John Prine would have us believe “it’s a big old goofy world,” and I guess I’m fully bought in to that philosophy, given how many times I’ve found myself saying that very thing.
Exhibit A, at the moment anyway, comes as I await with great anticipation my forthcoming demo project via Cliff Goldmacher’s Nashville Studio Live.
Back in the mid ’90s to early 2000s I wrote a bunch of songs. I bought a four track recorder. I had more guitars than a hack like me should ever be allowed to look at, forget actually touch. I had some things to say and I worked long and hard to say them. Then, I put them away.
The thing is, they wouldn’t leave me alone. I won’t say that the home song demos I recorded haunted me, but they certainly wouldn’t let me be, either. They didn’t just sit there in the back of a drawer collecting dust and fading in to my own personal oblivion. It hasn’t been until very recently that I have understood why.
A song isn’t finished until someone hears it.
For those 16 years since I wrote the first of my songs, I have largely guarded them like some dirty little secret. Finding Cliff and NSL, though, has put some things clearly in to context for me.
I am a “non-performing songwriter.” This is something I have always known, but only recently have hung the name on. More than that, I have only recently made peace with the fact that this is something that is 100% OK. You see, I’m a guy who loves the work of Bruce Springsteen, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jackson Browne and Gretchen Peters. Those folks are all tremendously gifted, acclaimed and accomplished songwriters…who can rip your guts out, or make you weep with joy, when they perform the songs they’ve written. I couldn’t do that and I really didn’t know what to do about it relative to my own work.
In steps George Marinelli, founding member of Bruce Hornsby and the Range, longtime member of Bonnie Raitt’s Band, and all around great guy. One Friday not long ago, George on Twitter tweeted for “Follow Friday” a suggestion that folks follow Nashville Studio. I followed the link in their Twitter profile and this set the wheels in motion for my now impending songwriter demo sessions in early August (we’ll be cutting four songs). Thank you, George.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that reading the past year or so about the career arc of the great Matraca Berg has also inspired me to take this leap. While Matraca is a fine performer with a fantastic new album (The Dreaming Fields) recently released, her induction in to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame was largely earned by writing songs that other people made famous. Her new album comes a mere 14 years after her last fully new collection of songs was released.
The technology to be able to cut songwriter demos in Nashville, while not taking on the cost of actually being in Nashville, is something that was not available to me when I was writing and recording my songs. That’s huge. More importantly, though, Cliff and his service have made me very comfortable with the idea that it’s OK to let the gifted guys who are playing on the demos bring them to life without me.
While I intend to market the songs once finished (Keith Urban, call me), I have no preconceived notions that anything much will become of them. I realize mentioning my songwriting in the same essay as I mention Matraca Berg and the others is more than a little bit over the top (and perhaps even laughable), but I try very hard to live my life in such a way that I don’t let myself make other people’s decisions for them. So, we shall see what happens.
If the only thing that comes of this is a wonderful experience, with musicians I respect highly, who have played on some of the music I love, then I cannot possibly wish for any more than that.
Well, I do wish I’d written “It’s A Big Old Goofy World.”