Listening absently to the car radio yesterday, a somewhat breathless and adoring public radio host was interviewing an African musician, Hugh Masekela, who apparently is on tour here in the United States. I don't care much for jazz and had never heard of Masekela, but I enjoyed his bits and snippets that entered my mind as I drove ... a man who began drinking at 13 and quit at 58; a man now 74 who spoke highly of Miriam Makeba, whose work I admired and to whom Masekela had apparently been tumultuously married; and most of all, a man with a passion -- a passion he described as a "demon" -- for music... any music ... all music ... a passion!
And when at last the interview wound down, the host asked Masekela what advice he would give to aspiring musicians. The question made my mind cringe. It was one of those go-to questions that interviewers might escape criticism for asking, but I cringed: How do you ask someone about something that consumes them, subsumes them and for which they are literally willing to die ... the passionate demon/god that others might dance around, crooning tunes like, "I believe!"
Where I cringed, Masekela did not: "Well, I think the best advice you can give to anybody is that if they love something and they want to be involved with it, the first thing they have to do is be honest with themselves: How much do they like this thing ... do they have a passion for it? And second, they have to be honest about ... have they been told that they seem to be very talented in this field ... because whatever you go into, you have to go there to be the best. There's no formulas. It's all about passion and honesty and hard work. It may look glamorous, but it takes hard work. The blessing with the arts is that you can do it forever, until you drop dead. That's the blessing. I'm 74 and I feel that I am just beginning."
"The first thing they have to do is be honest with themselves."
In this way it is possible to distinguish puppy love from the heavenly hell-fires that can reduce anyone to a cinder.
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