Strike a Chord: Vocals, Guitar, and the Music of My Life

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This was inspired by a prompt from The Daily Post http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/strike-a-chord/

I sing and play guitar.

Or rather I’m a singer who plays guitar.

For those of you that aren’t aware there are two types of singer/guitar players out there. Singers who play guitar and guitar players who sing. I won’t go into too many details but it will suffice to say a singer who plays guitar is a stronger vocalist then guitarist and uses the guitar more as accompaniment. A guitar player who sings is a stronger guitar player and can perform all sorts of acrobatics along a fret board but while they might not be horrible at the microphone there is something to be desired.

Vocally, I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. It always came very easily to me and with the exception of a shy stage I had as a kid I’ve always enjoyed having any chance to perform. Make no mistake the body is your instrument if you are a vocalist. A fact which is made painfully aware when you are sick or for whatever other reason “voiceless.” Getting sick isn’t fun for most people but it is devastating for me because when I get sick I lose my voice and thus I lose my very self.

Guitar is a more complicated story. I like it now and I certainly never hated it. If anything I always had an affinity for the string section. When I was a little kid my favorite instrument was the harp. I wouldn’t sneer at a Violin or Viola though. However for some reason my longing to play the harp went unfulfilled at the time. Perhaps it was because harps were hard to find. Maybe I simply didn’t beg hard enough for a harp lesson. Or maybe it was because my parents weren’t so sure about investing lots of time, money, and space in the house for an instrument that might not get played. (To their credit they did support many of my other endeavors in the arts and it is true I did go through a lot of classes and hobbies as a kid).

It was my father who taught me the guitar though it was somewhat forced at the beginning. I was 11 or 12 at the time and I didn’t want to learn at first. This might have been a result of pre-teen rebellion (i.e. anything your parents do is, like, so lame). Vanity was involved too (I shuddered at the idea of getting calluses on my fingers that, horror of horrors, would make me even more of an untouchable hag to the male version of the species then I already was). Still, because my father was and is a man who was undeterred by arguments based primarily in emotion, I learned to play guitar. Over time I did grow to like it, even love it though it’s not the same love I have for voice.

The love I have for the guitar is more of a love borne out of accomplishment. It is something that I have in my bag of tricks so I can accompany myself (as I have often had to). I am grateful for that level of musical independence. If I hadn’t learned to play I would probably always have to be at someone or something else’s mercy (a band, another guitar player, a vocal track, etc.). With the guitar I don’t have to be a slave to anyone. If a band falls through or a person doesn’t show up whatever, I can play this gig on my own. The guitar has made me more of an artist too (as opposed to just performing). I don’t have to play the songs exactly the way they are on the record. I can improvise and arrange at will which is a freedom I value.

The love I have of singing though is natural. It’s something I was born with and something I know without even having to think about it. It’s something I really couldn’t imagine living without and if I ever did lose my voice…well I can’t lie suicide would come to mind. I suppose I could find a way to keep going. Julie Andrews is thriving in spite of the botched surgery on her vocal chords and Linda Ronstadt inspires me with how she seems to maintain her good nature in spite of Parkinson’s Disease which ended her singing career. Still, when I read their stories I can’t ignore that undercurrent of darkness. What if you lost your voice and thus all that you seemingly are?

My singing and guitar playing aren’t all that I am though some days I may feel like they are. I am a singer who plays guitar and I want music to be a part of my life. However I don’t want to come to that point where I would be undone if I lost my voice or if I got arthritis and couldn’t play the guitar. Perhaps all I can do, all anyone can do, is to appreciate the gifts we have and use them whenever we can. That way at least you never have to live with regret. Or perhaps I can learn to make music a part of my life without letting it be the only thing in my life.

That’s probably going to take more practice then the guitar.

Should We Change the National Anthem?

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As the Fourth of July approaches many people (including myself) might pause and reflect on the state of our nation, its ideals and other associated topics. While I realize that there are many issues that our country is facing that might be more important than this particular issue I wanted to write about it today because as a musician I do think it bears some discussion.

