I've been writing songs as long as I can remember.
As a teenager, I only let my mom and dad listen to the songs; theirs was the only opinion I had the guts to hear. Then in my early 20's, I started sharing my songs with more people, eventually playing them around Chicago. Not only was writing songs a cathartic (maybe even religious) practice for me, but sharing them with others seemed to do something for them, too. I wrote about heartbreak and lust and city life, and these concepts resonated well with others.
Oh, to be young.
Then in my 30's, I didn't often have "relatable" things to write. Themes got more personal. I wrote about seeing my dad's ashes after he died. I wrote about my daughter being born with a rare syndrome. I wrote about finding mouse bones in my hair while I was renovating a building into a restaurant, and I wrote about my relationship with the guys running the black barbershop next door. Unsurprisingly, most of my fans didn't understand the songs. They missed the good old days of me writing about my late nights in Chicago with handsome strangers.
And every now and then, I try to will myself to write songs that people want to hear. I try to package up the words and music in a way that seems "right" to the listeners. And the end result?
Lame tunes that don't stir up a single emotion in me.
Pablo Picasso famously said, "The chief enemy of creativity is 'good' sense." And man, his words feel so true. Because while we may need to learn the skills of HOW to make something, deciding WHAT we make is not something that can be taught, and there's no right or wrong to it. Creativity is fraught with bizarre, imperfect energy. What we make is not meant to be good or to make sense for others: it's meant to be what it is.
Reader, if you're a maker of ANYTHING--from oil paintings to dinner--I remind you that making things 'nice' isn't always the best way to make things. Push boundaries. Be true to your emotions. Let your art be spontaneous and honest. This next year is going to require innovative, original solutions from all of us as we try to pull ourselves out of our divisive ways during a still-surging pandemic. New ideas will need to be born to respond to our unique problems. So let's keep our creative juices primed by allowing ourselves to create from a place free of judgement and full of courage.
I leave you with a picture of my 5 year-old son, John. His creative idea today was to a make a stain-glassed mitten, hang it in the window, then have me take a picture of him holding a clementine in front of it, pretending to be a pirate. Does any of that make sense? No. Is it one-of-a-kind, classic John? You betcha, and I saluted him for that. May you have this kind of courage and freedom as you create this week. See you next Monday. -Em