Iain Cameron's Diary
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2005-01-29 - 11:15 a.m.

My mounting collection of innovative jazz music that led nowhere includes the Lennie Tristano stuff I mentioned last time, the Joe Harriott material from the early 60s in London and the Howard Riley stuff with Barbara Thompson on flute from the end of the decade - both of which turned up in FOPP in Sept. It tends to be linear music with an adventurous approach to harmony. There a Tristano DVD in FOPP - I think the performance is Sweden in the mid 60s. Looks like a must now.

I got an e-m from Phil at the Cambridge Manufacturing Leaders thanking Paul and I for our input. Keith had mentioned that we only covered one standard - so I mailed Phil with some thoughts about the Capability Maturity Model. The IBM guy who preceded us had an extension of that 5 level (CMM style) approach running through his presentation. I gave this doc to Ashley as a bit more benchmarking input for his Warwick thesis. He was very impressed with level of diagnostic that IBM employ. I said it must cost a fortune. Its not the Toyota way.

Steve and I got quite excited about capabilities generally. It was something that had come up with Phil B in Cardiff the day before. I found some quite good stuff on the MIT site which I passed across selectively to Ashley, Keith, Steve and Graham. Steve and I are thinking about the difference between competence and capability and I found some Swedish NPDI stuff which puts competence in with strategy/direction, motivation and opportunity. I sent this to Matthew.

Steve has great enthusiasm and drive which is what I need just now. Mailed Paul W on ‘capability’.

Keith is in London which meant I rather messed up the start of my day, missing a bus at Solihull so I went to Starbucks for a coffee. Yesterday Keith went to the retirement of one of my former colleagues at DTI which has apparently yielded a deal of gossip.

Strange how slowly Herbie Hancock seems to develop on those Blue Note sides.

2nd side of the Jackson Browne collection opens with Running on Empty. (well quite - plus somebody‘s bay‘s bridge).


‘On the way to the office this morning I was listening to a CD that is on my favorite all time top ten list, and which vies for number one, and that is, Jackson Browne’s “Late for the Sky.” I’ve had either the LP or the CD to listen to since it came out back in September 1974. Fountain of Sorrow, Before the Deluge, Late for the Sky, The Road and the Sky – how can this NOT be a great CD! I have been overjoyed of late that one of my daughters has taken a liking to Jackson Browne.

And what great lines all throughout the CD: “When we come to place where the road and the sky collide,” or, “And in the end they traded their tired wings, for the resignation that living brings, and exchanged love's bright and fragile glow, for the glitter and the rouge,” or “You never knew what I loved in you, I don't know what you loved in me - maybe the picture of somebody you were hoping I might be.” The list of great lines goes on and on.
My favorite song on the CD has always been For a Dancer. Apart from its lovely yet haunting lilting rhythm, the wistful violin accompaniment, and Jackson Brown’s great voice, are probing, troubling lyrics. I have always thought, at least as regards to the older Jacskson Browne music, that he comes out and says what others should say, given their assumptions about life and the world, but are not honest enough to say.

I think in this song that Browne is encouraging another person to go out and seize life, to live life, using dancing as a metaphor for that. But he tempers his encouragements with a reality check, a true check rightfully imposed by his worldview. He wants to give a sense of hope to this life affirmation, but ultimately all he can say is:

Somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go,
may lie a reason you were alive, but you’ll never know.

I suppose that many would think that this a pretty depressing song. Yet at the same time it is, or appears to me to be, a pretty classic existentialist statement. Ultimately, according to the existentialist vision, we cannot know if life has meaning, but we must press on heroically despite the dark probabilities, and find ourselves, and make a "meaningful" life for ourselves while we can. What impresses me about For a Dancer is the way the writer is struggling to see meaning in the midst of a profound agnosticism. He isn't sure what happens when people die. He isn't sure whether prayers are being received or are just drifting out into space. He isn't sure whether a better world is coming or if it might just all disappear. And because these matters are so unresolved, he has no idea whether what we do in this life has any meaning at all. At the end of the day, there may be some reason we were alive, but we'll never know.
What strikes me is that this song represents a lot of the unspoken thoughts of a lot of people I know. But facing the consequences of such profound uncertainty is too painful. Better to mask it with busyness or stoic silence or some sort of politically correct tolerance of all the ideas that are out there, as if this helps things, as if this helps the consequences of our agnosticism. For if we just can't know what is true, then we ought to admit it and face the consequences like this writer is doing.

I do not share Jackson Browne’s worldview, and thus I do not share his ultimate sense of uncertainty about the meaning of life. Yet he is addressing the big questions, and this song addresses them particularly well. Listening to For a Dancer is a reality check for me too. It reminds me of the mental space I used to inhabit. It reminds me of the mental space many do inhabit. And yet it also challenges me. Do I really have a basis for my hope? Do I really have reason to believe the Christian worldview? Am I just clinging to a worldview that offers answers because I cannot cope with the alternative?

Yes, the Christian has a different worldview than the Jackson Brown who wrote “Late for the Sky” (I have no idea where he is coming from these days). He knows theologically the truth that the world we live in is broken and fallen. But he doesn’t just know this theoretically, he also experiences the brokenness first hand. Often things can seem pretty senseless and hopeless even for the Christian. Sometimes it seems as if we live just to survive another day – the work, the relationships, the fears and anxieties. Sometimes the burdens and routines of our day to day lives seem to crush us, and crush our spirits. I don’t care how positive and upbeat a person is, even a Christian person, when life presses upon us, when it throws curveball after curveball, when the work of our hands seems futile and fruitless, we can get discouraged about the real meaning of our lives day to day. Sometimes the temptation is just to throw in the towel and live for what every one else is living for, for comfort or glory or riches, even though in the end we know there is no meaning in these things. So, despite the worldview that ultimately is hopeful, and which says that, yes, we can in act know the reason we were alive, life can cause the deepest believer to scratch his head, or be tempted to despair. In that sense, Jackson Browne ministers to us all, for he touches on the reality of the human condition, and for that I am truly grateful.

Here are the lyrics to For a Dancer, as best as I can make them out listening to the song.

Keep a fire burning your eye,
and pay attention to the open sky
You never know what will be coming down
I don't remember losing track of you
You were always dancing in and out of view
I must have thought you'd always be around
Always keeping things real
By playing the clown
Now your nowhere to be found
I don't know what happens when people die
Can't seem to grasp it as hard as I try
Like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
But I can't sing it
I can't help listening
And I can't help feeling stupid standing 'round
Crying is the easier down
Cause I noticed you'd rather we were dancing
Dancing our sorrows away (right on dancing)
No matter what fate chooses to play
(There's nothing you can do about it anyway)
Just do the steps that you've been shown
By everyone you've ever known
Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours
Another's steps have grown
In the end there is one dance you'll do alone
Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down
Perhaps a better world is drawing near
Just as easy it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning
You might have found
Don't let the uncertainty turn you around
(The world keeps turning around and around)
Go on and make a joyful sound
Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead
And throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
But you'll never know

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