Before we discuss the question of whether we should change the national anthem, we might want to ask a more important question. What should the purpose of a national anthem be? There might be many different opinions on this topic (and you can feel free to discuss them in the comments below). Wikipedia defines a national anthem as “a generally patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogizes the history, traditions and struggles of its people, recognized either by a nation’s government as the official national song, or by convention through use by the people.” From this definition we can say a national anthem should pay homage to the history of country and should be agreed upon (and hopefully sung) by the people. I would also add that a national anthem could also celebrate features of the country (purple mountains majesty) as well as the country’s deeper ideals and principals (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc.)

This brings us to our current national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The lyrics of the song were written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key who had witnessed the Battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 (Wikipedia). However, while the song certainly has history in spades and tradition on its side, (not to mention a jaw dropping version by Jimi Hendrix) there are several points that can be held against it. First, the tune is from an old British drinking song which might not be the best for an anthem that should ultimately have an American flavor (Kinsley). Furthermore, many musicians and critics have stated the song is incredibly hard to sing. Among those voices was music professor Caldwell Titcomb who pointed out that the melody spans two octaves when most people can only sing one and the structure of the song leaves very little room to take a breath (Ibid). Finally the lyrics themselves really only celebrate the flag with the rest of the song devoted to bombs, battles and the death of enemies which frankly is a bit of a downer and given the past several years is probably not the message we want to give to the world about who we are as a nation.

So if not “The Star Spangled Banner” what should we have in its place? While I’m sure there could be many interesting ideas (again feel free to share in the comments) most musicians and writers on the subject tend to boil it down to four main contenders so let’s examine each of these songs with the earlier discussed criteria in place (easy to sing, well liked, pays tribute to history, celebrates country’s features and/or ideals).

America the Beautiful: This song has been commonly held up as the most likely candidate to replace current national anthem and frankly it’s understandable as to why. The song was composed by Katherine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College who was apparently overcome by the beautiful landscape at Pike’s Peak in Colorado (Wirzbicki). Most people are aware of those lyrics that are a testament to the country’s beauty which covers the features category but Bates also delved into history on verses two and three with references to the pilgrims and the patriots who gave their lives. The final verse looks to future (O Beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years) which is a nice structural touch to end the song. Meanwhile, the message of brotherhood as well as the lyric God mend thine ev’ry flaw are touching sentiments (the latter being a reminder that we don’t always get it right but we do eventually try to make it that way). As for musicality it is slightly easier to sing then “The Star Spangled Banner” being for the most part within one octave (although there are a couple of leaps that might be tricky) (Kinsley). As a musician I feel music has a very good balance of simplicity and complexity–enough simplicity so a child or children’s choir can sing it but enough complexity so that experienced musicians wouldn’t get bored and could create interesting harmonies and interpretations. With all of this “America the Beautiful” certainly seems to be the main contender though it does have its critics. Alfred Gingold of Slate argued that the song fails “The Casablanca Challenge” i.e. could we really show up the Nazis at Rick’s Bar singing about “Amber Waves of Grain? (Wirzbicki)”

God Bless America: This song would probably pass Gingold’s “Casablanca Challenge” and emerged after 9-11 as the patriotic tune of choice (Wirzbicki). The song was written in 1918 by composer Irving Berlin and was revised by him in 1938 (Wikipedia). Interestingly the song features a Tin Pan Alley format with an introduction and a verse (though the introduction is almost always left out in most renditions). The lyrics certainly commemorate the country’s beauty though there isn’t much in regards to history and with the exception of a line in the introduction “Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free” there really isn’t much about the principles or ideals of the country. The song is certainly tuneful though. The range is slightly over an octave which might make it harder to sing for some. However, while the song definitely has its supporters, some might balk at what could seem to be the overwhelming presence of the divine (which in a nation that is based on separation of church and state should be considered). Moreover, although Berlin revived the song in 1938 as a “peace song,” over the years it has been appropriated by certain elements of society with a view of nationalism bordering on jingoism which has left a bad taste for many.

