Monday, March 22, 2010

Oracles, Music, and of Course, Prophets'

Good Morning Monday! The South By Southwest Festival is over, nothing left but the clean-up crew. I have to admit, I didn't see as much of it as I would have liked, but I sure did get caught in the traffic. I'd been planning to go to the 'big' stage by Town Lake and see 'Cheap Trick', and Justin Townes Earle, but was feeling to 'squirrly' on Friday. Friday was a beautiful day, however, but only managed to get a 'Cheap Trick' guitar pick and sticker for my guitar case. Late Friday night, the cold front came in, with rain and wind and temperatures that were freezing. It definitely put a damper on the festival. However, on Saturday I went to my first paying gig and had a great time. It was the first time I'd done a gig with all original music. I had a great audience and a great sound system. It was a milestone. I've been doing lots of open mics, but this was the first 'real' gig I've had here. It was great for my confidence level, and even better to have great response for the songs.

I've also been hammering a song publishing and 'pitching' house, sending letters, music, and lyrics on a daily basis. I've developed a correspondence with them, the reviews for my show here in Austin really helped, I think, get me at least a look. I've also been studying my 'Music Handbook' to understand how publishing works. Its pretty complicated, now I understand why an accountant is so necessary, as the royalties are measured in fractions in many different areas. I won't go into the specifics, trust me that there are so many things to consider in the music business. Still, it's interesting, and its motivated me to work further into my songs, and have been re-working many of them as I prepare to send them.

I'll tell you a little of how important it is to be in a place like Austin if you are a musician, for this very reason. Two weeks ago, I went to an open mic at a place called 'Rover's'. It is hosted by the Austin Songwriter's Association. I got there early, and was the first to play. The second song I played was a Harlan Howard song, 'Heartaches by the Number'. A singer/songwriter named John ________ was there, having just come from Nashville to play in the SXSW Festival. He heard me play that song, which eventually led us into a conversation about songwriting in Nashville. I asked him about a particular song publishing company that I had been researching. He knew a couple of people that worked at the company, and let me know that they were one of the best in Nashville. He got up and played his set, it was mind-numbing to hear this guy play his songs. It was evident that he 'did this for a living'. He gave me a CD which I haven't taken out of my CD player since; its that good. One of the songs, 'Airport' was from a movie starring Michael Cera, and I actually recognized the song. How cool is that! This is the 'into action' part of the theory, that you not only need to be in a place where you increase the odds of meeting people that can help you, but you need to get out there as well. I learned from teaching, that you are there to make a difference in someone's life, and really, there are plenty of people 'out there', who are ready and willing to make a difference in your life. I almost didn't make that open mic. Right before I left, I almost didn't go because of directions, but went anyway, regardless of how I was 'feeling' about it. Now, I'm not saying that the sky will open up because I did, I'm just saying that trusting that good things will come with 'action' has never changed. It also helped that I was well prepared, and know my 'old school' Nashville songwriters. Note to songwriters: If you are mixing in covers with your own songs, know the songwriters you are singing. Know something about them, know some history.

It’s the very reason I read a lot of biographies. Well, I happen to enjoy biographies and auto-biographies, but if I can tell someone I've met like John a little anecdote about 'Guns and Roses' it lets him know that I love the world of music. It lets him know that the history of songs and the people who sing them are important to me. If you know that Bob Dylan wrote 'Like a Rolling Stone' with a little bit of Edie Sedgewick in mind, not only does the song make more sense, but the history gives the song so many more avenues in which to interpret it. Know the history of those things that you love, it makes you love them even more.

Its also the very reason I loved doing new plays with the actual writers involved with the production, I could get to know them and know their histories. This helped motivate me to developing the work so much more than doing a play by a guy who'd been dead for twenty years. I'm not discounting the dead guy's work, (when a work is mature, the work can stand on its own), I'm only saying that living people who are expressing themselves during the actual 'living of life' are so much more powerful to produce. Note to theatre companies: Having the actual playwright in your theatre producing the work lets the community know that you are interested in the community, and not just in the elite few who will know the work of playwright that you happen to like. The raw edginess of doing a new work will more than make up what isn't completely developed yet in the work. I really think that playwrights function as 'prophets' in the theatre. You can produce the prophesy or the oracle, but how much more powerful is it to produce a prophet's new work and having the prophet standing right next to you? Some will say that it’s a 'pain in the ass' to have the prophet present, I say, its what creates the part of the experience that 'gives you' what 'you' need. It makes you a strong producer, and a much better artist.

