War of the Worlds

The year that Alanis Morrisette won like a dozen Grammys for Jagged Little Pill, one of her acceptance speeches stuck in my mind. I don’t remember it exactly, but the gist was:
“There is plenty of room up here for all of you who are writing music and want to share it with the world. Hold onto your dreams and you’ll be here too.”

Lily Wilson and I were emailing back and forth recently, two songwriters talking about what was working, what’s new, where we were finding some good opportunities, and it was so nice. Lily is a great performer and songwriter with this beautiful, kind, earthy spirit. It makes me feel good just to be around her, and when we touch base, it always feels positive.

And Dana and Dan from Motherlode couldn’t be nicer. They’re always fun and supportive, enthusiastic about their music and the exciting things other people are producing. They invite guest singers up. They share their occasional struggles and frustrations with the music, and sometimes ask for ideas. They smile and thank those who give them compliments. The community loves them.

And there are incredible writers like Jimmy Webb, Melissa Manchester, and Beth Neilsen Chapman, who from a position of amazing career success, share insights and offer praise to developing songwriters with real concern for the work and the person. They somehow avoid the temptation to see the world as “us vs. them” and instead seem able to just enjoy the journey, all of us together on a creative path.

Which is not always the case with some other songwriters I know.

There’s the “Big Talker,” who upon meeting, instantly launches into a monologue about all the ways his career is awesome, his sales are through the roof, his manager/agent/publicist are all hustling with maximum warp effort since audiences can’t get ENOUGH of his latest release. And when he politely remembers to ask about you, time grows short and focus drifts.

And then there’s the “Close-lipped Talker,” who somehow manages to get the word out about his recent deals, yet never elaborates or offers support or suggestions to anyone else. Ever. Close-Lipped Talkers will happily, graciously accept compliments, but never offer them. They seem intentionally vague when asked a specific question, and uncommittal when asked for a favor or contact. They’re often quite talented, but it’s hard to love their work with true enthusiasm — or at least it is for me. I have a hard time separating the work from the personality, even though this is probably not always wise.

Lastly, there’s the “Not Interested in Talking” writer. This is the person who performs at the open mics or jam nights, but isn’t interested at all in allowing anyone else into their creative sanctum. I understand that some people are private, and art is often an intensely private enterprise on many levels, but I also hear many “NIIT”s complaining that “people just don’t recognize good music when they hear it” or “booking guys are idiots” etc, while refusing to ever consider that their work could be fine-tuned or improved in some ways (as ALL of ours could!). They often approach the marketing side of their writing career very professionally, with glossy presskits and slick demos, very shi-shi acoutrements, when the work itself is perhaps not yet ready to be showcased.

So it seems to me that there are two worlds out there. . .

There’s the OPEN world where communication and sharing is paramount; where people help each other, offer support, share contacts, give compliments, stay open to learning, laugh together, keep in touch, refer gigs, link sites, give credit, and give thanks. In this world, the journey itself is acknowleged and valued, and you might laugh and feel human as you travel your path, and you enjoy it a lot of the time. Alanis did a great job in her Grammy speech of sweeping the door to this world ever-wider for young hopeful songwriters. (It was already open, but they might not have known). Being a member of this world takes FAITH. If you don’t have faith that it all comes around, it’s hard to be generous.

And there’s the other world, a CLOSED world, where each person is single-mindedly out for his or herself and guards ferociously what’s theirs. Here, people need to keep themselves as the center of attention, they worry about status, keep their best contacts and ideas locked away, see others’ triumphs as taking away from their own opportunities, blame other people for their failures, keep their disappointments secret, insist on doing it their one way, and put a LOT of energy into how things LOOK, even to the detriment of how things are. In this world, the journey is taking way too long and according to members, is harder and more grueling than anyone else can imagine. And the victories are short and too far between. This world is fueled by insecurity, and inhabited by a lot of fear. We all visit this world sometimes. It kind of sucks.

The bumper sticker says: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Well if your world — of songwriting or any other kind of competitive side of life — isn’t what you want to be seeing, let’s take a big fat step toward the OPEN world and see if it helps. I think it will.

Things I’m Thankful For Today:
1. That JP just called and referred a great gig to me. (as I was writing this! Exactly! wow…)
2. That I made excellent progress in revamping my office yesterday (it’s now fun and serene)
3. Zone bars, veggie burgers, and Chai. (Maybe too happy about Chai…ummm)
4. My Ipod for creating good setlists for the upcoming shows
5. Beautiful sheets…gotta love em.

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