I’m feeling completely overwhelmed by joy. It’s been a remarkable week. One of my most favorite things in the world is seeing Drum Corps competing live. MTSU hosts a big one every summer. I went last night. After my scheduled corps-compadre cancelled, I decided I could go alone. I got a bit lost trying to find the place, and arrived late at exactly the same time as John, a perfect stranger whose wife let him have the night off to go to his first Corps show in 20 years because it was his birthday, of all things. A self-professed band geek (like myself), and ahem…Trekkie (not that there’s anything wrong with that), John became the perfect companion for this awesome night. I was reminded of the power that excellence and creativity have to bring 20,000 people to their feet. I sat in awe as I watched marching and heard playing that both seemed un-human, constantly picturing the hundreds of hours these sun-bronzed, disciplined kids have spent on blazing hot practice fields, working their skills to perfection. Made me feel old and a little lazy, but off-the-chart psyched up to keep aiming for excellence, and to find new, creative ways of expressing myself that will inspire others to come more fully alive. Happy Birthday, John! Your presence was a gift to me last night. You would’ve been a great Scout.
Sheryl Crow Thursday night at the Sommet Center was incredible as well. She’s hot and confident, and about as prolific of a songwriter as they come. Quite a remarkable voice, too. Wednesday night with Eric, and Monday with Josh D. were killer. And Tuesday was a huge day for working the plow in the field of forgiveness. My heart is tender.
I’m also blown away by the great work my friend Christopher Davis did producing “Precious Memories” for me – the first song I’ve recorded that I’ve written both the music and lyrics. It’s on my myspace page and will appear in the film “Clancy” being produced by Kelly’s Filmworks out of Louisville. What an honor. “Superfamous” will also be appearing the film “Fraternity House,” but that’s a whole other kind of honor. One that smells more like beer.
Ah, the sweet dichotomy of my life.
I always chuckle a little when someone drops off our plates of food at a restaurant. How as they walk off, with forced quasi-hospitality, they offer the one word of direction anyone needs while staring at a plate full of food with an empty stomach: “Enjoy!” Oh…OK! I will do that! I will enjoy this food! Thank you for the reminder. People never talk like this in real life. These people continually get away with it.
But the directive I received when leaving a restaurant last week topped that. As we left Saltgrass, the host holding the door said, “Hope you enjoy everything!” As if he’s directing us to enjoy everything that happens from here on out. Once you leave the premises, please make every effort to enjoy what happens. Perhaps he meant to say “Hope you enjoyed everything…” but I like to believe this host holds the secret to life I’ve been longing to find. You know what, just enjoy everything. Don’t analyze everything, or try figure out why you do what you do, or why someone you care about doesn’t do what you think they should do, don’t stress, don’t worry, don’t freak out about stuff that’s completely out of your hands. Just enjoy everything.
Why yes, Mr. Saltgrass Host with a ponytail, I will. I will enjoy everything. Thanks for the tip.
The first time I ever played any of my songs for a Nashville decision maker was at a big publisher’s office, shortly after moving to Nashville. Cindy was super nice, and I felt like she really wanted to be helpful. I played my most personal song for her, “Turn My Eyes Upon You.”
“This one’s too personal.” She said too matter of factly.
“Oh really?” I thought that was a good thing. Obviously I was ignorant to the ways of real songwriters. “That was my goal with that one. You know, to be personal. Don’t you think too many artists sing songs that don’t mean anything at all?”
“That doesn’t matter.” The clock was ticking.
She explained how as a publisher she was looking for songs she could pitch to other artists to record, and how they need to be able to make the songs sound like their own.
“Like you could change the line, If you see a smile on my face, it’s not that everything is going just fine to When I see the smile on your face, I know it’s not blah, blah, blah….” I couldn’t hear anything more. This was my incredible song that she was altering. People back home in Minnesota liked my song. Are they dumb? I didn’t think so.
I wish I could go back in time and have coffee with that Mark, just after that meeting.
“So, how did it go?” Mature Mark would ask.
“She hated me.” I’d respond.
“Oh really. What exactly made you feel like she hated you?”
“She said my songs were stupid. And too personal.” I think I’m starting to sound like a 13-year-old girl at this point.
“What had you hoped she would do for you?”
Silence. I had no frame of reference. I had no idea what to expect, except opens doors of opportunity and lots of pats on the back.
“I hoped she’d like me and want to help me.”
“And see your overwhelming potential drenched in brilliance?”
“Exactly.” I’d high-five myself.
“Well, I can see it.”
“Thanks, me.” I’d reply, awww-shucking.
“Let me give you a little secret.”
“I’m all ears.” I have nowhere to be, so what’s a little free advice from the future going to hurt me?
“Some of these people, these decision-makers, these gate-keepers, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“That’s exactly what I thought!”
“Of course, there’s a but.”
“But, they are still the decision-makers. So it becomes your responsibility to make it as simple as possible for them to make the decisions you want them to make.”
I chuckle. “Right. How am I supposed to do that?”
“Don’t be offended by this. But you can do this best by being excellent.”
“Excellent?” I’m not getting anywhere with myself.
“How long have you been a songwriter?”
“Um. About a year.”
“So do you think that in a year you have developed to the level of excellence as a songwriter that you can walk into a publisher’s office in one of the largest music cities in the world, and expect them to roll out the red carpet?”
I took that one right in the kisser.
“You need to work on your songwriting. If you want to be a published songwriter you have to learn how to write songs that publishers are looking for. Today sounds like it was a great first lesson.”
“You’re right.” I’d say, swallowing hard.
“You can’t move to Italy and expect to speak Italian right away. It’s going to take time and a lot of work. Don’t waste your time fretting over how people don’t understand what you’re trying to say. Learn the dang language. Be patient with the dance. You thought you’d move here and find someone who would tell you you’re a great dancer. But in fact, you moved here to learn how to dance. In time, you’ll be dancing like no one else. And people will pay money to watch. And they’ll be trying to learn how to dance like you.”
“Okay, that’s just weird. Are you telling me I’m not a dancer?”
“Not yet. But don’t give up. No matter how ready you think you are to be on stage.”
I’m now officially free to let other people respond to me the way they want to, and it doesn’t need to affect how I feel about myself. I’m free to let other people love me in their own way, in their own time, without me taking anything personally. I’m free to let myself make mistakes in the ways that I communicate my feelings, because I am free to be misunderstood. I am free to not be liked by everyone around me. I’m free to allow the love of God and those who know me well, actually be enough to get me through today. I’m free to not be entangled by the quest for acceptance from strangers, no matter how good looking they might be. I’m free to be optimistic about the future, even if my present circumstances appear stagnant, knowing that the only thing that’s certain in life is change. Still, I’m free to not be ruled by the allure of “what might happen” in the future, because I am choosing to focus on the beauty of the present. I’m free to be surprised by what might come my way, because I’m entering into today without any expectations.
This is my declaration of independence.