Friendship and Art – What are they Good For?

I would like to do something different this week, because about two weeks ago I saw something on youtube that moved me so deeply that I just have to discuss it. I know I am very late to the party, as this all happened half a year or more ago, and many of these things have most likely already been said, but I just cannot keep these thoughts to myself. There are so many areas to talk about, that this has ended up taking me a lot longer than I initially planned.

I am going to talk about Jonathan and Charlotte, a singing duo that took part in Britain’s Got Talent last year, finishing second.

For those of you unfamiliar with their story, please take a look at the following two videos, which I will be discussing at length. They are quite long, but I promise you they are worth your time.

The audition and semi-final

The documentary about them (the start of the video is slightly corrupted, but this problem disappears after a minute or so):

So, the initial obvious reaction, stunning breathtaking unexpected performances of real quality from two people who initially looked anything but the real deal, another reminder not to judge by appearances, just like Susan Boyle or Paul Potts, but in my mind this is much more significant because there is far more to this whole drama than that simple lesson, valuable as it is.

For me it was also, among other precious things, a demonstration of the value of friendship, the purpose of friendship, the beauty of the human soul, the purpose of creating art of any kind and why people pour their lives into doing so. I have no formal education in any of these subjects, so I may be wrong on many points, but these were the things that struck me as I watched and then contemplated what I had just watched, comparing it to my own limited experiences.

First of all, right at the start before their audition we have Charlotte talking about how protective she is of Jonathan, about how people judge him based on his appearance and if they would just look beyond that they would see how valuable he is and how much he has to offer. Her good looks, exuberance and friendliness gains her a good first impression with people and a lot of instant ‘social currency’ as it were, which she can and does use to effectively defend him against insults and put downs, and I have to admire her for that.

He tells of how much she helps him with his performances and lack of confidence and this was evidenced right at the start of their audition. He starts too early, she looks at him with a warm and reassuring maternal smile and then counts him in. It was a brief but very beautiful moment, a glimpse of the devotion and care she shows him, the beauty of her soul shining through and multiplying her outward beauty. Until then they’d looked like a couple of ordinary teenagers just up on stage for a laugh.

Then they start to sing, and everything changes. We know from the documentary that up to this point she had been focussing all of her efforts on keeping him calm and reassuring him. I think that this probably contributed to her forgetting her part at the start and singing the wrong harmony, so the duo doesn’t gel as well as it could and it makes her appear to be the weak link, despite the overall performance being breathtaking, such are their talents and the effort they had poured into improving themselves.

The performance is completed to a massive standing ovation, including the hardest man to please of them all, Simon Cowell. He heaps copious praise on Jonathan, then turns to Charlotte, and the real drama begins.

Simon worries that Charlotte may be holding Jonathan back, and her reaction was praiseworthy. There was no hint of anger or protest, no attempt to defend herself or claim that she could do better, simply nodding in agreement, as if to say ‘You may be right, I just want what’s best for him.’ This probably wasn’t what was going through her mind at the time*, but that was the impression that she gave off, and it freed Jonathan up to make the decision that he felt was best. Such outstanding humility in such a pressurised situation. Again, beautiful to see.

*maybe she was just overwhelmed by the occasion and disappointed in her own performance, perhaps also intimidated by Simon.

So now suddenly the tables are turned, Jonathan is the one with all of the social currency, and perhaps for the first time in his life he is publicly viewed as being above her and having authority over her, perhaps there is a surge of pride within him at all the praise he is receiving and the promise that he will be a star from this powerful personality who is so hard to please. So what does he do with this newfound power? He defends her with it, devotes himself to her and pulls her up onto that pedestal with him to stand by his side.

That was awesome to see, it showed courage and devotion. He knew himself and his limitations, and he knew her, how much of a difference she made to him and how dependent he was on her. He was in effect telling the world (and especially Simon) ‘You’re wrong about her, you don’t know how valuable she is, and what she has to offer’, reciprocating the care she had previously shown him. This was confirmed just under a minute later when the panel were giving their yes/no votes, all of them approving, encouraging and complimentary and it came around to Simon.

Simon’s words were, “You know, my head, here, would say to you, Jonathan, dump her.” Jonathan frowns and derisively shakes his head at the suggestion, his body language saying ‘There’s no way I’m doing that, and you know it.’ In just over a minute he had been transformed from a nervous teenager with little to no confidence in himself into a man of strong character who knew what was important, and was willing to stand up to one of the most intimidating people in the country, almost like a knight in armour defending the honour of his princess against an ogre that would dare disparage her. It was a glorious sight.

In an interview after the initial audition, they revealed that they had anticipated someone asking them to split up and had decided beforehand that they were going to insist on sticking together unless it was a clear message of split up or drop out, each trusting the other to make the right decision. So, in a way he wasn’t caught off-guard by the moment, but still in such an intense situation plans like that can easily be forgotten, so it showed considerable strength of character for Jonathan to stick to his word, and he perhaps did indeed have the option of going on his own, since Simon’s opinion could have counted for a lot in his mind.

Their semi-final performance was all whether Charlotte would justify the faith showed in her. Instead of complaining, making excuses, blaming someone else or feeling sorry for herself she worked hard with quiet determination to improve herself and prove the critics wrong, which is a great attitude to have and a great example to follow. She dug very deep within herself to overcome literally paralysing fear before going on stage and gave a radically improved performance, earning the praise that she richly deserved, including Simon Cowell’s unreserved backing. That took a lot of courage, and is yet another facet of her inner beauty. I hope that there are teenage girls all over the UK (and elsewhere) who will look up to her and seek to emulate her.

