I was surfing around and came across a blog called morphine life. The blog’s authour is a musician called Trent Yaconelli. I met his father, Mike, a couple of times and Mike is one of the people who has inspired my journey of faith. This post on Trent’s blog is up there with anything his father wrote. Thanks Trent for your wisdom.
‘Writing the song for the song’s sake
The lights shined bright on my face as we hit the first note of our set. On the bigger stages it is hard to see because the lights are coming right at you. Often you don’t know how many people are out there until you hear them applaud or worse you hear the lone cough after ending a song. I knew he was out there. My father had come to see me play. I kept thinking in my head that he was out there….watching…judging…wondering where he went wrong. The band lurched forward into rock song after rock song trying to get the energy of the room up. I was pushing all of my energy out to the audience hoping I could get them to get stirred up in a rock-n-roll frenzy so I could show my Dad the path I had chosen was the right one. To walk up to him as the crowd screamed for more with a big “I was right!” grin on my face. The lights dimmed, and the show was over. We had done well; the crowd had a good time, danced, drank, and got their money’s worth.
The next day I hung out with my Dad and asked him what he thought. I thought I would finally get the “wow. You really rocked that crowd! You guys were great!” My Dad was quiet and finally said, “you know I probably shouldn’t say this because it is going to sound square but why are you playing all of these songs about sex and partying? You’re a better writer than that Trent. Don’t worry about playing the songs people want to hear. Play them the songs they need to hear.” I was quiet. I was trying to think of the right thing to say back to him that would show him how wrong he was, but I couldn’t think of anything, because he was right and worse yet, I knew it. I had written song after song that I would quietly leave on the pages of my journal because I knew people wouldn’t dance to them. I had song after song in my head that I refused to devote time to because I felt nobody wanted to hear them. They wouldn’t make the crowd want to yell and scream for the band. I had chosen a hard path by choosing to follow my passion and become a musician but somewhere I had forgotten why I had started out in music. I started to compromise. When I began I had all of these ideas and things I wanted to say and I was slowly becoming no better than a Cruise ship entertainer. I wanted people to like me.
A true artist does not worry about the audience. If the audience comes along that’s great but either way the true artist will continue creating what he or she feels in their heart. That night I began to write without boundaries, without an audience or my need for acceptance dictating the direction. I wrote a song called Inside Out, a song about living out loud. A gospel song of sorts pushing me to live, breathe, and think differently. I wrote the song because it was there in my head, in my breath, in my veins waiting, asking to be let out. It became and still is one of the best songs I have ever written. It was a turning point for me as a writer, performer and human being. I no longer cared if anyone liked my songs or not or could dance to them or not. That was not the point. The point was the song needed to be sung.
The same goes for our own lives. We have so many choices we can make, so many decisions that lead us to ruin or triumph. How many of us choose to play it safe or choose a life of acceptance? How many of us are simply entertainers in our lives instead of artists? The hard lesson I have learned is that living a spiritual life means writing and singing the songs that need to be heard. It means following our own voice, not the path dictated to us by our parents, society, or religious leaders. They are there to help us find our voice, not to tell us what it is. We already have a voice, we already have a song; we just need the courage to seek it, call it out, and follow it.
The problem that I see is we have all become entertainers. We have various acts that we perform for one another and like most performers, as we get older we perfect our performance. We become adept at making small talk with our friends. We hone our jokes and stories of our childhood, college life, and career. Pretty soon your friends are saying, “ohhhh tell him the bean-bag story…you have got to hear this, this is soooo funny” and what happens? You tell the story and have them rolling in the aisles, of course. It’s a great act. But when did you stop being an artist in the midst of your life and start being an entertainer? Entertainers amuse. They help people have a diversion from their life. Look at the television how many of us sit in front of it day after day so we can “zone out.” We now have people who treat their lives as television shows. They are the stars of their particular show and work hard at making sure it is entertaining, making sure people want to continue to tune in. The focus is on slick marketing rather than substance. Walk through any American mall and you will see people who walk and act like commercials. Slick hair, slick clothes, subtle product placement and the aroma of packaged rebellion all scream “please tune into my show!”
True spirituality is an art. It’s creative and expressive. It is not meant to be pinned down and analyzed in a text book. It needs to be splashed with bits of paint and spoken words in a torrent of love and passion. It needs to be worked on, torn apart, and then put back together again. Jesus upset everyone with what he was saying, as did Buddha, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others, but it didn’t matter because they were saying the things that needed to be said. They were unconcerned with what people wanted to hear. They were not trying to entertain anyone. They were telling the truth. They were writing and singing the song for the sake of the song not for what the perceived audience wanted. Step out on to the stage. Let the lights hit you in the face. Yes, someone is out there watching you but they are not judging or disappointed in you. They just want to hear you sing. They came to hear an artist. Leave the Entertainer in the dressing room. Maybe your life will be out of step and out of key, but it is not your job to figure out what the world wants to hear. It is your job to give the world what it needs to hear.’