My Country Tis of Thee (aka America): Written by Samuel Francis Smith, “My Country…” does have certain elements that allow the place on the list of contenders. The melody is less than an octave and easy to sing (Kinsley). The lyrics have plenty of references to the history, features, and ideals of America. However there are several strikes that can be made against it. First, the tune is ripped off from the British National Anthem “God Save the King” which aside from not being a uniquely American tune seems ironic at best and inappropriate at worst. Furthermore the song’s lyrics go where others have gone before and have done much better. (On a personal note even as a kid I hated this song in comparison with other patriotic numbers and I have to agree with Michael Kinsley’s assessment of the song as fairly insipid.)

This Land Is Your Land: This song could be said to be the dark horse of the competition (though it is certainly a favorite of mine). The song was composed by folk musician Woody Guthrie in 1940. In an ironic twist, it was composed as a response to “God Bless America” which Guthrie felt was unrealistic and complacent (Wikipedia). While there is not much history to be found, the lyrics certainly celebrate the beauty of the country. However it is on the subject of ideals things get interesting. Unlike “God Bless America” which pledges to support and defend the country Guthrie pledges the power of America to the people (Phull, 23). The very title of the song seems to speak to ideals of equality and (even more radically) of common ownership of the land (Kinsley)(Shumway, 133). This perspective is only made clearer when we consider the two often omitted verses of the song. The first references a wall with a private property sign that is blank on the other side leading Guthrie to say “That side was made for you and me.” The second verse discusses the impoverished people that make Guthrie wonder “was this land made for you and me?” The music in turn reflects the populist sentiments of the song as Guthrie’s only requirement was that the tune could be easily sung and played by anyone (Jackson, 20). He achieved his goal as the melody only consists of seven notes within an octave (Kinsley). Of course some might consider the music to be fairly pedantic. In fact the tune is not completely original as Guthrie probably snagged it from the folk song “When the World’s On Fire.” Furthermore, there are those who might take the more populist sentiments of the song as “un-American.” With this in mind it would be hard to say whether the song could withstand the criticism to be the national anthem.

So I turn it over to you. Do you like one of these four contenders? Do you think we should keep “The Star Spangled Banner?” Would you pick a song I haven’t listed? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Bibliography and Works Cited
“God Bless America.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 07 Mar. 2014. Web. 03 July 2014. .
Jackson, Mark Allan. “Is This Song Your Song Anymore; Revisioning ‘This Land Is Your Land’” Prophet Singer: The Voice and Vision of Woody Guthrie. Diss. Louisiana State University, 2002. 13-48. PDF.
Kinsley, Michael. “We Need a New National Anthem.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 12 June 2009. Web. 03 July 2014. .
“My Country ‘Tis of Thee (America) (lyrics Only).” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 July 2014. .
“National Anthem.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 June 2014. Web. 03 July 2014. .
Phull, Hardeep. Story Behind the Protest Song. Westport Conneticut, London: Greenwood Press, 2008. 21-25. Print.
Shumway, David. “Your Land: The Lost Legacy of Woody Guthrie.” Hard Travelin’ The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie. Ed. Robert Santelli and Emily Davidson. Hanover, NH Wesleyan University Press, 1999. 128-137. E-book.
“The Star-Spangled Banner.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 07 Mar. 2014. Web. 03 July 2014. .
Stiehm, Jamie. “Can We Please Change Our National Anthem to ‘America the Beautiful?'” NJ.com. N.p., 03 July 2014. Web. 03 July 2014. .
Wirzbicki, Alan. “Do We Need a New National Anthem?” Boston.com. The New York Times, 07 Feb. 2011. Web. 03 July 2014. .

Stealing Artistically

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One of the main rules many artists have been taught to take seriously is avoiding plagiarism or copying someone else’s work. However in the past few weeks some of my favorite artists have become embroiled in scandals and debates relating to this topic.

