The Great, The Simple

The great and the profound are often trapped in metaphors of levels. They operate at a 'higher level' than the rest of us, or they see 'deeper' into things. Great work is often described as deep. So what great people do goes 'way over our heads' or is somehow deep beneath us. Removed from the everyday.

When you actually experience the greats with real intent, these metaphors crash and burn. What makes the greats great is that they're more plugged into the everyday. They see and experience everyday reality much more for what it is than others, because they don't wrap it in pre-conceived ideas and prejudices - they experience and describe reality more directly. And they are therefore more able to play with what they find, to weave different aspects together to produce something ingenious, more true, more inventive and unexpected. Not just artists and scientists, greats can be found in all parts of life.

Those who are not great assume, and will often say with loud pride, that they are the ones with 'common sense', with their 'feet on the ground' and their heads not 'up in the clouds' or in some ivory tower (more height metaphors). But generally their relationship with the world is funnelled through maybe 5 or 6 favourite, unexamined ideas and passions. None of which engage with things as they are in much of an accurate or interesting way, not least because the same half dozen ideational relfexes get applied over and over again, to any variety of circumstances.

What the greats also show is that the truth, and therefore the most profound, is always simple. It's a touchstone in anything you do, or in any field of study - if it doesn't look simple, you're missing something. Because we don't sit outside reality and try to understand it, but are fully part of it, the more convoluted and complicated some part of human endeavour is, the more likely that somebody is trying to impose an order on something that doesn't need it. An affectation. They're missing the essential.

The truly great take this simplicity, and this non-separation of reality and ourselves, and above all play with it. Greatness and truth are light, not some heavy depth that the metaphors would have us believe. There's always humour in truth, even in the truth of tragedy, because humour is the laying bare of all of the loose ends left untouched in any work or activity, the threads that lead back out into the world if we start to take outselves too seriously and think we have THE final answer.

All this came from listening to Paul McCartney. So often thought of as a pale partner to Lennon's genius. But Lennon had nothing on McCartney, except a sort of affected world-weariness which since the 1960s in this era has been the obligatory badge to wear to be considered a 'serious' artist. Lennon's muscianship and songwriting was nearly always a plodding companion to McCartney's expansive creativity and endless invention. Because Lennon talked about war and love and peace and every other educated guilt trip of the day, and had more sarcasm than wit, he was idolised.

Music oozed out of McCartney's every pore, and still does. Like Mozart the melodies seem impossibly beautiful for having such simplicity, but try and write something with that timelessness about it, and make it simple at the same time. Very few can manage it. The people who idolise Lennon talk more often about Lennon the man, not the musician. I suspect nobody will care less in the coming centuries about most of the causes he embraced, particularly in his later years. McCartney and Mozart were as much thinkers as the Lennons of the world, but never left the detailed beauty of the specifics, which is where all greatness lies.

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