*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine November 2016
In the entertainment industry it is standard practice to give the people what they want. This is actually a contradiction in terms. If I gave the people what they wanted, I would be playing “Brick House” for four hours at every gig; or, for an older crowd, that horrendous instrumental “Sleepwalk” for just as long. If I comply with this, I become somewhat of a miserable beeitch and I actually want to kill myself rather than shake it down or calmly strum the A minors. This in turn makes the entertainment value of my performance not so stellar and therefore the audience is actually not entertained at all. And people of all ages are reaching for the defibrillator. “Brick House” consists of one chord. ONE CHORD! Over and over and over. This is worse than, for those in the know, blues songs, which only have three.
At shows I like to say, “We’re happy to take requests. We’ll TAKE them, it doesn’t mean we’ll actually DO them.”
I just can’t stomach sacrificing my art (yes it’s mine, all mine) for the greater good, and the better gigs and the freer bar tabs. And if you’re not careful, giving people what they want can seep into your soul creating chasms of horror and defeat. It can happen at gigs, in the recording studio, in the practice space, or over dinner with your husband, your parents, or your friends. “You should do this song, it’s perfect for your voice. You need some oohs and aahs during the verse. You should have put more upbeat songs on the album. You should only sing slow songs. You should only do blues. You should only do rock. You should write a song about me. You should try to get a gig in New Zealand. You should try out for The Voice.”
I think suggestions from music fans come from the heart and they’re just trying to help, and I believe in the sanity of most people. They can tell when you are being fake however, and that you don’t particularly care one iota for their suggestion. They can sense when you’re lying. Except if you’re a serial killer. Most people can’t tell about those people, but that’s another subject entirely. Being true to yourself is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and the clearest path to success and peace. Even if you have to Bruce Jenner it.
One year my daughter sensed I wanted to give up on all this crap so for Christmas she made me one of those Shutterfly photo calendars with all our greatest band moments caught on camera. The photos were mostly of me, doing my thing, and not sacrificing a darn thing for nobody. It got me back on track. Sometimes your children can be motivating, exasperating, and at times downright inspirational. Have some! It’s all true!
When I was 13 our teacher assigned us the fun task of making a collage of everything that we felt was important to us. We could use photographs, magazine or newspaper clippings, whatever. I was in love with magazines at the time – Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, Seventeen – so I glued together about 25 sheets of tan construction paper and started cutting my life out. Images of healthy foods on picnic-filled blankets, gorgeous girls and gorgeous guys completely in love running through the fields, cute guys roller skating with cute girls, Cathy Rigby jogging, a big tub of Noxzema and somebody washing their face, music notes, guitars, and lobster. I guess I’ve always had a thing about gorgeous guys, and being clean and healthy. And lobster. The point is, when I was 13, I knew exactly what I wanted, who I was, and where I was going. I could picture it in a collage if you will. I still have the wrinkled patchwork stuffed at the bottom of my high school yearbooks and I pull it out once in a while to remind myself that a) WOW – I used to be able to jog? And b) it’s never going to be OK for someone else to tell me what I like and what I don’t like and what I should do or not do. I have the collage! This comes in handy on my day job as well. If you let them boss you around, they will. If you declare that “No one is the boss of me,” then no one ever will be. It hasn’t led to very many promotions but at least I’ve kept my sanity, my self-respect, and stress intact.
Even if your best friend in the whole world requests “Brown Eyed Girl” because she has brown eyes, and it’s her song, and it means everything to her, it still doesn’t mean you have to play it. Actually people, please don’t EVER play it, ever again. The Rolling Stones knew what they were talking about in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
I’ve never pretended or claimed to be particular well-read, artsy-fartsy, a smarty-pants, a name-dropper or a poet. I’m not going to tell you my lyrics were inspired by some post-modern feminist leftist anti-politico 500-page snoozer I’d been reading on Saturday nights. They’re just words that rhyme, occasionally. Sometimes just phonetically. I enjoy my intellectual musical friends and get what they’re trying to do – music as art and all that stuff – but the point is, they’re doing their thing, and I’m doing mine. It hasn’t gotten me very far (or them either), but who cares? This ridiculousness has chosen us.
I think I’m ready to go shake it down now. Maybe to the car radio.
And one final note, last night I had a dream that the head of the statue of liberty was laying on the ground like in that 1968 movie Planet of the Apes. Translation: Get out and vote on Nov. 8. We’re our only hope.
I also had a dream about Bruce Springsteen, but that’s for another time, and perhaps another magazine…