Early on in my years of touring and making music for a living, I had one uncle who always told me I was just one big hit away from "making it." He would rush up to me excitedly at family gatherings and shout, "One hit! That's all you need!" At the time I thought he was really impressed with me and the fact that I made music for a living, although looking back now I think he was probably just worried that I would never be able to support myself. Haha.
My mom, who's cheered me on tirelessly all these years, often applauds little successes like important gigs and nice write-ups by saying, "Hey, honey, you're on your way!" I don't think she's trying to imply that there is some place where being a folk musician makes sense and I'm not there yet, but sometimes that's what I hear. I refrain from replying, "If after fourteen years someone is still telling you you're on your way, chances are you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque."
Don't get me wrong – Ingrid and I have both enjoyed more than our share of glory, standing onstage with our childhood idols, playing in front of tens of thousands of cheering fans, traveling the world – and best of all, getting to make music full-time for many years. It's been an amazing ride, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.
But there is another side that most people never see. "The glitz! The glamour!" Ingrid and I often exclaim to each other, most often when we find ourselves doing data-entry all day or getting dressed for a show in a porta-potty. The not-so-secret truth about being an independent musician is that 50% of our job is sitting at a computer booking and promoting shows, and 50% is collecting huge royalty checks and bathing in them! Just kidding. Maybe 40% is driving and schlepping, 7% is writing songs, and 3% is performing them. Although they don't say it, I think some of my friends and family really don't understand why we still do this. We both had a solid out when our bands, Girlyman and Coyote Grace, split up a few years ago. We could have learned to code or something. We both know the chances of us becoming big stars are slim to none, not that that was ever the point.
So why? Why haul our stuff down from our second story walk-up in Chicago and drive ten hours round trip to Iowa for a one-hour set and then haul it all back up?
Maybe Tennessee Williams said it best:
"Security is a kind of death, I think, and it can come to you in a storm of royalty checks beside a kidney-shaped pool in Beverly Hills or anywhere at all that is removed from the conditions that made you an artist, if that's what you are or were or intended to be. Ask anyone who has experienced the kind of success I am talking about. What good is it? Perhaps to get an honest answer you will have to give him a shot of truth-serum but the word he will finally groan is unprintable in genteel publications.
"Then what is good? The obsessive interest in human affairs, plus a certain amount of compassion and moral conviction, that first made the experience of living something that must be translated into pigment or music or bodily movement or poetry or prose or anything that's dynamic and expressive--that's what's good for you if you're at all serious about your aims...purity of heart is the one success worth having. 'In the time of your life--live!' That time is short and it doesn't return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, Loss, Loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition."
Although I don't think you have to be poor to be an artist (Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way helped me with that one), let's face it - there are certain compromises most of us make. But we make those compromises gratefully, with all our being, because we know that the alternative wouldn't serve us or anyone else. We do it because we can't not do it. And we know that it's not "making it" or even being "on our way" that makes all the sacrifice worth it.
It's that feeling of pulling the truth through the eye of a needle and creating something that's never been here before. For better or for worse, that feeling is you. That feeling is everything.
-posted by Tylan Greenstein