Friday, December 29, 2006

Finishing Strong

As we wrap up another year, it is a good time to think about starting and ending strong. In the performing arts, whether it is drama or music, the opening and closing are most important. The first line of a play or the first stanza of a concert sets the tone for the whole show. Then the very last line or ending of the last song stays with the audience and determines to a large degree their overall feeling about the performance.

In our band rehearsals, we spend a good amount of time on the intros and endings. How do we start the song and how do we end it? We want to end a song (and the show) clean and strong.

This is a good metaphor for life. The first few years of life are extremely important and will serve to set the tone for the rest of our life. But the ending is also important. A surprising number of people do not end well. This week James Brown died. Brown’s importance to popular music cannot be overstated. His titles, “The Godfather of Soul” and “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” were well earned. I saw James Brown back in 1967 and his performance set new standards as to what was possible on stage. He influenced generations of musicians both black and white. But even a short biography of him must mention his felony convictions and other bouts with the law, mainly in the latter part of his life. James Brown was not a hood who made good, he was a person who grew up in church, became a super-star, and went bad.

He is not the only one. George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak, the one man that did more to bring photography to everybody than anybody, died at his own hand. A surprising number of successful business people die bitter. Finishing strong is certainly not automatic and, in fact, requires quite a bit of conscience effort and planning.

It is complicated by the fact that life gets harder at a time when we think it should be getting easier. That makes us angry. We can either give up and become bitter, striking out at anyone who will listen, or we can decide to stay in the game. Play the game until the last out is made or play the song until the last chord is struck. It really is our choice.