The first story is that of Led Zeppelin who are currently being sued by representatives of the band Spirit for allegedly ripping off the guitar line for the infamous “Stairway to Heaven”. While the story has gained plenty of publicity it’s actually one that many fans of rock music have been aware of for several years (Chappell). (Cracked.com, for instance, mentioned the similarities between the songs back in 2010.) This is not the first time Led Zeppelin have been accused of plagiarism. In 1972 the band was sued by ARC Records who claimed that “The Lemon Song” was plagiarized from the Howlin’ Wolf number “Killing Floor” (turnmeondeadman.com) In 1985 the band was again sued, this time by blues musician Willie Dixon who claimed the song “Whole Lotta Love” borrowed heavily from his song “You Need Love” (DeGroot).The most recent lawsuit against the band was in 2010; the plaintiff was musician Jake Holmes who claimed Led Zeppelin had plagiarized his song “Dazed and Confused” (Ibid). In all three cases the band settled out of court and the respective musicians have been given songwriting credits on reissues of the albums (though Jake Holmes has merely been given a credit of “Inspired by” on the Celebration Day album and DVD (www.turnmeondeadman.com).

The second story is that of Jack White and The Black Keys. The two bands have had a bit of feud for several years. However in a recent Rolling Stone article, White accused The Keys of ripping off his sound stating, “There are kids at school who dress like everybody else, because they don’t know what to do, and there are musicians like that, too. I’ll hear TV commercials where the music’s ripping off sounds of mine, to the point I think it’s me. Half the time, it’s the Black Keys…” White also went on to suggest that there are musicians that open up a market (his example Amy Winehouse) and those that merely follow in their footsteps (his examples Duffy, Lana Del Rey, and Adele). White has since apologized for his statements on his website.

Both of these stories are intriguing to me (obviously since they are both about artists that I enjoy and listen to on a regular basis). However both bring up some interesting questions about copying and plagiarism. When does “inspiration” turn into plagiarism? Where is the fine line between being in the company of your favorite artists or merely being a “copy-cat?” The answer might be more complicated then we think.

First we might need to review the definition of plagiarism. According to plagiarism.org (who utilize the definition of the Merriam Webster dictionary) “to plagiarize means; to steal or pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own, to use (another’s production) without crediting the source, to commit literary theft, to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source” (www.plagiarism.org). The site states plagiarism is an act of fraud that involves stealing someone’s work and lying about it afterwards (Ibid). It also notes that under US Law the expression of ideas are protected under copyright laws as intellectual property as long as they are recorded in some way (Ibid). Obliviously the definition is stringent though the site also notes plagiarism can be avoided by simply crediting any sources utilized (Ibid).

However there are those that challenge the conventional ideas about plagiarism and copyright law. Among these individuals are Kirby Ferguson and Austin Kleon. Both men argue that nothing is really “original” and that most creative works are a mash-up or remix of previous ideas. Ferguson in particular takes aim at copyright law stating, “American Copyright and Patent laws run counter to this notion that we build on the work of others. Instead these laws…use the rather awkward analogy of property. Now creative works may indeed be kind of like property, but it’s property we are all building on and creations can only take root and grow once that ground has been prepared.”

So what is an artist to do in a world where nothing is original but copyright laws rule the day? Well according to Austin Kleon (author of the book Steal Like an Artist) the answers lie in understanding your creative genealogy (i.e. the family tree of artist you admire and are similar to) and then collecting ideas from those artists and transforming those ideas into something greater. As Picasso said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Though as Led Zeppelin might attest, citing your sources can help too.

Bibliography and Works Cited

Beauchemin, Molly. “Jack White Slams The Black Keys, Suggests Once Again That They’ve Ripped Off His Sound.” Pitchfork. N.p., 30 May 2014. Web. 5 June 2014. .

