Today is February 18 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you maintain a sense of wonder?" In her 1998 book The Sense of Wonder, American marine biologist, author, and conservationist Rachel Louise Carson wrote: “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
Today’s reflection involves a strategy to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well that requires no money, little physical effort, and can be done by anyone anytime and that is having a sense of wonder. Have you lost your sense of wonder? How often do you find yourself bored and disenchanted with life? Do you realize you have a valuable tool available to use as you navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well? When you hear a song, watch a movie, or read a book, do you ever wonder how it was created? Wonder serves as a window that provides, in Carson’s words, ‘a beautiful and awe-inspiring perspective of our world.’ When is the last time you allowed yourself to have an awe-inspiring perspective of our world? You would serve yourself well by reminding yourself of just how awe-inspiring some people are. The backstories of Tina Turner and the Bee Gees are two such examples.
In 1969 the rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) released "Proud Mary" that would go on to peak at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Tina Turner, then 30 years of age, heard the song and knew immediately she wanted to do a cover version. In 1971 Turner’s version of “Proud Mary” reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 won a Grammy Award and catapulted Turner to a new level of success. The sense of wonder comes in by asking ‘what did Turner have to do to create this cover version?’ In his January 30, 2021, article "The Explosive Song That Liberated Tina Turner," published in The Atlantic, Jason Heller wrote “the song’s success didn’t just help bring her back to life after her suicide attempt; it also planted the seeds of her liberation as both an artist and a woman.”
By wondering how Turner performed a cover version of “Proud Mary” you learn that she attempted suicide in 1968 by swallowing sleeping pills one night before a concert. Fortunately, she was rushed to the hospital in time. Turner reflected upon this night and said “At first I was disappointed when I woke up and realized I was still alive. I thought death was my only chance at escape. But it was not in my nature to stay down for long.” She was trying to escape a difficult, sometimes violent, relationship with her then husband Ike. When Turner heard CCR’s “Proud Mary” on the radio in early 1969, she knew she had to record it. Ike disliked the song and refused but Turner put her foot down. As she says in her 2020 book That’s My Life, “Whatever happens to me, when it’s time to get something done, I do it.”
The result was the career breakthrough she and Ike had long been fighting for. As Heller wrote “emboldened by the confidence brought on by “Proud Mary”—Turner wrote her first hit song and released “Nutbush City Limits,” in 1973. Following that triumph, she became not only a world-class singer, performer, and feminist symbol; she was also a successful songwriter. Within three years of the victory of “Nutbush City Limits,” Turner finally broke away from Ike and went solo. She was 36, a hard age to start over as an entertainer; rather than fading, though, her career had just begun.” Maintaining a sense of wonder about how Tina Turner became one of the most successful artists of all time provides some much needed perspective on how she navigated the chaos of her early life. The same can be said of wondering about the Bee Gees.
The Bee Gees were a music group formed in 1958, featuring brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb. The group sang recognizable three-part tight harmonies; Robin's clear vibrato lead vocals were a hallmark of their earlier hits from 1958 until 1975. In January 1967 they started working with producer Robert Stigwood who began promoting them to a worldwide audience. While the group had some nominal success the Bee Gees decided to break up in 1969 only to come back together a short time later. This 1970-1974 period would eventually be the group’s low point as they struggled to reinvent themselves. In 1975, the band took the advice of veteran rocker Eric Clapton and moved to Miami to record their first album after reuniting. It was in Miami that the Bee Gees began experimenting with new sounds, piggybacking on the influence of R&B and shows like “Soul Train.” While recording “Nights on Broadway,” producer Arif Mardin asked that someone harmonize while screaming in the background, Maurice remembered. That was the first time Barry sang falsetto. The transition from Robin’s vibrato to Barry’s falsetto would forever change both the band’s trajectory and music history.
In the HBO 2020 documentary How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, surviving Bee Gee, Barry Gibb, takes viewers inside the studio, showing archival footage performing with his brothers Maurice and Robin and honing their signature sound. “I was thinking, my god, where is this coming from? I can do this. My whole life I never knew I could do this,” Barry joked. “Everybody’s giving me credit,” Mardin said in the film. “No, he was singing it. I said, ‘Keep on doing it.'” The band soon embraced disco and dance music, making use of Barry’s falsetto, which he wields with almost astonishing ease. “We found another sound; we found a new sound. I came up with a lot of new ideas to suit the falsetto,” Barry remembered. “Everybody was saying the same thing: ‘Do that falsetto again, do that falsetto again.’ It was fine for me; I was having a ball.”
At the same time Barry discovered his falsetto, movie producer Robert Stigwood was making the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever and was in post-production. He called the musical group and asked them to write a few songs. In "virtually a single weekend" at Château d'Hérouville studio in France, the Bee Gees created the songs that would eventually be the turning point of their career, with both the film and soundtrack having a cultural impact throughout the world, enhancing the disco scene's mainstream appeal. They won five Grammy Awards for Saturday Night Fever, including Album of the Year. Without a sense of wonder you would miss the beautiful story of how the Bee Gees’ sound evolved from pop to R&B in what became the disco music era, but it was their falsetto that was their unmistakable trademark… and it came about by accident many years into their career.
Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well involves taking time to explore the wonder and awe of our world. If you tell yourself you lack even a few minutes to wonder, consider the 2012 article "Awe Expands People's Perception of Time and Enhances Well-Being" published in Psychological Science. According to the researchers those who experienced awe felt they had more time available (including time to give to others), were less impatient, and experienced greater life satisfaction. Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker, one of the study’s authors, said, “When you feel awe, you are experiencing a positive emotion that feels vast and big, and as a result is capable of altering one’s view of the world.”
How often do you wonder?
If you have stopped wondering why do you think that is?
How do you respond when others around you express their wonder?
Do you create an environment for wonder to happen around you?
How could you leverage your mind, body, and spirit to wonder on a more frequent basis?