When you have something to say, and that something takes the form of art, then the part of our humanness that desires order will plant a seed. That seed grows into a thought, which becomes a plan, and pretty soon we are taking steps toward creating some sort of artistic collection. Books, plays, movies, dances, displays, exhibits and concerts – these are all proof that our left brains are married to our right brains. For singer-songwriters, that seed sometimes sprouts into musical projects like concerts, recitals or albums. I’ve done all of them. They are all invigorating and taxing for creative sorts like me. Ideas, from my personal perspective, are never a problem. Execution, on the other hand….
I recorded two “albums” before I was able to admit that I was really ready to record AN ALBUM. I call them learning curve projects, and their existence is part of my personal history and has merit. But I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled with them. Looking back, though, I was satisfied at the moment of creation, but the satisfaction was short lived. So when I had saved up enough money and emotion to attempt my first “real” project, I went forward with a little trepidation, though that fear was outweighed by excitement and anticipation. I do not recall harboring thoughts that anything I recorded might be played on a grand scale, like the radio, for instance. I’ve always wanted to be a good songwriter more than I wanted to be a good performer. So allowing myself to think of my recordings as demo’s was a nice way out, a sort of permission slip to be average as a singer because I didn’t intend for the recording itself to get more attention than the song. Nonetheless, when one artist gathers her songs in one place, and sorts and arranges them, there is no denying that she wants them to be palatable. I watched my sister, for instance, arranging cheese and fruits on a platter the other day, for a dinner gathering, and I pondered the eternal tendency to make beauty in everything we do. My friend Carla will spend hours and hours designing and manufacturing a hand-made card. She has such a strong mechanism for creating beauty that it is almost paralyzing. She has only so much energy to create her beauty, and it is never enough. She was probably one of those Creation Angels who was given full access to God’s palette in the Way-Back of our existence. Her soul is so used to being able to create beauty that it hurts to be stuck in her body. And so she fights the Devil himself on a daily basis to simply survive. But her collection of songs is divine. I mean Divine, with a capital D, and I wish the Devil would get out of her way!
When I completed that first self-produced album project, which I duplicated and sold, I got a call from my friend Doug, who is a fabulous singer-songwriter, one of the best I know. Doug feels like a brother to me. He complimented me on my album, then asked how I felt about it.
“Man, Doug. It’s strange. I spent so much of myself on this project. All that time and money and family sacrifice, and I listen to it and think I should have done this differently, or that differently. That is something I had not anticipated.”
Doug said, “Well, I’ve always thought you need to look at a music album like a photo album. It’s a snapshot of where you were at that moment in your life. You’d go crazy trying to get anything perfect. It is what it is, and it has merit. Most living things change with time. Songs are living things, and should be allowed to grow. But if we don’t get them down, then there will come a point where no one knows they existed, and wouldn’t that be a shame.”
Doug is the most warm-hearted, gentle no-nonsense kind of guy. One of those men I can hug with full abandon and know he loves me with genuine truth and no guile. He has a resonant, beautiful voice, which is perfectly suited to his guitars. I hear his voice repeatedly in my head, saying those words to me. I can even see myself hearing them for the first time on the phone. I was sitting on the third step from the bottom of our basement stairs in the old house. His wisdom goes beyond music albums. It reaches past art, into the eternities. What we create, for good or for bad, is just a snapshot of where we were at the time. We will be different tomorrow, for sure. What we assemble in our various “albums” of experience is not a full representation of the whole of us. For that, we will need to wait a few thousand eternities.
Still, I wish Carla would let those songs of hers find themselves in some sort of album; some sort of beautifully, wonderfully imperfect album.