Bill Clinton was probably the US’ most charismatic president. Of course, people either loved or hated him. What I could never understand is why, even at moments when I thought I had lost respect for the man or even when I knew he was just b.s.ing, he could still move me with one of his speeches. I mean, think about it. Here’s a guy from Georgetown University and from Yale with a redneck twang in his voice.
Then one day it hit me. Bill Clinton sounds a lot like Elvis Presley when he talks. That is what essentially makes him so listen-to-able. Bill is from Little Rock and Elvis was from Memphis. They are pretty close, both geographically and culturally. Listen carefully next time you hear Bill speak, close your eyes, imagine it is the King. Actually, there was a book written about Bill being the Rock and Roll President.
So, what does Bill Clinton sounding like Elvis Presley have to do with Milan Kundera, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker and my Grandmother?
Milan Kundera begins “Immortality” by saying that in the world there are many gestures yet very few people. Essentially, if there are so few gestures in relation to the immensity of the population’s size then gestures have to be incredibly common amonst people. They must be shared, borrowed, imitated, and cross-referenceable. I believe that what often attracts us to people are their gestures. Most of the time we are not even conscious of the fact that what attracts us to others is the sound of their voice, their subtle movements or the shape of their smile — all of these things gestures — as opposed to other physical attributes or personality.
In a world of first impressions and split second decisions, we often like or dislike people based unknowingly on their gestures. And why are we attracted to these gestures? I believe because we subconsciously associate them with other people we know. In a world of so much stimuli, we use this form of “prejudice” to base our decisions.
For example, I am a huge fan of Billie Holiday and Chet Baker. What do they have in common besides being Jazz singers? They were both tragic figures whose drug addictions destroyed their respectives lives. Neither had beautiful voices. Neither have comparable voices to the more melodic Ella Fitzgerald or Johnny Hartman. Both sang slightly off key and offbeat. Both sang with a mellow dramatic sense of sweet heartache. That’s it, they both sing with a beautiful joyous and empthatic undertone that comforts the listener. Bossa Nova has this quality. It is bitter sweet. Its “tristeza” is so gentle that it sounds almost content with its condition of inevitable doom.
When you listen to Billie Holiday you never think that you are listening to a relatively young woman (she died at 44, well into her professional career). The voice is of an experienced and worn woman. She feels “your pain” almost literally. Don’t worry, it’s already happened to her. As a matter of fact, no matter what a man could do to her, she’d still love him, no need for explanations.
Sometimes when I hear her voice crackling, I think I can hear the echos of my grandmother’s laughter. It’s faint and it’s far off in the distance. But, it’s there and it’s comforting me. “Some day we’ll meet and you’ll dry all my tears . . .”
With so many people having populated this planet and with so few gestures being recycled and passed back and forth, it is no surprise that what we unknowingly love in one person is what we loved long ago in some else, even when we really don’t want to.
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