Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What Was I Thinking?

Someone once said that you need to be an introvert to write and an extrovert to perform. I suppose this means that singer/songwriters like myself suffer from (at best) a mild case of multiple personality disorder. I jest, but it sure feels that way sometimes.

Many of my contemporaries are very talented at working the room when they are off-stage, and in fact, consider themselves to be onstage from the time they enter the venue until the time that they leave. They'll walk from table to table, introducing themselves to complete strangers and thanking them for coming out to the show. They'll mention their website, gather email addresses and phone numbers, offer to autograph Cd's and pose for photos.

I can be as gregarious as the next person when I'm on stage. I'll tell stories between songs, joke with the audience, and on a good night give a performance smooth enough to convince almost anyone that what I'm doing is the easiest thing in the world. As soon as I exit the stage the introvert takes over and I feel exposed. My eyes hit the floor, and I shuffle off to a corner of the room to steal glances at the crowd while wondering if I've made a complete fool of myself. If anyone approaches me off-stage with a kind word I'll mumble a thank you and try to extricate myself from the conversation as soon as possible. I'm sure that on more than one occasion someone has mistaken my shyness for conceit.

There are many like me, other singer/songwriters, actors, you name it. Many people are in the entertainment industry because they want to be "rich and famous", but some of us are in it because we've found that one thing that helps the world make sense for us, and we can't imagine life without it. For me it has always been music.

I used to ride my bicycle to school in the first grade and make up two songs on the way there. I thought everyone did it. When I got a little older I realized that making up songs was something kind of special, and assumed that I would one day be a writer of some sort. It felt right. It felt good. I've spoken with actors who've had a similar experience the first time they got roped into doing a school play. From the moment they started pretending, it made sense to them. In a strange way it helped them to feel more connected with other people.

That's what music is for me. A way to connect with my fellow human beings. When I got out of the Navy I moved to Austin, TX with the intent of becoming a professional songwriter. I imagined that the way I would become established as a tunesmith was that other musicians would hear my songs, record them, and once word got around I could just stay home and write songs full-time. So I started booking a few gigs and waited for the other musicians to beat a path to my door. One night I was playing in a club across town and noticed a table full of people who looked vaguely familiar. I leaned over and asked them where I'd seen them before and they replied that they'd heard me earlier in the week at a club on Sixth Street.

"What brings y'all to this side of town?"

"You mentioned that you would be playing here, so we came out."

For most entertainers this would be a wonderful thing to hear. It freaked me out. For some reason it had never occurred to me that anyone would see me as an entertainer. I was a writer, looking for someone else to be the front man. I had a few more gigs booked for the upcoming weeks. After I honored my commitments I did not perform in public for the next six years. I only came out of my self-imposed exile because I missed making that human connection.

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