Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ever Feel Like Starting Over?

Here are the lyrics to every song I've ever performed live as a solo artist. Every so often, I want to set it on fire.

Look at that photo above. Look at it. It's a pile of paper, and on each of the sheets comprising the pile are words, and those words are the lyrics of songs that I've performed live as a solo artist. Some are songs I've written; most are not. Most -- in my subjective opinion -- are good songs. The earliest one in this pile was written by Irving Berlin in 1926 ("Blue Skies"), and the most recent was written in 2017, most likely by me or one of my bandmates in They Stole My Crayon.

It's quite the collection. There are well over 400 songs there. Classic '60s rock by the Beatles, Stones, and Doors. Mellow gold from the '70s by Seals & Crofts, James Taylor, and Harry Chapin. Some '80s pop tunes by Madonna, Elvis Costello, and The Police. Lots of '90s grunge by Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Stone Temple Pilots. There's a ton of alternative and indie music from the '00s and '10s from artists and bands a lot of you have never heard of, like Kurt Vile, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Connan Mockasin, and Midlake. They all have enough value to me that at some point, I chose to learn the songs and perform them in front of people.

That having been said, from time to time, I feel like taking this pile, dousing it with lighter fluid, and throwing a match onto it to watch it turn to ashes.

There's an old saying that goes, "Familiarity breeds contempt." Part of my occasional negative outlook toward these great songs is simply due to the fact that I've done so many of them, over and over, for the past 10+ years (and in some cases since I was a high school student in the mid-80s) that while there's a degree of comfort in being able to perform them with little effort, I can get burned out on them. Example: let's say your favorite meal was filet mignon, garlic mashed potatoes, and asparagus. Now eat that same meal every single night for a month, and tell me how much you'd look forward to tasting something new. You get the idea.

But that's probably not the main reason I am, from time to time, in hate with the music I play.

Comedian Louis C.K. told a story while speaking at a memorial service for George Carlin, and it affected me. He explained that he'd developed a comedy routine over a period of 15 years, and kept doing it over and over, and eventually grew to hate it. At the same time, he was understandably frightened to throw it all away and start fresh. But that's exactly what he did, and it's become his pattern ever since... create new material, hone it over the course of a live tour, have it culminate in the form of a big special, and then... toss it. Even if it was great. Perhaps especially if it was great.

Louis did the same routine for 15 years, and then threw it in the trash. I admire that. It's terrifying, but I know where he was coming from.

You're Going To Throw Away All Of Your Songs???
What are you, nuts? No, of course not. Music is different from comedy, or any other art form for that matter. There's nothing wrong with the songs I've been performing, in some cases for most of my life. But if I have a goal for my live performances, it's going to be to continually add more material, both originals and covers, and keep expanding my repertoire. It's going to be to not give in to the understandable desire to play it safe.

An important note: this has nothing to do with musical styles or genres, or keeping up with "new" music. I could give a shit whether a song was created in 2017 or 1817 or 1317, or any time in between. I have zero concern about trying to sound like whatever is playing on people's Internet streams and car radios right now. If anything, I'm even further removed from that kind of effort. My only inspiration is to stay inspired, and I'd rather accept the nervousness of performing fresh material than face the inevitable burnout of only doing the stuff that's so easy for me to do.

You'll continue to hear the stuff that you enjoy, I promise. But there will also be more and more stuff you haven't heard me do before. You might like some of it, and you might hate other parts of it, but either way, we'll all get to walk that tightrope together. That pile may look big right now, but as far as I'm concerned, I haven't even scratched the surface of what might be possible if I stay open and try out stuff that you'd never imagine some guy with his acoustic guitar turning into an enjoyable and memorable listening experience.

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