Low times can be surprisingly productive. While there are the days when levels of depression set in and productivity of any kind is nil, there are pockets of lowness that create the necessity of an outlet.
I spent a brief stint in Pittsburgh staying with my brother. I was between jobs (which can easily contribute to lowness) and being in a bit of a rut, I was glad for the change of scenery. A Helping Hand came along during this brief stretch. I was paying for mistakes after not listening to others and going along with things I knew weren’t doing me any favors.
Let’s face it, we all have times when we know we’re not going to manage alone (some of us more than others). A lot of the time, asking for help can be the hardest part of getting through the harder times.
The year I started college was the first year I had a live performance. There was a local coffee house that had music on Fridays and Saturdays, to which I stopped in and met the owner Renee. She booked me, which started the first of twenty some gigs I would play there over the next 5 years.
Renee was and is the big sister I never had. As a timid kid starting college, she not only gave me an opportunity to start learning to perform publicly, but was also never afraid to push me and tell me what I needed to hear, whether I wanted to hear it or not.
Right around the time I met Renee, her youngest daughter, Sophia was born, and in the following years she became a regular at the coffee house, both for my performances and to entertain customers herself.
Renee and Sophia were inspirational people to have in a very pivotal point in my life (as a person in general, but particularly as a songwriter). Renee always pushed me to break away from leaning on covers and start making my own songs. Thus, one my earliest songs was an ode to her daughter and my dear friend, Sophia.
I lament that busyness has kept me from seeing them regularly, but they always have a very special place in my heart. And should anyone ever ask where I got the motivation to be a songwriter, I can always picture Renee smiling smugly in the back of my mind.
Every song is about the songwriter in one way or another, some more directly than others. I feel Message was the first song I wrote to be open auto biography of how I wanted to go about being a songwriter, as well as the type of person I considered myself. It became like a theme song for me, and is still probably my regularly played song as a solo performer.
I don’t know where music is going to take me, but I’m letting it take me there regardless.
Even when we’re doing something we’re passionate about, things can get tiring. Everyone comes across their occasional dead ends, where what’s supposed to be fun and innovative feels like work, and anything meant to be creative may as well be mud. There’s just no avoiding those days.
The Night is Yours was a personal pep talk for just those occasions. I’ve walked away from more than a few gigs over the past decade feeling frustrated and jaded. I’ve played plenty of shows where the audience has treated me as unwelcome background noise. I’ve sang for a lot empty rooms. In those instances, it’s important for me to remember that the times in my life I have felt the most alive were walking away from shows that went better than I could ever have imagined.
And even though remembering the great successes isn’t always enough to instantly drag me out of a bout of frustration, it’s important to remember why I do this, and to remember why I’m going to keep doing this.
It’s kind of a strange phrase, isn’t it? We talk about worse times in order to help us appreciate the things we have, and we talk about better times in order to hold on to our favorable memories or maybe strive to make things great again.
I understand the value of history, and I see the value in looking back at what has and hasn’t worked. But these are our times. The present is now, and whether the past has been better or worse, our choices will decide whether or not the future is better or worse. We’re not going to the past (or if we are, we’re in trouble), so we shouldn’t be trying to relive it or trying to be use to make our current problems look less significant. We should learn from and keep moving.
Hopefully this song doesn’t feel as preachy as it felt writing this post.
Merry Christmas to all and any! This week for the song of the week, I of course needed to bring out my favorite Christmas song. The story of the Czech saint’s act of charity and battle against the elements, making it a true staple of a folk song along with being a holiday tune. Enjoy it, and I hope you’re holidays have been (and continue to be) blessed and beautiful. Merry Christmas!
Competitiveness is cancerous in a local scene. It can be so hard to be supportive for the sake of a musical community when there are only so many places to play, and there are always so many egos to battle (including one’s own). Jealousy and arrogance are real threats. As musician, being involved in the business end is necessary for a certain level of success, but it comes at a price if one is not cautious.
There Goes Something was written from a bad mindset that I was trying to get out of. The more you look at everyone as your competition, the truer it becomes. If you as a musician cannot step back and find appreciation in other performers simply because they are more successful than you, you are not supportive of your scene. And if you are going to look at other’s in a competitive light, you would do well to remember to take a good look at yourself and discover your own shortcomings.
As an ardent Bob Dylan fan, it’s only natural that a few of my songs fell into the “protest song” ball park. I don’t consider myself a very politically driven person, leading to more general commentaries in my songs.
Looking back at it, Fear No End was my attempt to say something when I didn’t really have anything to say. We as a people (within this country, or even this planet) have done many amazing things, both for ourselves and each other. We’ve committed unfathomable evils as well, whatever our reasons were for doing so. We’ve come very far, but still have much further to go. I think the point I was trying to get across with this song was that we should be both confident and learned as we face the future. Confident by remembering that which we have overcome and accomplished, and learned by remembering the wrong we have done upon this world in order to avoid repeating them.
The world is often scary, as is the unknown with our future. Courage must be found in order face these two things which cannot be avoided.
A newer song, Let Me In went through some transformation in it’s process. The song started out as reference to my frustration dealing with the business end of being a musician. In the world of the web, booking contacts for many venues have perfected the art of ignoring incoming musicians (emails are easier to ignore than phone calls). So those of us who aren’t particularly pushy (like myself) struggle to find new venues in unfamiliar places. I dread the idea of trying to find a trustworthy agent.
Though the song started in the vein, it departed a bit as a handful of close friends all seemed to be battling with some personal turmoil. I found myself feeling helpless, not being able or not knowing how to help them. It was like seeing them tied up behind a locked door. So two frustrating situations blended together into the theme: Getting tired of being blocked out.
One of the earliest songs of my songwriting career, “I Don’t Care…” was a song written as an emotional outlet. And if you guessed the emotion I was letting out was anger, you are correct.
I was a struggling music student at the time, attempting to be a singer songwriter in a classical music program with little success. I had been consulting with some of my professors for advice on what I should do, when I received an email from one of my less technologically savvy professors that I was not meant to see (cc-ing can be such a messy business). The email went into some detail outlining my short comings as a music student, which were apparently many, and upon realizing these words of judgment were not intended for me to see in any sort “tough love/hard truth” act of sincerity, my feelings towards the situation escalated from frustrated to livid. And the rest is history.
“I Don’t Care…” doesn’t go into all the details regarding this story, but in regards to my feelings on the situation at the time, it pulls no punches. I dropped out of the music program that semester and switched majors the next. Possibly one of the best choices of my life.