Monday, March 18, 2013

The Mystery of Where Art Can Go, and Where It Can Take Us

Last night, at the suggestion of someone who is already a dear friend to me here in San Diego, I went to see the documentary film Searching for Sugar Man.  I don't want to put any spoilers whatsoever here, because I so highly recommend that you see this incredible film.

It is a story that is so amazing, I imagine it could capture the interest of anyone alive.  But it is especially important for both lovers of music and musicians.  

If you go to see it, many things may hit you about it, as they did me.  One thing I can share without giving anything away is that for me, it showed yet again that neither those of us who create art, nor those who enjoy and appreciate it, ever have any direct control over what happens once a work of art is sent out into the world.  I have been challenged for many years (I now see), and am still somewhat challenged even today, by my ego's desire to assert control over my music.  There's a voice in my head that says something like: "I'm not going to play my music for anyone, unless I know exactly where it's going to lead.  Because I'm not putting up with any scary surprises or disappointments."

But of course this is folly on my part.  Neither I, nor anyone who digs my music, has any control over where it goes.  Not over the course of one gig, not over the course of a decade.  We each just show up - musician, audience member, CD- or download-buyer, we play our individual part, and the rest is up to the mystery of The Universe. 

I think I've been aware since I wrote what I consider my first "real song," "Secrets Dark," in 2001, that I don't control the creativity itself.  I honestly couldn't tell you exactly where my songs come from.  Yes, I use my mind at points, draw from my real-life, past experiences.  But the entire tapestry of music and lyrics, all finally woven together into a sensible whole?  No clue how that happens.  For the most part I've always accepted this.

Lately, however, I've realized that the mystery doesn't extend just to the songs.  The entire journey of being an artist is one huge, wondrous mystery.  Who I meet along the way, where I go to play, who hears my songs, what they feel and do in response to it, who they tell, what they buy.  

I remember one time when my former band Victor Bravo was on tour somewhere in the Midwest, I had to pull the truck over (we were a 2-piece with not much gear, so we usually drove a big SUV like a Ford Escape, instead of the mythological touring van).  My bandmate Dan had arranged an interview on the phone between me and a college radio DJ somewhere in Illinois.  So I called the guy (or he called me, I can't recall precisely), and he asked me all sorts of questions, like what inspired the songs on our record, where we were playing on our tour, what plans we had to play shows in Illinois in the future.

All I was consciously thinking when I wrote "Secrets Dark" was something like, "Hey, I think this is an actual song.  I think it sounds pretty good, I kind of like it."  I knew nothing of the years of shows, records, two different bands, touring and other things to come.

And now here I am, newly moved to San Diego.  Two rock bands in my past, now solo, one EP and one LP under my belt, hoping to play my first open mic and get two songs in tonight.  Who knows what I'll be telling you a year from now.  It's the Big Mystery.  A pretty incredible ride.

(As a footnote to this, I was surprised to find on the internet several months ago that Victor Bravo's first record, Shut Out the Sky, was for sale on an online music sales site based in South Africa, for the whopping price of 32 cents.)

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