The glitz! The glamour!

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


 

9 comments

  • Ina May Wool

    Ina May Wool On a train in Virginia

    Yesyesyesyesyesyesyes. Tell it, my sister

    Yesyesyesyesyesyesyes. Tell it, my sister

  • Karen

    Karen Santa Cruz

    Well said! I have always understood why it is that you do what you do. I have a soul that sings, but alas a voice that cannot, and an ear that cannot hear the difference between notes. And in my heart that is all I ever wanted to do - "be a singer". But my soul still sings. So, I sing along anywhere, anytime and I am also the best dang audience member I can be by giving my rapt attention and all the energy I can give to the performers on the stage, be they dancers, actors, or musicians. Because, you see, I too have a soul that sings.

    Well said! I have always understood why it is that you do what you do. I have a soul that sings, but alas a voice that cannot, and an ear that cannot hear the difference between notes. And in my heart that is all I ever wanted to do - "be a singer". But my soul still sings. So, I sing along anywhere, anytime and I am also the best dang audience member I can be by giving my rapt attention and all the energy I can give to the performers on the stage, be they dancers, actors, or musicians. Because, you see, I too have a soul that sings.

  • Jason

    Jason Boston

    There is little correlation between talent and "making it big." A lot of it is luck, being in the right place at the right time, or maybe yes, having that one song that resonates with the masses. I remember seeing an interview with Girlyman years ago and you guys were saying you didn't even have health insurance. Meanwhile there are all these bands who have one catchy song and they can sell out a venue. There's such a fine line between who makes it and who doesn't. Why you do it is an easy one though - music is your soul, your connection, what moves you - and lucky us that we get to share some of that with you. You may not have made it past changing is porta-potty's but there are a whole bunch of us listening to Girlyman, Coyote Grace and MOB who are glad you made it as far as you have....

    There is little correlation between talent and "making it big." A lot of it is luck, being in the right place at the right time, or maybe yes, having that one song that resonates with the masses. I remember seeing an interview with Girlyman years ago and you guys were saying you didn't even have health insurance. Meanwhile there are all these bands who have one catchy song and they can sell out a venue. There's such a fine line between who makes it and who doesn't. Why you do it is an easy one though - music is your soul, your connection, what moves you - and lucky us that we get to share some of that with you. You may not have made it past changing is porta-potty's but there are a whole bunch of us listening to Girlyman, Coyote Grace and MOB who are glad you made it as far as you have....

  • Owls

    Owls

    You guys have made it big in my mind (which is not necessarily a nice place to be. It can be noisy.) But your music, as Girlyman, Coyote Grace, and now MOB, moves my soul and that's all I could ever want of an artist.

    You guys have made it big in my mind (which is not necessarily a nice place to be. It can be noisy.) But your music, as Girlyman, Coyote Grace, and now MOB, moves my soul and that's all I could ever want of an artist.

  • Jill

    Jill Whidbey Island WA

    So glad to be living in a world where you're still committed to raising our vibrations, one chord at a time.

    So glad to be living in a world where you're still committed to raising our vibrations, one chord at a time.

  • Patricia

    Patricia Binghamton, NY

    That Tennessee Williams quote, and your ponderings that follow, also connect, for me, with my work, which is not exactly art, and not exactly not art. (I'm the only out lesbian Presbyterian minister in my area. Yay me!). Purity of heart in the face of loss, loss, loss... it's a wonderful way to describe the human vocation. Thanks for being there, thanks for your music, thanks for your words.

    That Tennessee Williams quote, and your ponderings that follow, also connect, for me, with my work, which is not exactly art, and not exactly not art. (I'm the only out lesbian Presbyterian minister in my area. Yay me!). Purity of heart in the face of loss, loss, loss... it's a wonderful way to describe the human vocation. Thanks for being there, thanks for your music, thanks for your words.

  • KerryB

    KerryB

    My grandmother once told me, many years ago, "do what you love and don't worry about getting rich or famous." You do what you do because you love making music. And those of us who "hang around you" love the music you make.

    My grandmother once told me, many years ago, "do what you love and don't worry about getting rich or famous." You do what you do because you love making music. And those of us who "hang around you" love the music you make.

  • Riva

    Riva Berkeley, CA

    Thanks for every time you've decided to keep going, and for every song you've made together and apart. You've sang so many things I haven't known how to say.

    Thanks for every time you've decided to keep going, and for every song you've made together and apart. You've sang so many things I haven't known how to say.

  • Mouths of Babes

    Mouths of Babes

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! I want to respond to each of you individually, but so far I haven't found a way to do that using this platform. Really looking forward to more conversations with y'all.

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! I want to respond to each of you individually, but so far I haven't found a way to do that using this platform. Really looking forward to more conversations with y'all.

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