Man-For-All-Seasons T Bone Burnett delivered an insightful and articulate keynote address to the Americana Music Association, and made many of us wish we hadn’t bailed on all those Civilization 101 classes. Musician, arranger, songwriter, soundtrack and record producer, promoter and activist for music and musicians of all genres, Burnett’s eloquent discourse on art’s place in human history–past, present and future–struck a deep chord with the AMA audience (no pun intended).
Much of modern technology was developed for military use, Burnett reminded us, but he urged us to further “beat those swords into plowshares.”
Citing art as ”a holy pursuit,” Burnett referenced Michelangelo, Pope Julius II (c.1508), the Atomic Bomb, Picasso, Einstein, Jimmy Carter, Bob Dylan, Jules Verne, French wine, the Berlin Wall and String Theory to put art’s importance into perspective. “Technology tends toward efficiency,” Burnett said, “but whatever’s important is not binary.” From emotions like love to human life itself, Burnett’s long list of the things that are truly important eclipsed efficiency’s value as quickly and completely as any blue-screen-of-death computer crash.
A story about Pope Julius II and Michalangelo concluded with the assessment that “the Pope was afraid of a painter.” Later, Burnett pointed out that Jules Verne and Picasso were decades ahead of technology, reminding us that art often precedes the present reality, no matter how dramatically technology presents itself. “The World Wide Web is just that, a web that ensnares anyone who enters it,” Burnett noted. Having earlier described how Michelangelo created art which has stood the test of centuries using non-binary plants and sand, Burnett reminded us “We can make art with anything.”