Chappell, Bill. “Led Zeppelin Sued Over ‘Stairway To Heaven’ Guitar Line.” NPR. NPR, 20 May 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

DeGroot, Joey. “7 Songs That Led Zeppelin Ripped Off.” Music Times RSS. N.p., 20 May 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Ferguson, Kirby. “Kirby Ferguson: Embracing the Remix.” YouTube. YouTube, 10 Aug. 2012. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Kleon, Austin “Steal Like An Artist: Austin Kleon at TEDxKC.” By Austin Kleon. YouTube. YouTube, 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “The Lemon Song”” Turn Me On Dead Man. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism?” Turn Me On Dead Man. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Whole Lotta Love”” Turn Me On Dead Man. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Ramakrishnan, Rohan. “The 5 Most Famous Musicians Who Are Thieving Bastards.” Cracked.com. N.p., 06 May 2010. Web. 05 June 2014. .

Scalese, Roberto. “Stairway to Theftin’: Led Zeppelin Sued in Most Entertaining Lawsuit Ever.” Boston.com. The New York Times, 03 June 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

“What Is Plagiarism?” Plagiarism.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2014. .

White, Jack, III. “An Apology and Explanation from Jack White.” Jack White. N.p., 31 May 2014. Web. 05 June 2014. .

So You Want To Be In The Arts (A Letter To The Class of 2014)

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Dear Graduating Students,

 You are probably looking forward to finishing up your final classes, preparing for graduation (and any respective parties you may be having), and getting ready to kick off that final summer at home before you head off to college. You should definitely have some fun. You deserve it after all the hard work you’ve put in. However, as someone who has “been there” I would like to take this time to give you some (hopefully) helpful advice. Especially to those of you who want to go into the arts.

 First, I want to congratulate you on having the guts and spirit to go after what you want. Believe me that is definitely a hurdle that shouldn’t be underestimated. If you’ve got it in you to stand up and say “I want to do this” in spite of your parents, teachers, extended family, friends, politicians, and even your own self-doubting thoughts trying to steer you on a different path, then you just might have what it takes to make it as a singer, writer, actor, or whatever it is you want to be.

 That being said, let me give you my first piece of advice, prepare for difficulties. When I say this, please don’t think I’m insulting your intelligence. The first thing any of us hear when attempting to have a career in the arts is how hard it is. However, when I was in that place (that place being seventeen years old and deciding to major in music business) I knew there would be challenges but even I underestimated how many there would be. I think part of the problem is we tell ourselves that one day it will get easier; that all we have to do is get the record contract, write the perfect script, or star in the feature film. The hard reality is not that it’s difficult to get there. It’s that we believe when we do reach that point that things will suddenly get easier when that’s not the case. You got the record deal; great now you have to put out some quality albums (or at least what the label might think is quality), tour constantly, be interviewed by the press, and while you might have a more comfortable lifestyle then you did as a starving artist there are more responsibilities too. The sooner that you realize things won’t become “easier” the better off you’ll be. In the same way that your graduation doesn’t mean you won’t be facing new challenges in college, becoming a best-selling author or musician doesn’t mean that your life will be easier and that you’ll always create great work.

 My second piece of advice would be to get as much hands on experience as you can and build as many relationships as possible. You are probably aware that you will be required to complete an internship at some point during your time as a student. If I could go back and do things over again I would get an internship or volunteer with an organization every summer. Heck, start this summer. Call up an indie record label, music journal, publishing house, whatever organization you are interested in and say “I’m interested in this field and I’d like to intern or volunteer with your organization.” The best part? They’ll probably say yes. After all what person in their right mind is going to turn down free help? These internships are not to be underestimated, especially in the current economy. A secret that most people don’t realize about getting a job or career is that many organizations might not even post in the classifieds when they have a position open. They promote from within their organization or hire someone they know (Bolles, 8). If you start doing an internship or two every summer, then by the time you graduate college you will have gained a great amount of experience in the field you want to work in and you will have made deep connections with people who have the power to hire you or can recommend you to someone who can. I might add working for free now is going to be a lot easier then working for free with tons of student loan debt hanging over your head.