Okay, here is the tricky part. What is a prophet? Why are some of you resisting this idea already? I know, most of us think a prophet is something connected to the bible or the Koran, or some other religious book. Contrarily, prophets are not relegated to religious philosophy. In my experience, Bob Dylan was one of the most powerful prophets of the twentieth century. You only need to read the lyrics to 'The Times They Are a Changin' to surmise this. My definition of a prophet is someone with an understanding of the collective spirit of a society, someone who knows and understands its history, and spiritually manifests his observation and inspiration through an art form, a gathering of some kind, or a written oracle, it doesn't have to come from an old book. I was surprised years ago when I was taking an old testament survey class to discover (through a very wise professor) that the prophets in the old testament of the bible where not just crazy people who started spouting out oracles, in fact, many of them were the historians. They were the folks who interpreted history, and in fact, some of them had very calculated facts to surmise their oracles. Some would say that Obama has a prophetic voice. Some would say, Lincoln, Jefferson, or Kennedy. We have so many in the art world, both radical and moderate. In 'Long Journey Into Night', Eugene O'neil created an oracle of the whole Irish culture in America through one dramatic night in the life of one family. Shakespeare, Kushner, Hellman, Shepard, there are so many playwrights I can think of whose oracles stand as prophetic. A prophet is still a powerful word, and doesn't have to live in the language of a religion.

If you are not doing new work, the relevancy of what you are doing is reduced by half if living playwrights are not a part of your company, I don't care what your mission statement is. You can quote me on that. Phoenix, I still love you, but you have to come to the conclusion that you do 'new work' because it serves the community, not because its something you do to throw out a couple of bones. Make it a vital part of what you do, and you will give vitality to your community and your theatre community. You can quote me on that, too. Wow, I'm preachy today, I must be getting ready to learn something.

I had a great talk with my cousin Cheryl on the phone last night. As I make my plans to return to Utah in five weeks, I need to make sure I'm plugged in and ready to continue trying to somehow make a difference. With an Austin attitude adjustment, I think I will have a fruitful summer, and am looking forward to it. I think Cheryl's dedication to getting the community of Boulder to write is giving the Boulder Heritage Foundation and Festival, a powerful mandate. In a place like Boulder, where the history is so powerful and relatively fresh, it makes it even more relevant. Cheryl is one of those people who makes such a difference in peoples' lives. She is one of those humans who chooses to see the potential in people, while bringing out the best of what is already there. If you are a person who chooses to make a difference in peoples' lives, you also help make a world that is worth 'living in'. Boulder is so very fortunate to have Her and Steve in the midst of them. Cheryl's long history of her life and her family's life there make her especially valuable, she's one of the greatest people I've ever worked with.

At the same time I'm looking forward to that, I'm trying to figure out how I am going to make the changes necessary in dealing with my father's side of the family. I want to have a relationship with my two sisters, but it isn't going to be easy. I've certainly made my mistakes along the way to figuring this out, still, I know my father would want me to find a way. Straight up communication doesn't seem to work. I feel so fortunate to come from a family of communicators, and even though we have our differences, we are all so willing to 'work it out'. It's strange to me to face a stony silence. I may have to be very patient. I think it is very sad, however, that I don't really know my sisters, and they don't know me. With our father, we led very separate lives. I hope we can eventually have some resolve, but it may take years.

Well, its time to take a shower and seize the day. As I make my way towards the spring and leaving Austin for the summer, there is much to do. I will continue to lay my foundation here, as I've decided that this is a city that I can actually fit into. I'll keep meeting people and continue to strengthen the relationships I've made thus far. When I return in the fall, I'll have the foundation in place… Have a great day!


LaRena said...

Boy, it sounds like you have made great strides in your career while in Austin. I'm very glad you are returning to Boulder to work with Cheryl again this summer. She is such a giving person, and needs support from an ambitious creative person like yourself. Keep those lines to Austin open. It sounds like it could be a second home for you. We all know how BIG Texas can be.

Cheryl said...

Thanks so much for your kind words. You are always one to inspire me to greater things and looking at the definition of prophet it includes divine inspiration and inspired teacher and that is definitely you. Looking forward to your return.

Chuckh said...

Be sure, when you're putting your music "out there," you copyright your songs. It's relatively easy to do if you haven't already done so. I've heard too many stories of songs getting ripped off. Many web sites on the subject. Best of luck.

Gerry said...

I am glad you were happy with your 'gig' in Austin. That word was one your Dad loved to use. I got kind of a kick out of that and think how extremely proud he must be that you have tackled Austin with may be a little help from him, too, as the subject of your show, and helping to inspire you to want to sing for everybody. I am just sure he is busting his buttons just like he liked to say Gary had made a million dollars in his life of hard construction work. Have you noticed some of the stuff your brother is saying on Facebook. He is a man of few words but the guy is a poet. He made me bust right out laughing something he said to Scott about git that movie made. Linda and I were talking about how the story of what happened to that movie would make a movie. And I sure enjoyed a lot of the sentiments you have expressed in this entry about playwrights in town, use them. Oh, doncha know the economy is bad, can't do it for a few years. Maybe some day. That is why you have to write the book so they know how to do it! said...

Copyright...I haven't done that. I need to research the copyright.
If you find out, let me know.
I enjoyed hearing about a new stride with music. May you keep moving toward success! Camille has written three new songs for the Festival...the one about LaRae began on Colette's birthday and finished two years later on Cheryls! She didn't get that until it was finished. How's that for making a point?
I would love to hear it, and the others. Do you have new ones we will love to hear? Can't wait!