Alas, I am not now nor have I ever been an A-list entrepreneur. The closest I ever came, I guess, was when I worked for a C-list entrepreneur and our company did some technology collaboration with Microsoft and Bill Gates before Microsoft and Bill Gates were all that big a deal. Our big C-list brag was that we were at Windows of the World when Bill Gates when Windows 3.0 – the first REALLY BIG version of Windows - was announced. Our recording technology – yay, us! – was embedded in Windows 3.0. If only we’d been smart enough to negotiate for a penny a copy for each instance of Windows that was sold, we might still be in business. Unfortunately, we were paid a flat fee ($50K as I recall) and all the bragging rights we wanted. That’s pretty much as close as I ever got to an A-list entrepreneur. Other than at the tech conference when I shared an elevator with Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy and we chatted a bit. Of course, both those brushes with A-list fame are so far in the rearview mirror, those two Bills are A-list emeriti.
Anyway, not that I know/knew them, I can’t imagine either of those Mr. Bills getting “in touch with their inner child in private ‘songversations’”, which is apparently what the latest crop of A-listers are up to.
Tech elites who are looking for more than extra zeros in their bank statements are finding it in an unlikely place: so-called songversations, emotion-heavy gatherings that combine philosophical rap sessions with improvised music, run by a ukulele-strumming songstress who describes herself as a “heartist.” (Source: NY Times)
The “heartist” is named Jess Magic. And she’s not just a heartist, she’s a ceremonialist and a muse.
I truly believe that languages are living, breathing, growing whatevers. But did we really need the words heartist and ceremonialist? I think not.
Guess they’re differentiators. I mean, anyone can be a muse. But a heartist. Well, that’s something else.
And the techies swoon about the magic that goes down when Magic’s in the house, a “safe space” for those who’ve lost sight of the fact that there’s more to life than heading up the next unicorn.
Branded as “Soul Salons” they import the cosmic-explorer sensibility of Burning Man’s dusty playa into the cozy living rooms of prominent entrepreneurs, where they sing freestyle on topics as diverse as environmental degradation and heartbreak. Think of it as a free-jazz equivalent of an Esalen retreat.
As anyone who’s been anywhere near me at the gym, or gone on a road trip with me that lasted more than 10 minutes, knows, I really like to sing. I sing in the shower. I sing along with whatever’s on the CD or the radio. I sign at concerts. (You should have heard me when they did “Chicken Fried” at the Zac Brown concert at Fenway in June.) I don’t have a great voice, but it’s okay. Pleasant enough. I can carry a tune and, thanks to four years as a second soprano/alto in an excellent high school glee club, I can harmonize.
A song in my heart may be the one and only thing I have in common with Peter Thiel. At least when he’s in the presence of Jess Magic.
“I don’t know if you’d call this a breakthrough,” she said, “but I got Peter Thiel to sing along and Elon Musk to smile.”
Actually, I’d call it a breakthrough if she’d gotten Peter Thiel and/or Elon Musk to act like less of a shit, but I’m sure it was something to get them to sing and/or smile.
Ms. Magic, who seems to approach every topic with a sense of giddy wonder, as if she just fell in love five minutes ago, believes that her appeal is rooted in the spiritual hollowness so many business elites feel, despite their wealth.
“The finance and tech scene is still riding the waves of hypermasculine values,” she said. “Coffee to get through the day, alcohol to wind down, then sleeping pills at night to turn off the mind from all that they have going on.”
“People forget that they are human beings rather than human doings,” she added.
You’d think there would be plenty of opportunities for human doings to act like human beings. Playing with their own kids or the kids of non-A-listers. Walking their dog or the dog of a non-A-lister. Calling their mothers and letting them complain about their fathers’ snoring. Chatting with the person at CVS who directs you to a checkout station. Yelling at the ump at a baseball game. Singing along at the gym.
But I guess when you’re spending 24/7 pursuing tech-based mammon, you don’t get to do those pedestrian little nothings.
Enter the Soul Salon, which Ms. Magic calls “a play date for your inner child” and performs as a “gift,” she said (although guests are invited to “contribute in accordance with the value they feel they received”).
I will say one thing, if you’re going to ask people to pay based on the value they get out of something, you might as well do it with the ultra-rich.
The salons usually start with a theme — say, the emptiness of consumer culture. As key phrases arise, Ms. Magic will begin strumming and humming, weaving those lines of dialogue into a lilting melody. The effect is vaguely akin to Joni Mitchell performing freestyle rap at Davos.
As the extemporaneous song grows, others join in with musings of their own, call-and-response style. Not every captain of industry can carry a tune, of course, but that’s not the point. As Ms. Magic likes to say, “We don’t sing to be good, we sing to be free.”
I can only imagine what those call-and-response sessions must be like. Can I get a “platform”?
“One of the reasons why I do what I do, and why I am, honestly, on this planet, is to show up with such a level of vulnerability and sincerity and authenticity, that it almost gives people permission to let it go for a little while,” she said.
Sincerely, authentically, don’t these A-listers have any loved ones? Any friends? A dog? A cat? A goldfish? Anyone they can kick back with? Sit on the porch with and ask Alexa to play a little Springsteen so they can sing along to “Thunder Road”? Releasing your inner child (or inner human) shouldn’t be all that hard.
At least back in the day, Bill Joy was willing to chat with a nerd stranger on the elevator in a hotel in San Jose.