Commencement 1995

James Taylor Delivers Commencement Address

Ladies and gentlemen of the graduating class of 1995, President Berk, assembled faculty, family members, well-wishers and hangers-on, congratulations! I feel deeply honored to be with you here today and in such distinguished company. It's a beautiful day and it was a lovely performance last night; very moving and wonderful to feel included in it.

Berklee Professor Richard Evans (left) joins James Taylor after the 1995 Commencement concert.

I get the feeling that people all over the country are graduating and they're leaving one phase and moving on to another with a combined feeling of anxiety and elation. I feel it too; as we approach the millennium the world itself is in a state of profound transition. And, in these times and on this day, there's bound to be a lot of talk about music as a career, music as an industry and the "entertainment business." And that's fine.

But I want to talk about music as spiritual food. I applaud and admire your decision to make music the focus and the center of your lives, because in spite of the increasing presence of corporate priorities in music today, it is not a "safe" career choice to become a musician. There are risks involved, and I think it's important to remember why we take those risks.

My wife Katherine refers to this period of time that we're in now as "high late capitalism," and I agree with her that it's characterized by a general, ongoing attempt to put a dollar value on pretty much everything. In fact, as a culture we seem to feel uneasy and skeptical about anything that doesn't have a number attached to it that represents money in the bank.

I would just like to make one simple and obvious point that was clear to me when I started out, but that has become more obscure as I've repeatedly taken myself to market. And that's simply that it's a gift. It's a blessing, and we really are the lucky ones to have music in our lives and at the center of things.

Because as you know, music is the true soul food, and not that other stuff. You can criticize it, you can put a spin on it, you can analyze it and interpret it in terms of its cultural significance. But, basically that doesn't affect music. Music is beyond the fashion of consensus reality, and basically, it either connects with us, or it doesn't.

And because it follows the laws of the physical universe, it reminds us of the truth that lies beneath and beyond the illusion that we live in. It gives us relief from the insanity of constantly trying to invent ourselves. And in this way, music is true spiritual practice. I thank God for music, and I thank music for God.

So, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, but keep the moneychangers out of the temple, and keep music to yourself. I would advise you to keep your overhead down; avoid a major drug habit; play every day; and take it in front of other people—they need to hear it, and you need them to hear it . And persevere. The Japanese say, "fall down seven times, and stand up eight times."

So, remember why you chose this risky enterprise. Well, Class of ´95, carry on.