If you are one of the five people in the world who haven't yet seen British singing sensation Susan Boyle on Youtube then go take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxPZh4AnWyk. The beetle-browed, most unlikely chanteuse from Blackburn, Scotland (not Lancashire), first wowed audiences on the Britain's Got Talent TV show, including irascible professional sceptic Simon Cowell, last week when she sang I Have a Dream from the musical Les Miserables. Since then, millions of people have viewed the YouTube clip of her performance and she has become an overnight internet sensation.
There are many reasons for her sudden success. In terms of TV talent shows, she is the the ultimate anti-heroine: middle aged, not beautiful in the conventional sense, certainly not skinny, and completely without fake; and people love an underdog, especially the British. There is no doubt she has fantastic pipes. In fact she has a voice of an angel. It goes straight to the heart. Tears came to my eyes when I first heard her, and I am a well known disliker of musical tunes. Just observe the effect on the people in the theater audience when she starts to sing. Talk about shock and awe. Their faces visibly transform as a wave of emotional release races round the room. Personally I think her power lies in a certain kind of purity which shines through in her voice and her innocent and disarming personality (she is also, by the way, a self-confessed virgin who has never even been kissed). We have become such a cynical, manufactured, and disingenuous culture that she is a literal breath of fresh air. And it is such a relief to feel it.
By some slick textual maneuvering, she also gives me opportunity to make use of a quote from eminent British historian, Sir Arnold Toynbee, which I came across when reading a biography of Tibetan saint, Milarepa, and have been wondering for a while now how to apply.
I don't know about you but I am getting tired of the poker-faced corporate titans and slippery-tongued politicians who are supposed to be our leaders. There doesn't seem to be an iota of inspiration amongst them. At least President Obama, God bless him, has a brilliant and natural smile, as well as a sense of humor, despite the monumental challenges he is facing. It's not surprising that the majority of young people now go to The Daily Show with John Stewart and The Colbert Report as their main sources of enlightenment. Even Cartman and his friends on South Park are beginning to look more astute than the average corporate CEO or member of Congress. We may have come to the end of the era of looking to politicians, businessmen and scientists to provide us with any kind of inspiration whatsoever. Which makes someone like Susan Boyle so refreshing. There is something about her which is balm to our beleaguered hearts struggling to make sense in this increasingly complex and artificial world.
And so to my favored quote. Back in 1948, Toynbee wrote in his book Civilization on Trial, "The works of artists and men of letters outlive the deeds of business men, soldiers and statesmen. The poets and philosophers outrange the historians; while prophets and saints overlap and outlast them all."
So perhaps it is time to seek our direction not from business and politics, but from the voices of artists, poets, singers and (most importantly) saints.
Note: In the interests of full disclosure the writer has been known to wrote poetry.