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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Riding the Drought Out


Thanksgiving is a time of abundance ‘round here, a time of overeating and napping and leftovering and bulking up to survive the winter ahead and watching a favorite movie like The Big Lebowski, and yet, it can also be a time of doing without and being hungry.  We reflect on our fortunes, thankful we’re able to contribute to the world in some way.  A big contribution of mine has been the ability to put music out into the world that didn’t exist before, even though I know all art is derivative of other art in small ways.  Having learned a little about writing and plagiarism over the years, I’d like to think if I’m copying, I’m not creating, but I know some can be unconscious.  None of us are immune to influence.

Feeling bad about past mistakes, mostly those of the foot-in-mouth or impatience variety, I’m coming to realize those are normal, and it’s okay that they happen.  I’m at that age where I’m taking notice of the inevitable decline of my parents’ generation, the decline of loved ones, of people’s bodies wearing out, of time being precious.  It’s also a time in which I’ve paid closer attention to advice about aging gracefully, and that includes not stopping what you’re passionate about.  Keep working, they say.  Don’t retire.  Stay active.  Have a purpose.  Do the things that get you excited to be alive.  For me, one of those is writing songs and recording music.  I’m thankful I have this hobby.

It’s been a while since I updated you in this blog on my activities.  I’ve been hanging out, enjoying life, going to the day job every day, boldly trying new things, tolerating, abiding.  Not much going on as far as creative output for a while, blogging or otherwise, but I remain convinced the future holds more.  You may have already become aware of the recent addition of more music videos on my official YouTube channel for your enjoyment.  The good news is there’s at least a couple more new albums on the way, and a lyric/chord songbook project.  As another winter approaches, you can hunker down for the holidays, get out and ski, and be assured that droughts don’t last because they never do.

Writer’s block or not, focusing on other things and waiting works, important things like family and survival, and the tension of expectation and demand can motivate.  I can only assume from the analytics that there are people who want to know about these things, that I have actual readers of this blog, that there are actual fans of my music and that they might be curious to learn more, although I know not who you are.  With all the competition for our free time and all the creative works out there to discover, it’s a wonderful thing.  I’m fortunate to have creative outlets, but as I’ve said before, just knowing there’s the potential for appreciators is an exciting boost to wait around for more inspiration to arrive.

Throughout my pretend “career” as a songwriter and recording artist, I’ve felt the need whether in blogs or real conversations with people to use my self-deprecating style to downplay the quality of my music secretly hoping it will make people pleasantly surprised should they actually make a decision to check it out.  Maybe the wisdom of age has taught me such an approach protects me from negative reaction pain, but at the same time it has taught me that talking about it at all in the first place helps it happen.  Telling people about creative projects you’re thinking about taking on makes them more likely to happen.  The fake-it-‘till-you-make-it approach works.

When you tell someone about a project you might take on, that in itself becomes a seed that can lead to germination.  Similarly, experience has also taught me that it is the ideas for songs that are the most important part.  Have a good enough idea for a song, and it will practically write itself, I’ve found.  The same theory applies to an idea for a blog post, a book, a project of any kind.  Writing this post will probably get me back on track, because I’m admitting to you and myself that if experience is a guide, more will materialize.  The complete opposite approach can work as well.  The prolific Stephen King doesn’t believe in ideas or outlines, and instead just starts typing his way through to completed works.  I guess I’m sort of doing that here in this post, with no concrete point in mind yet.

I am currently experiencing another prolonged period of abnormally low occurrences of songwriting, leading to a shortage of new material to record.  I’ve ridden out many since I wrote my first song back in the winter of ’89-’90, my first living in Vail, Colorado.  Many of the early songs I wrote in my ski bum days have made their way through rounds of revisions to become “release worthy” by my own weird standards, and new recordings of them in their final states will be making appearances on my next two albums – Bluebird Days I and II – which not surprisingly will include several that are either about skiing, mention skiing, or that were inspired by skiing.  If you’re into skiing, Vail is an inspiring place.

