When Barak Obama officially becomes President in a few days, it will be the first time in my life that I will be older than my President. Not exactly earth-shattering, but remarkable. At 53, I have now reached the point where -- if I were to meet the leader of the Free World -- I could shake his hand and say: "Nice to know you, sonny." It is yet another sign that life is moving on without asking me whether or not I approve.
Meanwhile, I just finished a really good DVD profiling the singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. It is part of a rather ambitious PBS series titled American Masters. Having been impressed with this one on Joni, I will definitely search out others (Yes, there is one on Dylan and on Paul Simon and some other tantalizing choices, too).
Joni Mitchell is, of course, older than I. To the casual observer, she was that whispy flower child with the falsetto voice and the wacky guitar tunings. But getting the bigger picture of her artistic journey through the DVD really opened me up to her tremendously broad range and, yes, her genius.
The reason that word fits Joni is that, like all who deserve it, she never stopped growing, risking and exploring new vistas while sending us the postcards from her journey. It is amazing to see the rise and fall of her road as it has wound its way through folk, rock, jazz, the arts and life itself.
Joni's story made me think of how artists only get a few decades (at best) in which to define the sweep of their gift. Therefore, they often pay quite a price to give us anything of lasting value. Of course, in true artistic form, her story includes angst, restlessness, loves found and lost, tough choices, high highs and low lows. Through it all, however, the enduring power of her commitment to remain creative shines on and, in her case, it seems to have done so without the usual dolops of self-importance that so often seems to smother exceptional talent. And, in her case, there is an unexpected bonus story involving her reconnection with a long lost daughter -- a child she gave birth to at age 19 in the days before the easy availability of abortion options might have robbed her of this late-life joy.
And so if you look up in the night sky, you might see my star somewhere -- still rising --somewhere between Joni Mitchell's and Barak Obama's. To find it, you will need a very, very strong telescope and a very, very clear night.