After the semi-final there was a massive sense of relief, there was no more lingering issue of whether they work as a pair under pressure, and in the final they were able to give a much improved performance of the same song they auditioned with, and finished second overall. As far as I am aware, there was the usual drama of a contest final, but nothing out of the ordinary that needs to be commented on.

A number of other things in the documentary are worthy of general comment, however. We learn more about their backgrounds and childhoods, including how Jonathan suffered from depression that led to him dropping out of school, and this success in singing has been instrumental (excuse the pun) in getting him out of it, how he has always wanted this career that he now has, and hopes it never ends. We also discover how hard Charlotte has worked on her singing almost her entire life, how she’s been a positive influence on people in many different settings, that she was happy with the direction that her life was going before this contest, and is thoroughly enjoying the experience, though far more important to her than this success is the positive change there’s been in Jonathan, yet another admirable quality. We see that they are both prepared to learn and keep working on their talents, keep actively contributing to their careers and art, never resting on their laurels or becoming lazy.

We see how they bring out the best in each other in both their art and their life, she keeps him grounded, gives him confidence and reassurance, enables him to soar and catches him when he falters. He in turn opens up new horizons, depths and perspectives for her, and once he soars he draws her up to soar with him higher than she could ever reach by herself, and appreciates her immensely. We witness the harmony, the unity, the sense of humour that they share, the great adventure that they are enjoying together that they could never have begun without the other, and are enjoying much more than they would have done on their own, since a burden shared is a burden halved, and a joy shared is multiplied.

One point in the documentary stuck out to me, when Simon asks if they are dating or have kissed, she replies that they aren’t and haven’t, doing so with no sense of shame or embarrassment, just the disarming vitality of innocence. So here is another admirable thing, that they value their friendship too much to risk it by rushing into a sexual relationship that they are clearly not ready for, despite the pressure from society to do so. That shows maturity.

The question must be asked- can it last? Will they continue to succeed in their art, to explore new avenues together and continue to deepen their healthy friendship? The obvious answer is that nothing in life lasts forever, and they may yet be destroyed by the celebrity life as it has destroyed so many before them, but I hope not. Their possibly divergent musical aims could cause them to drift apart, but I hope not. If they do at some point decide that they are more than friends and should get married, I will be delighted for them and will hope that they continue to delight and delight in each other for the whole of their lives, since theirs is the kind of deep, joyful and healthy friendship that successful marriages are built upon, and which I never experienced before I met the girl who is now my wife, but there is no rush.

Whatever happens between them and in their new careers, whatever trials and triumphs, joys and sorrows, surprises and disappointments life brings, my main hope for both of them is that each day they will continue to mature healthily, each day they will draw closer to the Ultimate Good that all good things point towards, that all of our beauty, love, joy, strength, endurance, insight, energy, creativity, harmony and unity are weak reflections of.

It is a joy to see how they soar, the grandeur of their performances and the beauty and purity of their friendship, it is a glimpse of the divine, a little piece of heaven brought down to earth, and then it hit me.

Before I say what, I need to say some things about myself.

In a lot of ways I’m very different from Jonathan, but I also went through a long period of depression, so I know how horrible that can be. I experienced some bullying at school, but of a very different type, not to belittle me as a person but to provoke me into fights. They eventually gave up after a number of months, I can’t remember how long it lasted, and I enjoyed school overall, since I did well at almost everything (apart from History and English, I could never see the point of those two subjects when I was young).

Jonathan’s depression led to him dropping out of school, my depression resulted from my failure at University, triggering a nervous breakdown that forced me to return home in shame. For the next year or two (during which I somehow managed to complete a lesser degree in my home town), every little failure would bring on panic attacks and even after that, every time I assessed my own progress or looked like I was going to fail at something, a crushing spiral of self-doubt would begin, and I fought those with varying degrees of success.

While at my second university, a few nice girls tried to come alongside me and help me out of my depression like Charlotte did with Jonathan, even meeting with some success, but using my teenage male superpower of extreme shyness around girls I managed to push them all away. It was only when I was inoculated via a long-distance email friendship with the girl who is now my wife (as partially described in Thirteen Email Years Ago and Ten and One) and building up a rapport and shared sense of humour that way that our relationship was able to survive the trauma of meeting up in person.

With Jonathan and Charlotte, that inoculation and bond came via their shared passion for music. Charlotte is a hero for doing what she did for Jonathan as well as her bravery to perform as she did in the semi-final, Jonathan is a hero for managing to perform on stage at all despite his severe confidence problems, something I could never have done in his position.

I am still a very shy person, I love my quiet life with my wife and children and am terrified of the glare of publicity. I dread ever becoming a celebrity, hence I use a different name and identity online, to keep my public and private life separate.

I’m relatively new to creative writing, and a complete novice when it comes to trying to get something published. A survey was done on a writer’s forum that I take part in, and the first question was a simple one:

“Why do you write?”

I was stumped.

The more I thought about it, the worse I felt, I really had no idea. I closed the browser window and tried to forget about it.

I’m terrified of succeeding as a writer, but I’m very competitive and hate failing, so why do I write? That question lurked in the back of my mind for a long time. After watching Jonathan and Charlotte and processing what I witnessed, I now know the answer.

I write because I want to soar.

I want to soar and take my readers with me. I want to catch a glimpse of the divine and pass it on. I want to take hold of a little piece of heaven, bring it down to earth and share it. That is what good art is for. I also realised that good friendship is all about helping someone else to soar, to overcome their flaws and achieve something worthwhile. If Jonathan and Charlotte never achieve anything else in their careers, they have shown me these two vital things, and for that I am extremely grateful.

If you have read this far, I thank you for your patience and hope you have gained something from my ramblings.

1 thought on “Friendship and Art – What are they Good For?

  1. Pingback: Talent Contests and the Superversive | The Zwyckyverse

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