deal with the implications of viewing it in any other light. After all, if we allow ourselves to instead be inspired -- dare I say even challenged -- by the comparative expectations we'd suddenly all have for ourselves, the heights of nobility to which we might hopefully aspire, the understanding of both life's shortness and its length...and ultimately the realization of all that we might "make of it" by using merely "it" to the best of our ability...well...the possibilities, as the saying goes, truly become endless.
That said, those of you already familiar with Michael McDermott's work surely know at last where this is going. For you already know that with or without the inspiration of such things as fairy-tales to guide his way in regard to "what to make of" them, this is an artist who's been given a pretty dazzling array of raw materials. And, you know as well that as one of the most prolific songwriters to ever grace the planet, he's never been one to let the smallest fragment of those materials -- the ups and downs of life itself -- go to waste. Instead he's used them to express the observations, thoughts, feelings, euphoria, frustration -- and wonder -- that, in a true artist's uniquely persistent, honest, love-filled and enduring way, manage to not merely describe, but rather create, life -- new, beautiful, and ever-changing -- again and again.
Now, THAT's a gift.
As seems to have become something of a custom since the late December Schubas shows in Chicago, Michael once more began the evening with, what else, but a tale of new beginnings..."One Way To Go"...
"You can't change where it is you come from,
...and, after commenting on the fact that the piano faced the back of the club rather than the audience by offering the mock-vain declaration, "My mother always said this was my good side", he then moved on to "Darkest Night of All". Actually, prior to embarking on this, Michael added the seemingly sincere explanation that he's "always in the endless pursuit of a song", before noting with tongue firmly planted in cheek that this quest's leading him on excursions to places like Black River Falls is largely possible "cause I don't have a job"!
All I can say to that is though he may not have a job, Michael most certainly has a vocation, one for which he's (as noted in this page's preface) been singularly equipped and in sharing which he excels. He seemed determined to prove during this particular song, however, that piano playing isn't it...
"Do you hear the
Martha, for you I
Jesus, I can't
In the darkest
In the darkest
...as he hit a couple of wrong notes, and uttered a dismayed "Ahhh!" before recovering and moving on to a characteristically strong finish. After this, Michael briefly considered taking a turn at the guitar, but ultimately decided to have another go at the ivories instead...though not until he'd asked the audience, "How about some more bad piano playing for you?" Suffice it to say the response made it clear all present agreed with my assessment of art as expounded upon in the preface to the 12-28-02 Schubas show page on this website (where I noted that Michael's music is "better than perfection...it's thrillingly alive"). In other words, like me they were thrilled he'd chosen the ever so alive "Wounded" as his next selection. And, indeed, no matter how many times I hear this performed, truly the thrill of its life, its immediacy, its so easily recognizable genuine human conflict captured in musical form neither dies nor fades away...
"All the pretty horses,
At last taking up the guitar for the first time this evening, Michael introduced TJ, informing those unfamiliar with him in that crowd that he'd had brain surgery about three months earlier...adding that "it's all fine, though...that's how I coerced him to come on tour with me". And, indeed, everyone present showed their appreciation for this outcome with shouts and applause before the pair together launched into the always excellent "Sword of Damocles"...
But light still
From the sword
On a similar though less cheer-inspiring note, next came another good result -- or rather as it applies here, an excellent piece of art -- that was the outcome of bad circumstances. And, in this case, both the good and bad referred to can be succinctly described simply by the words, "Hellfire In The Holy Land"...
Killing each other
In a reprieve from the suffering described by that song, Michael returned to the piano for one of his newest (and undoubtedly my newest favorite of his) works. And, though this one also speaks of a kind of pain, its cause is not the darkness of division brought about by hatred; rather, the delicate and beautiful "Hold Back A River" discusses the pain of separation felt by one longing to share the light and warmth that characterize the force of a powerful love...
"My sea legs
And this weary
I keep on
Until I fall apart...
Yeah-eh, trying to
...a theme continued within another tale of lovers unwillingly parted, "Arm Yourself"...a song that contains the only -- or, at any rate, the very best -- advice to be offered in the face of an undesirable yet unavoidable situation...
"Arm yourself with my love,
...except, of course, the always appropriate advice of surrendering to the "Grace of God"...
And you're on
...advice that's sometimes hardest to accept at those times one is faced with the realization that certain of life's greatest obstacles lie within oneself, a relatable observation that's made "A Wall I Must Climb" one of Michael's most enduring masterpieces...
"In this world of convergence,
I'm a prisoner only unto me;
I wait for the emergence
Of the form I shall soon be.
'Til then I'll wait in the museum,
The museum of my mind...
Fate is a wall i must climb."
Then, of course, there are those times when these internal obstacles take on an all too real external form, or rather one fighting them runs into someone like the title character of a song that describes a misguided and destructive relationship..."Junkie Girl"...
"There's not much
When a sucker's
...only to all too suddenly find himself "20 Miles South of Nowhere"...
But, at last, with the right wall-climbing tools and a bit of perseverance, indeed even the most lost individual can eventually find his way home...although the route may be so circuitous it seems a trip's been taken fully "Around The World" to make this happen...
And, on that note, it was proved that while Michael may in fact be from Chicago, he'd found his way home by turning up in New York City...a home from which the crowd begged him not to so soon depart. Fortunately, he seemed every bit as unwilling to leave, and quickly took up his guitar again to share one more tale of -- uh, well -- unrest... Can't Sleep Tonight...
"I can't sleep tonight,
Alas, at the conclusion of that song, the set itself concluded as well, and indeed the time taken by it seemed to have passed as quickly as a beautiful dream for all present. But, as has already been noted above, one always returns home eventually, and we therefore surely look forward to a return visit...one that, like all homecomings, is without a doubt, by every member of Michael's East Coast "family" very anxiously awaited!
On which note I must once more close with the words...
As always, Thank You, Michael (andTJ!)
Please Come Back Soon!!!