Sede Vacante

The light is on but no one is home.

Vietnamese rock and roll and transcendence


Chilling in Ho Chi Minh

It’s Sunday and we’re spending our only rest day at home just jamming with the locals. Khoa and his brother Minh are over at our apartment and they brought a guitar. And we have two dozen beers in the fridge. What do you get when you add beer to a steel strung guitar? I don’t really know, but we’re having a lot of fun. =) The post-nuclear holocaust theme of our apartment goes well with everything. Try to imagine the illegitimate child of the beatnik movement and Mad Max.

It probably helps that the Indian in our group is into some really old school rock and roll. As for Khoa, well, he’s a Pink Floyd fan and he can do a rather impressive vocal impersonation of Curt Cobain. Basti, well, he’s a trip. Every now and then he flexes his tattooed-on abs and cracks us all up. He only does that occasionally between intense moments sending SMS messages to someone. I don’t really know who he’s talking to, but considering he’s virgin, it can’t be all that important.

With the verbal vignette aside, art is really something else. I have yet to find an uninteresting person who was really into art. Not one. It really is what makes us human. And it can say so much more than the limitations of its medium. Just check out the photographs of Tim McCurry, James Nachtway, and of course Robert Capa. Or the paintings of Dali. Or the songs of Hendrix, even the concertos of Mozart. Or for us exiles in Vietnam, it’s a little Vietnamese dude who, despite looking like Hiro, blew us away with some amazing renditions of Linkin Park and Nirvana. That’s what it’s about.

What really separates us from the animals? It’s our transcendent aspects–the parts of us that can overcome the bounds of time and space. Our ability to know. Our ability to love. Mix this in with the craft inherent in any art, and you have something that is primally, intrinsically, and exclusively human. It’s the only part of us that seeps into immortality. It’s not the money that makes the man; it is his art. Period.

You see we are all artists somehow. We must be. There must be, in each of us something that we cannot control; that instead takes control of us on its own whim and uses us to create something far greater than ourselves. Its a frightening experience to surrender to it, to let go of “matters of consequence” and follow the daemon within us. I am convinced that all fully human beings are born with it. But a lifetime of bullshit programming gets in the way; programming by people who history will deem unworthy of even the slightest footnote. If I had a penny for every time that a child was told to give up his art and study something that would be useful in making money…

To be truthful, we all need to survive. But the knowledge of making money should not have to be exclusive to the knowledge of how to live a human life–a life of learning, loving, and creating. Like all things, a balance is needed. Or else we run the risk of living no differently than the rats; born to die and be forgotten. Even a business can be a work of art. If a business exists to create value for everyone it touches–customers, to employees, to shareholders–then it is a work of art. It is not only functional, it is beautiful, and reflects the glory of existence; an entity meant to propagate and nurture everything it touches.

Some may ask, “what would happen to the world if we all became artists?” I’ll tell you: there would be no hunger, no wars, and no unemployment. We would all be teachers and lovers. It would be the same place, but better. Some will still plant rice, and others will design iPods. Some will work at factories, while others may heal the sick. The only difference is that work would merge with play and would be elevated to the same status as prayer.

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