 My final piece of advice would be to not forget to have fun and take whatever opportunities you can to expand your horizons. College is one of the few times that you have enough freedom to make your own choices and do what you want but fewer responsibilities then you will have once you get out into the working world. While you should study hard, don’t forget to have fun and have as many new experiences as you can. Looking back on my college days, I tend to think I played it a little too close to the vest. While I did a very good job academically it does get to me at times that I don’t have any stories of wild road trips with friends or tales of studying abroad. Then again it’s never too late…it just might take me longer to scrounge up the time and money, so again have these experiences while you can.

I hope this advice can help you in your artistic journey. Best of luck to all of you and congratulations.

Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore

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I found this post through a friend of mine. I have found it very intriguing on many levels. While I can certainly concur with Mr. Schultz’s points, I personally believe a big reason for the lack of singing in Church is due to the decline of music education among the public. Perhaps you have your own theories. If so feel free to share your thoughts:-)

Holy Soup

Looking around the church last Sunday I noticed that the majority weren’t singing. And most of those who were singing barely moved their lips. The only voices I actually heard were those on stage with microphones.

That’s been the case for years now–in churches large and small. What used to be congregational singing has become congregational staring.

Even when the chipper “worship leader” in contemporary churches bounds on stage and predictably beckons everyone to “stand and worship,” the people compliantly obey the stand command, but then they turn into mute mannequins.

What’s behind this phenomenon? What happened to the bygone sounds of sanctuaries overflowing with fervent, harmonizing voices from the pews, singing out with a passion that could be heard down the street? I suspect it’s a number of unfortunate factors.

Spectator set-up. Increasingly, the church has constructed the worship service as a spectator event. Everyone expects the people on stage to…

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Navigating the Creative U-Turn

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I haven’t written on this blog in about two weeks and I’ve had trouble picking up the guitar. It’s made me feel some guilt as I do tend to have a bit of a work/success oriented nature i.e. sometimes I feel my value as a person comes from what I produce or what I am doing with my life. However I’ve felt a slight sense of panic too. For most of my life, if not my whole life, I’ve wanted to be an artist in some sense and for the past few weeks I’ve suddenly been questioning myself about whether I have what it takes and whether I even want to be an artist anymore. In short I’ve been experiencing a creative U-turn (or perhaps in my case it’s more of a crossroads).

The Creative U-Turn is a term that was coined by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. It can be defined as a point when an artist stops pursuing a creative goal or project; generally as a result of fear, negativity, or pain. Creative U-turns can take different forms depending on the type of art and the artists involved. Cameron notes many examples of this; the painter who picks a fight with the gallery owner at his first group show, the musicians who record a demo that gets an enthusiastic response and then stop working together, the screenwriter who doesn’t make any changes on his script for an agent are all examples of creative U-turns (Cameron,155). However, while U-Turns can take different forms Cameron theorizes they are usually a result of some sort of fear.

How should an artist deal with a U-turn? Well, according to Cameron, we should extend ourselves some sympathy and compassion (Cameron, 156). Creativity can be scary and in fact life itself is scary (Ibid). It helps to remember that artists are not the only ones to struggle with U-turns and various forms of self sabotage (Ibid). Lawyers, Doctors, Office Workers, and Retail Workers struggle with their own forms of self sabotage too. Cameron also notes that Creative U-Turns and failures are often a part of successful creative careers. She notes the story of Blake Edwards who spent seven years in a self-imposed exile in Switzerland following being fired from one of his own films (Ibid, 157). He returned to directing after deciding that using his creativity would be a better way to heal then sitting on the sidelines and he became aggressively productive with his main regret being the time it took for him to get to that point (Ibid). 

