A little while ago I put out a song called “By The Side,” and – as I do sometimes – I wondered after writing it exactly what the song is about. You’d think that because I wrote it I’d automatically know, but that is not always the case.
There are a few themes I revisit a lot in my songwriting, particularly relationships, travel, and – like this one – identity. And I think in part “By The Side” has a lot to do with denying a critical piece of my life for so long: My Musical Self.
What does it take to be a musician? By that I mean, what does it take to make music not just a part of one’s life, but also of one’s identity?
There are those of us who spent our teen years thinking that there was something special in those six strings or those 88 keys that made life worthwhile and special. That gave us the ability to express something about our lives and our souls that had no other way to come out.
And then – inevitably – life got in the way. There were bills, and jobs, and careers. And something didn’t ever quite feel right. The guitar or piano or drums or horn sat in a case in the corner or under a blanket in the basement, their voice stilled.
Until and unless the voice was no longer willing to be silent and either whispered or roared in a way that it could not longer be ignored. Until and unless the soul insisted on being heard, and once again the musician found the courage to identify themselves for what they are.
So what does it mean to be a musician, or a songwriter, or a performer, or a writer? It means being willing to let people see everything that you’ve told yourself isn’t serious, isn’t ambitious, isn’t responsible.
Because it is serious – it is as serious as your name and your heartbeat, for it is you.
Because it is ambitious – it is standing at the front of a room and saying look, I have something to say and a story to play for you.
Because it is responsible – responsible to the voice by the side that wants to be heard.
You don’t have to ignore everything else and leave it to be able to let the voice loose. There are times and places if you can give them priority and space. But by doing so you might be able to give empathy and solace and joy to someone else in the world.
The new song “Train to Bad Places” came from exactly those kinds of opportunities. A roadhouse song born of a thought during a game of dominoes and written into another road story. A bit heavier and rougher than things I’ve been writing just before, but I really love where this one went.
And I hope you do, too!