Aspen Ideas Fest: Common gets real, and real vulnerable, in ‘Let Love’ performance
Notes from the arts beat at Aspen Ideas Fest
Part concert, part confessional one-man show and part workshop, Common’s hybrid “Let Love” performance in Harris Hall on Wednesday night brought the hip-hop artist, activist and author’s gospel of “radical love” to the Aspen Ideas Fest.
Anyone in the capacity crowd expecting a straightforward concert or talk about his new book, “Let Love Have the Last Word,” was in for a surprise. Instead, they experienced an earnest and extremely vulnerable 80-minute personal journey. Common bracketed the evening with stories of two late-night phone calls from his daughter about whether or not he was a good dad. In between, with monologues and spoken word poetry, song and audience participation, he sketched out the experiences with service, faith, frustration and forgiveness that brought him to his daily practice of love.
“Some people ask me, ‘Why are you always talking about love, Common?’. I say, ‘Why not. Why not choose love?’” he told the crowd. “I’m not talking about the mushy, flowery love that I do sometimes. I’m talking about a love that’s bolder. A love that will reshape culture. It’s radical love.”
Moving from a seat at a wooden table to center-stage, he talked about experiences that shaped the concept for him including the trauma of being molested as a child and choosing forgiveness over vengeance. He’d repressed the memory, he explained, until he was on-set filming the 2018 movie “The Tale” about a repressed sexual assault.
In his monologue and bursts of poetry, Common also detailed a rough break-up, seeing his mother through a scary surgery, having a bully steal his bike as a kid and drawing inspiration from death row inmates. He guided the crowd through a mindfulness breathing exercise and he invited one audience member on-stage to tell a personal story of forgiveness.
And, yes, the evening culminated in a 30-minute musical performance with a four-piece live band and a crowd-pleasing set list of hits like “The Light,” “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” and an astounding extended freestyle. He capped the concert portion of the night with the Oscar-winning “Glory” and a new song, from his forthcoming album “Let Love,” titled “God Is Love.”
Faith and prayer, he told the crowd, undergird his practice of radical love and keep him sane through our often-insane moment in history.
“I’m often asked, ‘Why do you keeping an optimistic view in these times when things are so divisive and so crazy?’” he explained. “I believe that God is greater than the government and God is greater than any political agenda and any political figure. With that in mind I’m able to trust and surrender and be an active participant in life.”
- Common wasn’t the only hip-hop artist on the dais this week. A panel Monday about connecting at-risk or “opportunity” youth to the workforce featured former White House domestic policy advisor Melody Barnes and Prudential’s Latta Reddy, but opened with Denver-based rapper I$REAL — an alum of the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions — who played a bass-heavy trap beat from the conference room speakers and rhymed of his Aspen Ideas experience “with leaders that come with ideas, come with success/Never stop and don’t settle for less.”
- At the outset of a Wednesday panel about writing on rural America, moderator James Fallows asked the audience members how many of them had read Tara Westover’s “Educated.” Nearly every hand went up.
While her bestselling memoir about growing up in a survivalist Mormon family has gripped readers, Westover said she’s not interested in correcting readers’ false assumptions about her: “People come up to me and say all kinds of things about my book and my family and the way they imagine those relationships will evolve going forward, but I imagine ‘That has a lot to do with you, not me.’ But that’s great, that’s what storytelling is for. … Very few times have people come up to me and I say, ‘No, that’s not it.’”
- George Packer, the National Book Award winner and author of “Our Man,” a new biography of American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, concluded that the late Holbrooke couldn’t have brokered a better nuclear deal with Iran than the one John Kerry and President Obama did before President Trump backed out of it. “There was no better deal to be had,” Packer said at a panel Tuesday night. And he suggested that the Trump administration’s claim that they could have – or still will – get “a better deal” shows a failure to understand the basics of diplomacy: “What good diplomats can do is get into the skin of the person on the other side of the table, not in order to sympathize with them but just to understand.”