Sometimes a U-Turn might even be necessary. In this case I’m thinking about author Liz Gilbert. After the major success of her book Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert suddenly found herself with millions of readers eagerly awaiting her next project. Over the next year she wrote a first draft of what would eventually become Committed. However after completing the manuscript she realized that something wasn’t right. In her words, “The voice didn’t sound like me. The voice didn’t sound like anybody. The voice sounded like something coming through a megaphone, mistranslated.” Gilbert put that manuscript away turned her attention to her garden and other pursuits (Gilbert, xiv). She wrote, “…this was not exactly a crisis, that period when I could not…figure out how to write naturally…I even started wondering if maybe I was finished as a writer. Not being a writer didn’t seem like the worst fate in the world…but I honestly couldn’t tell yet. I had to spend a lot more hours in the tomato patch…before I could sort this thing out” (Ibid). Ultimately Gilbert’s U-Turn ended when she realized that while she couldn’t promise that her next book would satisfy millions of readers, she could write something that she needed to write (Ibid). She limited the audience in her mind from the millions of expectant fans to twenty seven important women in her life and wrote the book for them (Ibid, xv). Committed was published in 2010 and since then Gilbert has continued her successful career publishing her recent novel The Signature of All Things in 2013.

Recovering from a creative U-turn can require a great deal of compassion and patience. According to Cameron, the first step is admitting it. You have to say to say to yourself “Yes, I did react negatively towards fear and pain. Yes, I do need help” (Cameron, 157). The next step is to figure out what obstacles are the most intimidating. In Cameron’s words, “An agent jump may frighten you more then a workshop jump. A review jump may be okay while a rewrite jump scares your talent to death” (Ibid). Often at this stage Cameron advises looking for help from other successful artists i.e. asking them how they have done successful rewrites, gotten agents, recovered from bad reviews or conquered whatever challenge that you are currently facing (Ibid). Self reflection is a key piece too. Cameron notes that before any project it’s a good idea to ask yourself questions that remove any blocks between yourself and the work (Ibid, 159). These questions are as follows.

1) What am I angry about? The goal is to make a list about any anger you have related to the project at hand. Examples could be anything from resentment about being the second artist asked to do a show, to anger at an editor or director who constantly nitpicks your work (Cameron, 159).

2) What am I afraid of? The goal with this question is to identify any and all fears about the project or people connected to it (Ibid). You might say in this case, “I’m afraid of people not liking my work,” “I’m afraid of not being able to live up to my past projects,” or “I’m afraid that the only reason I got the part was my competitor had a falling out with the director and now everyone will compare me to him.”

3) Have I left anything out? With this question you are supposed to ask yourself if your current issues are all there is. Have you left out any anger or fear that seems inconsequential or trivial (Ibid)? This might be the part where you say “Ok…I am somewhat afraid of seeing that one musician/writer/director/etc. that’s always so condescending when he talks to me at any events.”

4)What do I stand to gain by not doing this project? With this question you need to find out exactly how you benefit from any self sabotage. The most common example might be “Well if I don’t perform/write this piece no one can criticize it or me.” This is by no means the only example though; others might be “I can criticize others from a less vulnerable position ” or “My editor/mother/significant other/ex will worry about me” (Ibid).

Once you have asked these questions and identified all your angers and fears you can then be more able to let them go. At this point Cameron advises making a deal with your creative force and saying “You take care of the quality and I’ll take care of the quantity” (Ibid, 160). Ultimately, whether we reflect and make our deals with the universe or simply follow Blake Edwards’ example of going back to work and picking up where we left off, navigating our creative U-turns is a challenging but often valuable part of our journey as artists. I hope that you will share some of your own creative U-turns and recoveries in the comments section. As for me, I might just go pick up the guitar.

Bibliography and Works Cited

“Biography.” Official Website for Best Selling Author Elizabeth Gilbert. Dave Cahill/River Net Computers, 2013. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/&gt;.

Cameron, Julia. “Recovering A Sense Of Compassion.” The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992, 2002. 154-60. Print.

