Since college, I have maintained a shoe box filled with scraps of paper, clippings, polaroids, found objects, cartoons, but mostly hastily scrawled lyrics all assembled during phases of living in St. Cloud, MN; Merida, Mexico; Hamburg, Germany; and Switzerland. After having settled in California, I began to mine the box for songs to complete and discovered that the easy part is the hook, the gotcha line – and the hard part is crafting a song that sticks together and keeps the audience interested and if possible off guard.
I like to kick off my sets with a few humorous songs, so the audience is expecting another chuckler when I hit them over the head with darkness. It’s like a day in a life, right? That beer truck is barreling around the corner and you’re not looking both ways. I guess it’s an easy jump from emoting on stage to emoting in front of a camera and crew and I find that acting sharpens my sensitivity to the power of the single well placed word or phrase, or phrasing, intonation, emphasis.
As an indie performer, I play wherever I can except open mics. I figure, if I have to wait around all night to play one, maybe two songs to disinterested fellow musicians, I would just as soon spend the time practicing, writing, and often, playing in the subway stations of San Francisco, where you can play for hours, for hundreds of people, and maybe scoop up $20 or $30 bucks. Plus, magical things happen in the subway.
Recently a younger guy approached me with a guitar, which he did not unpack, but asked what kind of non-originals I play he might know. We settled on Leonard Cohen and he harmonized with me on “Tonight Will Be Fine” and “Hallelujah”. We had built up quite a crowd, but just as suddenly, he grabbed his guitar and said he was off to fight the Keystone Pipeline.
The other day I was playing an up-tempo tune during rush hour, and the station janitor came over and started tapping his broomstick against an advertising stand to provide percussion. A few weeks ago a woman approached me after a show in Winona, MN, and introduced herself as a poetry teacher, and said she loved my lyrics. Or the two women who told me my song “Baby you Can Do Me No Wrong” reminded them of their sister, who at age 40 or so had kinda given up on finding a partner and then some guy appeared on the scene who waits on her hand and foot and treats her like a princess.
Stuff I never envisioned writing the songs, but if you play in public friendly venues you can get that kind of magical interaction that keeps me doing it.