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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Are Musicians Free?

There's a kind of universal kinship among musicians. You see a great band and you're jealous. You see a bad band and you feel superior for being so much better. You see a mediocre band with undeserved attention and you wonder why that isn't you. But no matter who they are, there's a sense that you're all fighting the same fight, trying to make your voice heard and win the music lottery so you can stop sleeping in the van and living off bean tacos on tour. 

Last night I saw a young band from Wisconsin making their way through the Northeast. I expected to feel that familiar jealousy that they were living the kind of life I should be living and the odd pride that my fellow musicians were getting people to stop and listen to them, but I felt none of that. I was just an observer, listening to their music and their stories about sleeping eight to a tent, no jealousy involved.

I'm not sure I want that life. Maybe I just thought I should, and you know how that goes…

I want freedom. But being a musician doesn't feel like freedom. It means that everything I save goes into the next record, and I can't just go travel wherever I want because my destination is dictated by the next market I need to build on the next underfunded tour. I want adventure (in the great wide somewhere … sorry, I couldn't help myself) but I don't think I just want to "freefall through life" (anyone else out there watching OITNB? Alex Vause, amiright????). I want my adventures to be controlled. I want a plan. I want to work my butt off, to be great at what I do, and to have a home base but also to see the world, to always be growing, to always have new experiences and then come home to tell my friends about them. I want it all.

I guess there are different kinds of freedom— freedom from a desk job and the freedom that comes with security. I happen to work in the biz, at the best job a girl could hope for, so I think I'm okay just having the latter.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rebuilding, or Why I Haven't Made Much Music The Past Few Months

Have you ever tried to make your life into a storybook, or thought about the story arc of your future biopic? Have you created a narrative for yourself and turned back to it for comfort when things didn't seem to go right? Have you let a self-imposed role tell you who you are?

What happens when you lose all that?


Ten years ago, I wrote a song.

I had been going to a second youth group with my friend from cross country. I didn't know many people besides her, and I was painfully shy. She wanted to come early to talk to the pastor, so I killed time messing around on the piano. I came up with an original rift, took it home to some lyrics I had written in my bedroom, and after an hour or so of pounding it out I had "Numbness."

Thus a confessional singer-songwriter was born.

No matter how shy or reluctant I was to express my emotions, I had songs to turn to. Every emotion got poured out (x10) in musical form. I thought that one day, the world at large would hear the songs and finally understand me.

I have to smile at that idealistic teenage dream. It never worked, of course. Even when they were heard, the songs seemed to always leave people more confused. Otherwise they were just overlooked as a quirk. And over time I grew to resent the mission of making the world get what went on inside my head.

(With lots of time, vulnerability, and effort, I can make a few friends understand. But in the end we're all alone inside our own heads, aren't we? Isn't that the human experience?)

I tried to guilt myself into making more confessional music. "But, Jana, the mission!"

It's not my mission anymore.

I'm not sure I even want to do this anymore.

Admitting that to myself has changed everything. I feel like I'm not only rebuilding my relationship to music, but also my whole life structure, how I see myself, what my life's about. It's beautiful and it's healthy... but boy is it uncomfortable.

First: If I'm not a confessional singer-songwriter, who am I? What are my defining qualities? Am I interesting, nuanced, worthwhile on my own? What kind of person do I want to be? Kind, adventurous, vulnerable, thoughtful, giving?

Second: If being a singer-songwriter is not my "destiny," do I still want to do it? Am I okay with the strong possibility that I might *gasp* fail? What kind of music would I make if no one were watching? Would I make music at all? Do I still have anything to say?

It's all rather complicated-yet-boring quarter-life crisis stuff—identity, purpose, goals, etc. It's funny, the kind of boxes we put ourselves in, the kind of baggage we carry with us. Not just with how we see our "destiny," but the roles we play in relationships, how we want people to see us. I still sometimes catch myself acting ditsy and cute to get people to like me. Every way in which I deny my true self has become painfully clear now.

What gives your life meaning? Write to me. I genuinely want to know.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Trayvon is Dead and None of Us Are 'Not Guilty'"

"The guy we call the Good Samaritan — even though he found this beaten, half-dead Jew, stopped, picked him up, took him to get help and even paid for it out of his pocket — he may very well have still hated the man and everything that he represented. The text didn't say that this was the only Samaritan in the region that happened to be a good guy, that he was somehow magically free of prejudice, or that he had entirely forgiven the Jews for everything that the Jews had done to the Samaritans. The choice that the Samaritan made in this parable was that when he was confronted by a person he undoubtedly saw as an enemy, he didn't have to decide about what he thought about Jews. He had to decide who he wanted to be."