Gilbert, Elizabeth. “A Note to the Reader.” Introduction. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage. New York: Viking, 2010. Xiv-vi. Print.

 

 

4 Reasons Finding A Band is Like Finding A Relationship (Only Worse)

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Ever since I was a teenager I’ve wanted to be in a rock band. I still do but ten years later, while I haven’t given up, I’ve come to the sobering conclusion that it’s probably easier to find a relationship then someone to be in a band with. I suppose at its heart a band is a relationship between its members. Like any relationship…

4) You Can Get Rejected for Arbitrary Reasons: Do you have “that” friend? The one that has a checklist for their dream girl or guy? They go on date after date but no one ever lives up to their fantasy and sometimes they reject someone with plenty of potential for the smallest reason. Well finding a band can sometimes feel like that only more so. It shouldn’t be any secret that the music business is getting told no often. Sometimes though rejection can come for reasons that are at best political and at worst illogical. I once saw an ad for a band that was perfect on many levels (they liked the same type of music I did and seemed to have similar goals). I was turned down because they specifically wanted a male lead singer. Now granted people have a right to their qualifications and ultimately you don’t want work with someone who doesn’t want to work with you.  However, I think my example is one reason that finding a band can be more similar to finding a relationship then a job…a job would never be allowed to use that or similar reasons to turn you down (at least they couldn’t admit to it). Of course, while it’s not easy to be the rejected, it’s not easy doing the rejecting, especially when it may be for a good reason which leads me to number three…

3) You Have to Play with A Lot of Frogs to Find a Prince: The ideal band member is someone who has talent and chemistry (i.e. they are proficient at their instrument, they have similar taste in music, they can play with you and not against you, etc.) Unfortunately this combination can be exceedingly hard to find to say the least. I have too many stories to count but they can be divided into those who can’t play, those who can play but go overboard, those who can play but don’t have the same goals, and the list goes on. Oh and unless you’re trying to be Simon and Garfunkel or The White Stripes you’re probably going to have to find more than one other person so take all the frustration and angst of finding one awesome person and multiply that by the number of people you need. Of course if you’re lucky enough to find those people don’t get overconfident, you still need to decide what your goals are…

2) You Have to Talk About “The Future”: If you’ve been in a relationship at some point you find yourself having that awkward conversation about where the relationship is going. Are you looking to get married and have kids or do you just want a carefree fling? In a band it’s similar only marriage and kids is the Grammys and stardom. Or maybe it’s simply being a highly successful regional act or whatever end goal you have in mind. Ultimately though at some point (and preferably early) you have to figure out if you want the same things. Otherwise it can lead to bitterness and resentment. In the last group I was in our biggest problem was that we couldn’t agree on a direction. He wanted to do more cover band type stuff and I still wanted to try to work on original music. In another group I wanted to get more serious (more practices etc.) but the other members weren’t on the same page and it lead to us splitting up. Of course even if you have this conversation and you’re all in agreement on your goals there is still one more issue you have to face…

 1) You Can Find the Perfect People and It Still Falls Apart: I’ve been in two bands where everything seemed perfect. We all liked the same types of music, we seemed to have similar goals and in both cases I could see us rocking out at Bonnaroo or the Grammys together. In both cases they didn’t even make it past the first gig. Of course staying together isn’t an easy task. One only has to look at a biography of The Beatles or The Yardbirds to see how even great bands can fall apart or have trouble maintaining a line up.

Sometimes I wonder why I still want to try, especially with all the frustration I’ve dealt with. I don’t want to stop searching though because, in spite of the issues, I still hope to find that perfect band one day. There isn’t anything that beats the feeling of playing music with other people and being totally in sync. It’s a feeling that, as corny as it sounds, is truly magical (and really that’s the only way you can describe it). Being in a band gives you a chance to be a part of something greater then yourself. As a soloist you might only be able to play so much but when you have your fellow band members you can take the world by storm. It’s because of this dream I keep going so that hopefully one day I can find my true (musical) soul mates.