Speaking of inspiration and rocky mountain winters, riding out creative droughts for me is usually a microcosm of life in that it’s a temporary low, and like life, it’s full of highs and lows, peaks and valleys, strikes and gutters as the fellow says.  Dudes, and I’m talking about ski bums here, back in the early 90s, like me who were out there at that time and place, skiing, fitting in, takin’ ‘er easy for the rest, were easily inspired to write songs.  I was young, everyone around was young, the mountains were beautiful, the girls were beautiful, the powder and vertical capacity abundant, weed burning, beer flowing, etc.  I was also flat broke and in debt the whole time.  I learned life is about balance:  don’t get too high when things are going your way, don’t get too low when they’re not.

I try to not worry when the hobby of writing/recording is on hiatus.  Just like the weather, the situation is guaranteed to change based on history.  With a couple albums ready to release (one of which got pre-released already due to a distribution snafu beyond my control), it’s even easier to take it easy.  Everyone needs and benefits from time to reflect to get a fresh perspective, just as they need time off from a regular day job.  Time away makes you appreciate it more, as can be the case with love relationships too.  Most of us with a passion this hobby don’t do it for a living, and so we wait for the muse clouds to show up again. 

I feel lucky every time they do, as if it’s an honor and privilege to be chosen, so I am careful about not abusing the power or taking the gift for granted.  I realize that could arguably be construed as a self-deprecating sarcastic or ironic joke to those who don’t like my songs, but I assure you it’s unintentional.  It’s truly a blessing from a higher power to be able to write songs and record music at all.  Sometimes you deserve a break, and sometimes that break really sets you up better than ever to be prolific again.  Weather the dry as you do the stormy, appreciating the upside of both.  Balance.

Some claim you can force it, treat it like a job, schedule regular time for it, which can work.  I’ve tried that here and there, and the ratio of keeper to weeded out material is about the same.  You end up with more recyclable bits and pieces of songs that way, which can be good.  On the other hand, I tend to just wait and go with the flow when the songs rain in again.  It’s not unlike a ski bum waiting for a powder day.  It’s going to happen again whether you pray for it or prepare for it or not, and when it does, you’ll know what to do and be “stoked” which is far from some kind of Eastern parlance.  Here in the lukewarm midwestern swing state of Michigan, there’s a lot of abiding going on.  You’ve got the guitar, the computer with word processor and audio interface, the microphones, etc. all ready to be fired up again.

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then certainly a temporary lack of creativity will make you like it even more when the new songs show up again.  Meantime, you find other free time pursuits, keep busy, try to help make a difference in the world in other ways.  Yes, adding songs to the world that didn’t exist before is a contribution to society, one that is in my humble opinion, a noble pursuit.  It shows you have fine personal qualities and high moral principles and ideals if you want to put new artistic creations into the world for people to potentially enjoy.  Knowing even just a few people out there are entertained by your music is very satisfying, and it’s worth riding out the droughts to be able to do it again.

Good art imitates nature, and it’s natural for seasons to change, and good art imitates good art, and to everything there is a season, mistakes happen, shit happens, dudes abide, all things must pass, and in turn whether it’s a movie or skiing or music, the world will not run out of it, you just might have to wait for a little while is all.  Re-use clich├ęs, be not tired of the trite and contrived, everything is a re-hashing of everything that came before, and whether the art be high and fancy or lowdown and dirty, or not someone’s cup of tea, there’s nothing to worry about or fear – that would be a waste of time.  Live each day like it’s your last, seizing carp, and you might die in a song drought, but overall, you died with many songs because you rode out many a drought.  

I’m not clear on the psychology to explain why I always feel the need to warn people my music likely won’t be their cup of tea.  Lowering their expectations and hoping they’ll be pleasantly surprised is the opposite of tooting your own horn.  The confidence to admit you think your own creative work is pretty good is the same confidence that kicks in when you say you’re going to do something and then end up actually doing it.  Being true to your word aside, sometimes you have to commit yourself to things in life, dive in and start swimming, whether you think you know how to keep yourself from sinking or not.  Go without fear of failing, I say, because failing is not the end of the world.  Don’t freak out about the ideas not materializing, be calm knowing they will eventually, and when they do, run with them.  In times of creative famine, know a feast of excitement will return.