Published Sunday, July 15, 2012
I’ve always had a soft spot for good intentions. Whether the matter is art, music or romance, the amount of heart and soul that went into making something always trumps the end result. The only person I ever expected perfection from is myself. That’s still a work in progress.
One of my favorite songs from the 1960s is the classic Motown duet featuring Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell doing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
In that era, when the Motown label was still in its infancy, record producers were more interested in cranking out catchy tunes than making sure every note on every track was perfect. This is a great example of that attitude at work.
Gaye and Terrell hit all the right notes — eventually —but it’s clear their first priority isn’t singing like a carbon copy of the other.
They start and end words and phrases at different times, step on each other’s entrances and seem as if they are singing the tune together for the first time. It’s wonderful, because every so-called shortcoming is totally overshadowed by the enthusiasm, energy and sheer joy of making music that Gaye and Terrell pack into every syllable.
The energy builds with each verse, and as the song nears its end, Terrell and Gaye are like a couple of thoroughbreds racing down the homestretch, pushing each other to the limit in a mad dash for glory.
It would have been easy to record a more polished version. It’s impossible to make a better one.
At home I have one of the ugliest pieces of pottery on the planet. It’s a cup made by my daughter when she was a child. Crafted from some vague brown material, it features a face with a huge bulbous nose, pencil holes for eyes and a smirk that mocks me to this day. I remember how proud my daughter was when she brought it home. And how honored I was to accept it.
It’s the best piece of sculpture I’ll ever own.
Elsewhere in the house hangs a framed print of a Van Gogh painting. Not one of his most famous works, but a painting of a small room with a single small bed. It was the place Van Gogh lived when he was down on his luck.
My son gave me that picture when I was in the same state, reduced to living in a place so run down I was embarrassed to have company, especially my kids. My son never said so, but I’m sure giving me that print was his way of saying, “Don’t worry, Pop. Things are tough, but you’ll get through it.” I did and I’ll never forget that heartfelt piece of encouragement.
Letters and cards can also make wonderful keepsakes. I’ve collected hundreds over the years, but only one hangs on the bulletin board beside my desk. It’s a note written when my cat George died last year.
After George was put to sleep, I wrote the vet, Dr. Kim Yeager, to thank her for the kind way she treated my big boy on his way out. She wrote back to thank me for my note. That was nice. It was even nicer that she let her son write me, too, on the same card.
Eight-year-old Liam Yeager wrote: “Dear Mr. McRae. I heard about your article of George. I feel sorry for him too. He’s your ‘fun world’ isn’t he?”
I could have written one hundred pages of polished prose and not said it better.
What precious imperfections. I didn’t ask for any of them and yet – I could never have asked for more.