My first Jazz album was Blue Train which, admittedly, took a while for me to appreciate. Years after acquiring the album and some time after I realized the genius contained within I was driving home from Synagogue when NPR aired A Love Supreme in its entirety. I was so captivated that when I arrived home only 20 minutes into the suite I couldn't get out of my car until it was over. I sat there for another half hour just listening. Now, some eight years later, Coltrane can still move me to tears and keep me on the edge of my seat all the way through.
Getting ready to pack it up and head to bed tonight, I discovered I was just as enthralled by the album as the first time I ever heard it and I couldn't take my headphones off. I got to thinking what made this listen in particular so special. It hit me that this is the first time I have played the album through since I came out and stopped keeping Shabbos, etc. A Love Supreme is all about one's personal struggle with the idea of faith, for Coltrane, acknowledging a higher power as the source of his talent and success. For me, this has always been the message until now. Where I am in my personal and spiritual life, God has become a much more abstract concept. How then can I now relate to the ideas of one of my favorite albums of all time, music which has been an inspiration for me spiritually and artistically?
I think the answer is to look outward rather than upward. Artists like Coltrane have over the centuries inspired the world to great things. If Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring can cause a riot and surgery can be performed with no anesthetic save Mozart, music has enormous power. If something so ephemeral can be so timeless, something so incorporeal can have such real power, how much more so can be said for our lives and day to day actions. If a song can change the world, so too can a book or a science experiment or a little mistake or a simple gesture of kindness. Had the higher-ups not gotten involved in the Breakfast and Christmas Truces of the Great War, perhaps the whole bloody thing could have been resolved by the soldiers in the trenches. Had Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not spoken of his dream, perhaps we would still be sending our children to segregated schools. There need not be a personal higher power to see beauty in humanity or purpose to our lives. The purpose of our lives is to live. And should we create something which inspires or helps or saves, we have improved the quality of the lives of others. Therefore, on your next listen to Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Acknowledge the amazing things you can do for the world simply by living in it, Resolve to create and preserve and improve and inspire, Pursue the talents and ideas which make you unique and the ideals which matter to you, and work to leave behind your own Psalm, a story of the magnificent impact you have had on the people around you.