A Songwriter Learns Some Creative Lessons

Attitude is important in any endeavor or discipline and in songwriting and performing it is even more so or you won’t survive very long. The “tough skin” that is often discussed in any of the performing arts has more to do with discipline but moreover resilience to rejection. I like to imagine and likening the career as a songwriter to that of a professional baseball player. The attitude is putting behind your last outing whether or not you were “shelled” or you pitched “lights out” baseball. Both can destroy you. A Broadway veteran once told me that he never read his reviews because whether good or bad your frame of mind would get “poisoned.” Over analyzing your stuff is one of the diseases that can undo a seasoned professional.

As a songwriting veteran I had come to a point in the early 1990’s where my attitude was getting the better of me. I had some accomplishments since graduating from High School in 1976. I performed my songs at Greenwich Village night clubs, was regularly featured on Manhattan Cablevision and a radio program yet every comment good or bad was affecting what I was writing and whom I was writing and performing for. Then in the late 1970’s the punkers took over the club scene with CBGB’s. The advent of disco at places like Studio 54 started to overshadow an acoustic singer-songwriter like me. I was beginning to hear people say “you have to change with the times.” I was only 20! It was about that time that I was working in a mailroom by day, going to school at night, and playing the clubs late night. I would write and sleep on the train, back and forth to my parent’s house in Long Island. An opportunity to move to Denver from New York was offered by my day-time employer. At 20 years old, I jumped at the chance.

On Independence Day in 1978, guitar in one hand, a suitcase in the other I moved to Denver. Denver was still acoustic, singer-songwriter friendly. I wrote, sang, and played guitar, eventually recording and getting demos out to publishers, record companies, and agents. I did a lot of lonely soul-searching at the time, wrote a music column for a local paper, met some great musicians and even managed The Swallow Hill Music Hall, where I met my future wife Jill. Something was missing in the songwriting but I kept pursuing fame with hopes it would lead to fortune. Songwriting was “all about me” and the selfishness that dogged me put a damper on my relationship with the people I loved, and especially God. I couldn’t see him through my ambition. In 1980 Jill and I were married. In 1981, we had our first child, a mortgage payment, and it was time for me to put my dream aside. Yet I continued my pursuit self-defining my identity. While at home the bill collectors were calling and came knocking.

Throughout this period of my life I was a different person on stage than I was off. I came off dependable and professional on stage yet I was unreliable at home. I was writing hurtful, heartbreaking, dismal odes that lashed out against everyone in my life who I felt were standing between me and fame and fortune. Eventually that would occur in my local public life, letting people down, not showing up for gigs until finally those jobs ceased. In one last ditch effort I borrowed $5000 from my father in law to cut a single in Nashville. Jill, our baby son, and I traveled across the country visiting and playing in contests, at some colleges, and stopping at radio towers along the way. One of my biggest regrets is that I never paid back my father-in-law for that effort. As the bills mounted up and the record failed, we came home and I realized that I had to pursue a full time job.

We also became active in our local church. In that church were some other young couples who were in music as well. They invited us to a Bible study that would start with some music and singing something foreign to me: praise and worship songs. I was unprepared for how the music, the harmonies and the message would affect me but I felt tears streaming down my face. Then in my songwriting sessions I found myself writing down images that we were talking about during Bible study. There were word pictures that were beyond my frame of reference and it stunned me. The songs started pertaining more to what was happening in my life and I felt as though something ore someone was pursuing me. I realize now that this was just an early stage of “putting childish things away” and pursuing the true meaning of why writing songs was part of my creative DNA. Sadly, I was just “thinking” the right way but my heart refused to make a complete leap. My treasure was still in pursuing my own dreams. With that came a lot of internal fighting. I was hired to help a new church with worship, and I began with writing and studying sermons and writing songs surrounding the Pastor’s message. It was another piece in a puzzle in finding out that there’s a purpose beyond ones self in whatever our God-Given talents may be. It is the songs that I place in my backpack while pursuing a faithful pilgrimage that we call the journey.

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