Friday, February 10, 2017

Christina Grimmie Opened New Paths in Music and Media

It is the tenth day of February.

One of the most important reasons why we measure this mysterious thing called "time" is to mark our connection with the past, especially the moments in the past that still shape our experience and awareness of the present. We mark time because it helps us to remember.

Christina Grimmie was murdered eight months ago, on the tenth of June in the year of 2016, by a deranged man who approached her at an open meet-and-greet after her concert in Orlando, Florida and fired four bullets into her head and chest at point blank range. The 22 year old singer/songwriter/musician had opened her arms wide to welcome this man who witnesses say looked troubled, nervous, and perhaps shy. She chose to approach the stranger in the same way she had approached so many others in her brief but stunning career, with love.

The most amazing thing about Christina Grimmie was this love. But it was not the only amazing thing about her.

There was her amazing voice, her amazing skill on the piano keyboard, her songs, and all the effort she put into a significant collection of original music that we have not yet heard. Apparently Christina did an enormous amount of work recording original songs during the last four months of her life. Her family, manager, and fellow musicians are working on bringing together these songs and releasing them according to her own intentions. That means new songs by Christina Grimmie are still coming out. A new single called Invisible will debut on all the media platforms on February 17.

Perhaps she might yet receive the recognition she should have been given during her life. Everyone in the music industry has acknowledged her gigantic talent, even if they didn't know how to "package" her to fit the mould of the dominant trends, or to generate the vast commercialized attention (and profits) expected of "music celebrities." Undoubtedly Christina Grimmie's significance as an artist will continue to unfold into the future. Maybe it remains for those who come after us to appreciate the magnitude of what she has accomplished.

When I first wrote about Christina last summer, a few weeks after her death, I put a lot of emphasis on her foundational and formative influence for this new kind of media-thing called "YouTube" (read that article HERE). Over the past ten years, I've experienced a lot of YouTube videos. I think that YouTube (and audiovisual multimedia streaming in general) is the most radical social media platform of the present time, far more significant in the long run for human interaction than Facebook or Twitter.

But until fairly recently, YouTube just seemed to me to be another place for watching videos, or making videos for other people to watch. It seemed like an expanded version of the "television-vcr-dvd-videocam-thing." In a certain sense it is. In another sense, however, it has a creative dynamic and a reach all its own. I am still struggling to understand this dynamic, but I have learned a lot from Christina Grimmie. She shaped concrete works of performance art that were (indeed they still are) powerful expressions and communications of herself as a person. It's not surprising that she really touched (and continues to touch) people all over the world.

There is more to this phenomenon than mere human art, and I have written in other places about her faith and her special charism. But I don't want to neglect the artistic achievement forged by her tremendous human energy, her great humanity. It's not something you see by watching just one or two of her videos. You might be impressed right away by her music, but it takes time to begin to experience the way that a permanently accessible audiovisual media presentation conveys the unity of the artist with her music and her audience. This is only one of the many facets and possibilities of a media platform like YouTube, but it has a particular appeal for the performance artist. It is one thing to perform for a television show broadcasting to a mass audience. It is something else to craft one's own performance video and then share it in a way that reaches individual persons one at a time who can engage and interact with the video. In this dynamic, one's art is crafted as a personal gift and as an ongoing invitation to interpersonal relationship, to community.

This is what Christina Grimmie began to do in the summer of 2009. She wasn't the first or the only one to do this, but she had a "genius" for it. The genuine expression of her personality was woven into her songs and music and her talking and humor in a pervasive fashion. But it doesn't overwhelm the person watching it, and it can take some time to recognize the powerful gift of herself that she made in her videos and in all the other ways she shared her music. Indeed, it was something she herself developed over time, something that she eventually carried over also to her live concert performances and her remarkable interaction with her followers and supporters.

Christina took new paths as an artist, crafting new kinds of "artifacts" which have their own beauty because they are invested with the beauty of her own person and shaped to express that beauty. At the heart of all of this, of course, is music. Her videos remain to show us how personal music really is. This is even more striking and moving in light of the fact that she has completed her task in this world and has herself passed beyond our markings of time and into the Mystery that originates and fulfills everything.

Her videos show the continuing resonance of the gift she has given us, a gift of humanity and music.

I wonder whether perhaps fifty years from now she will be regarded in a way analogous to how we view another pioneer from fifty years ago, another musician who died tragically at the age of 22 but not before making a permanent impact on the whole realm of electronic ensemble music (i.e. "rock 'n roll"). The plane crash tragedy of 1959 was only part of the reason why Buddy Holly became a legend. He was also a real pioneer, one of the first to really grasp the fact that what he was playing was more than just a guitar with an amplifier attached to it. It was an electric guitar. It was a new kind of thing.

Maybe he never conceived of the whole matter abstractly, but he perceived it in an artistic way, he used it differently, to make new sounds. Musically, Buddy Holly opened up a new world. Electronic music has continued down so many new paths from the trail that he blazed 50 years ago. That's why Buddy Holly is a legend.

Fifty years from now, audiovisual streaming technology with be unimaginably rich in ways of communication and artistic expression. And everyone involved in it will know the legendary Christina Grimmie. They will be grateful to her.