(Note: This is not KDE or F/OSS related in the least, but rather a personal reflection on a musical work that I find a lot of meaning in and which I realized only tonight was experiencing its 20th anniversary. Feel free to skip this one, but I felt compelled to write about it. :)
In 1990, an amazing piece of modern art was being created out of the ashes of grief. What made it beautiful was not only the qualities of the finished work, but what inspired it and drove its creation. A landmark in the art of the generation, it became a punctuating moment, an ellipsis between what was and what was coming.
In that year, two young musicians were sharing an apartment in the city, which is in itself a completely unremarkable event. They were both front men for local bands who were starting to enjoy touring successes. As friends and roommates, these creative minds shared the journey of finding a way to make a living doing what they loved. At the end of winter, in March, their paths separated dramatically.
One of them had become addicted to the musician's drug de jour: heroin. On the very day that his roommate returned from a road tour with his band, he died of an accidental overdose. Such losses of creative souls to the drug was becoming a disturbing trend, and this was just one more ugly notch in its belt.
The surviving roommate was set to leave again and go back out on tour in just a few days. With the black cloud of his friend's death following him while on tour, he turned to what he knew in search of solace and wrote two powerful songs in memory of his friend. When he returned home, he approached the bandmates of the deceased and suggested they record and release those two songs as a tribute, and perhaps even find some closure in the process. The idea grew and they started writing more songs together, eventually producing an entire album's worth of material: ten songs in all, each amazing. What a fantastic way to deal with such a horrible experience: to create something beautiful and lasting, something that caries meaning and memory, that heals as it commemorates.
While creating the album and its material, the now singer-less band went in search of a replacement and along with it a sense of new direction. They found a rather amazing person to fill those shoes before the tribute album was complete. In fact, he (famously) joined in on back-up vocals on some of the recording sessions and sung co-lead on one song on the album. It was, in retrospect, such a perfectly seamless bridge over such troubled waters.
They released the tribute album in the spring of the next year and went on their separate creative paths. Both bands recorded new albums, toured extensively and rose to fame, fortune and acclaim in the process. The band with the new lead singer would rise meteorically, in fact, and crank out album after album of songs about human passage with great success, even though they often did so in a manner that was stubbornly industry-uncooperative. They also created one of the most enduring, large and active fan clubs for a band in recent times. The roommate's band would also become a house hold name, thought it would take them a few more years to do so before eventually breaking up, after which the singer carved out a successful solo career.
It was their musical successes of the early 90s that ended up bringing their tribute album, and with it the story and memory of their friend, into the limelight. After their breakthrough debut album, people wanted more and they found it in this obscure piece of work that had been released earlier the same year.
The tribute album definitely stands on its own merits, however: the inspiration and energy can be experienced in every word and every note. They had erected it as a doorway through their grief, and on the other side success fueled by their profound musical expression was to be found.
Perhaps it sounds like a movie script or a plot from a novel, but this is precisely makes it so amazing: it actually happened just like that. The creative dominoes that led to a great piece of modern art were tipped, and now it sits there for any one to find and listen to twenty years later.
In fact, I still find inspiration in the music and what it communicates even though I've listened to it countless times. For me it is a testament to the healing that can be found in a creative endeavor. It also serves as tangible evidence that fantastic yet true stories are unfolding in this world around us, probably far more often than we expect. It is so easy to become jaded and to start thinking that such events only exist as the products of our imagination, floating about in the words and images and sounds of art. But these events are as real as they are profound. They underwrite our musings, forge our imaginations and are the bedrock upon which we lay our art.
They are not just products of our creation, but cause us to produce great things.