Nothing New Under the Sun?

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV).

This blog is not intentionally a theological blog, but considering I am a seminarian, I expect faith and spiritual themes to weave themselves in periodically.  And despite the quoted bible quote, this post isn’t really theological at all.  Rather, a recent experience called to mind this verse (and its biblical truth) so I had to reference it.

I recently started the remarkable memoir, “Just Kids” by punk rocker Patti Smith recalling the early days of her friendship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe.  The book has pulled me into this bohemian fantasy and I truly can’t put it down.   It’s such a different reality from my staid, suburban lifestyle that I’m truly fascinated. (It’s also well written, earning it the 2010 National Book Award for Non-Fiction).

But until I started this book, I had never really listened to Smith’s music.  So while cooking dinner tonight, I pulled up her album “Horses” and took a listen and immediately thought, “that’s Courtney Love”.  I had a similar experience, curiously, when I first listened to Jimi Hendrix as an interested listener (not just a high school bystander) and was immediately struck by how the guitar distortion was so clearly borrowed from him (or “inspired” perhaps) by Nirvana and the likes of other grunge bands.

Similarly, I recall listening to a live album of Richard Pryor and was equally struck by how I thought I was listening to an older Eddie Murphy.  The cadence, the jokes, (the vulgarity) was all the same.  So what occurred to me was, as Solomon wrote, “there is really nothing new under the sun.”  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.  Admittedly, everyone is inspired by someone.  Furthermore,  many times artists, writers, and filmmakers breathe new life into older forms, or re-imagine a work that’s been previously done and renews it completely (the new “Star Trek” films comes to mind).

But I find it interesting to apply this understanding to a variety of forms.  Consider the adage, “history repeats itself” and you get the point.  So, I guess the point is to enjoy these contemporary forms and expressions, but try digging a little deeper and try to discover the “original” inspiration;  pay homage, of sorts, to the predecessors or those who paved the way for them.  You might end up not only gaining a deeper appreciate for the current form, but also perhaps exposing yourself to an entirely new artist altogether.

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