Turning to engage this week, we lost an hour… but that means we gain more evening on Wednesday … to celebrate the gift that Irish have been to the world, particularly to America. As a mutt myself, I have a special affinity for “… your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore”. And it gives me the excuse I need to write about one of the true giants of music, and hopefully tell some stories that are Different – which is what the musical soundtrack and this week’s theme start with. Differences – which has received a lot of attention but…
… how do we really support and understand the Differences around us every day? The emphasis on that has sharpened… particularly in the last year, and that sharpness belies an edge that is hard to engage. Gender, race, orientation all imply “obvious” Differences – and yet, are those changes “real” or simply a convenient way of not really understanding others? And even those that “ look like you” are STILL very Different in the way they even process language. In the roundtrip of information being sent through the airwaves, there are 8 distinct places it can go wrong – 4 on your side, and 4 on theirs… and that is only the tip of the iceberg… another thing we will discuss. So how to engage….
Thank goodness Van Morrison is ACTUALLY Irish. I thought he was, but if you know me, you know that there is a lot I know that is not really true, but in this case, his story will fit amazingly into the discussion of Differences. He was born in August of 1945 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the only child of parents descended from working-class Ulster-Scots. I am not going to rush the story this week, so this tidbit is really important – his father was a shipyard electrician… and spent time in Detroit, Michigan in the early 1950s. While there, he acquired “… one of the largest record collections in Northern Ireland…”
… see, collecting all my albums may turn out to be important 😉 In Van’s case, he grew up listening to Jelly Roll Morton, Leadbelly, Sonny Terry, and others. He would reflect years later, “If it weren’t for guys like Ray and Solomon, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Those guys were the inspiration that got me going. If it wasn’t for that kind of music, I couldn’t do what I’m doing now”. In the mid 50’s, Skiffle music was spreading across the UK, and when Lonnie Donegan had a hit with “Rock Island Line”, he knew it was actually a Lead Belly song, and thought… “Heck, I can actually do something with what I know”.
His father gave him a guitar at 11, and at 12 he formed a band called The Sputnik – guess what year that was 😉 Another band had a hit with a Sax solo, and he convinced his dad to get him one of those and started learning to read music. Like American kids, he was rolling through various bands through his teens, and left high school as they say in Britain, “… with no qualifications” and fell into the expected path of being another member of the working class, landing as a window washer.
But he found an Irish Showband that was touring Europe when he was 17, and as he could play sax, harmonica, bass, and drums, he was treated to a tour that took him to many American GI bases, where they would play 5 nights a week. They developed a great rhythm and recorded a single and B Side as George and The Monarchs. Listen through to 1:25 and that is the first recording of Van Morrison … that I can find. This is the B side which seems perfect for this way to engage the week.
By the end of the month, no matter how you count it, we will be well into the 2nd year of this Different way of engaging. Some leaders and teams have done well… while others have not. With some fun tracks along the way, I want as gently as I can to engage a discussion of Differences. Not in a polarizing way, which is easy, and modeled around us often these days. Can we actually think about how Differences build stronger teams, products, relationships, and even countries? The Irish will give us all an excuse to celebrate this week… how did we get there, and can we do that again? I believe that with some great music from Van, at least that part will be easy – here is the first time you hear him – on sax – O Twingy Baby.