Saturday, October 30, 2010

Drinking From a Firehose

No, not Mike Watt's force of musical nature. That would mean that I used "fIREHOSE" as a noun, which I did not. The title describes music on the internet, and music in Nashville.

I knew there would be a ton of musicians here. In fact, I'm surprised when I meet people who have moved here who are not musicians. That's one of the reasons why I moved. Where I've lived (small towns in the mid-west, mid-south and northeast-ish), there were always a few players. But I rarely met someone who was passionate about playing. Here, I see people reading books about writing better songs where I work (America's Largest Organic Retailer, or ALOR [I will not shame it by mentioning its actual name on my lowly blog]), see people carrying guitars on buses, hear all kinds of musicians at restaurants and even music playing outside. It's pretty much the first place I've lived that is my brand of normal.

Boy, is it intimidating.

Knowing that you're a drop in the firehose teaches you humility right away. Even though we've only been here two months, you already know whether you're going to stay or go, and if you can handle the staying or going. Because, staying means scraping together enough for rent, playing in front of small, apathetic audiences, working retail and cleaning toilets (at least for me it does). And going means you're giving up on your dream. And, as I've heard from many people who a few rungs ahead of me on the music-as-career ladder, the wheat separates from the chaff fast, usually in a few months. We've got two under our belts.

If you're not here for music, the pressure is off. And while we did come here for family, and the convenience and pace of a city, we're really here because we think we can compete: compete with the likes of Over the Rhine or The Avett Brothers. Apparently, we believe we are good enough. (This is where you sit back in your chair, stroke your beard and whisper, "pathetic fools"!)

Here's the thing: "good" will always have a voice. "Good" will always get heard, in some way. My favorite bands aren't household names (but you have heard of the Beatles, right?), but they have a following. I think we are good enough to have a following, and we also think we have something to add to the discourse that is recorded music. Bono, after making and touring the "Pop" record, said that U2 was reapplying for the best band in the world. We're applying for best duo that 1,000 people love. Here's my drug test and work history. (BTW, Wilco and Radiohead are the best bands in the world, Mr. Hewson)

Mike Watt, from the Minutemen and the aforementioned fiREHOSE (not the hairpop monstrosity Firehouse), is one of those guys, and is one of my favorite bass players: I love his style of post-punk playing, his work ethic, and what I assume is a strict no-BS policy. He still drives an Econoline van for tours, just like Neil Young name dropped in "Tonight's the Night". Those vans are so rock and roll that they need to be in the RRHOF, not Madonna. He "jams econo", and rightfully so: just plug in and play, and if you can't do that and kick some butt, why are you wasting my time? I'm egotistical enough to think I can do just that. After all, the world needs more bald, fat, approaching-middle age rock starts.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Working the Dream, part 2

Here's the thing: if you don't ever try, you'll never know.

That's the thinking that has moved us to Nashville. And it's true. It's bugged me for 20 years, even longer if you count: starting to write songs when I was five, pretending I was a singer at seven, recording on my crappy tape recorder when I was 10, learning guitar at 12, etc. I've really wanted to do music all my life.

We've had a pretty craptastic couple of weeks, hounded with cars breaking down, minor annoyances and money concerns. It makes you doubt. No surprise there. But there was something that gave me hope: my first writer's night in Nashville.

If you don't know, writer's nights are pretty self-explanatory. A bunch of songwriters get to play two of their original songs at a bar. There were at least 30 there the night we went, and so there were 60 songs. I heard at least 5 John Mayers, 10 Brad Paisleys, 3 Miranda Lamberts and what had to be an undercover nun. Seriously. And although I was surprised at the ability of those who played (decent players and singers), I was also surprised in a different way: the songs weren't very good.

I decided to listen not in comparison to my songs, but good songs I've heard in the last year. So, I'm not saying I was better or worse. I am saying that the songs were neither good nor bad. They just seemed to exist. Nothing stood out, nothing had a great hook (although I'd heard one great title), and nothing stuck with me. As a music fan (not a musician or writer) I finally gained some empathy for all those A&R guys who listen to song after song. It's no wonder some of the music people I've met here don't take CD's. Any CD's.

When you do things like this, you wonder, "is this me?" "Am I not critiquing myself the way I'm critiquing them?". And I really have no idea. I have no idea, objectively, whether or not I should have moved to take a chance on carving out some niche in the music industry. I do know, however, that if I find out that I'm just not good enough, at least I found that out. Because the not knowing over the next 20-30 years of my life would have been rough. I've waited a long time to find out.

That, and I do think my songs are good enough, or else I wouldn't be here in the first place.

We've had some crazy coincidences this week, too. Nothing I care to detail, but head scratching kind of stuff, which makes me wonder what God thinks of what His people do: is His concern for their passions and gifts secondary to simply loving Him and others? Yeah, I'd say so. But even if it's secondary, is it worthwhile figuring it out anyway? Or are you just wasting Kingdom time? How does your happiness or contentment factor into your serving Him? I've answered those questions in different ways over my years in ministry when other people asked them.

Well, I'm still giving it a shot. Not throwing in the proverbial towel yet. But how long do I give it? How long before I give up on what I think I was made to do? Stay tuned...