Someone recently forwarded me Andy Langer’s Esquire article ‘Music Fans Manifesto’. Reading it reminded me how grateful I am to have you all as fans – everything Langer describes is exactly what you have been doing for me for years.
I love this quote: “A music fan is always asking, “What’s next?” But he [/she] also knows what came before.”
Last fall I toured the Midwest – some places for the first time in 5 years. I looked at the tour schedule and assumed it would be a pretty lonely haul. Why was I going to these cold, distant places? Who out there would remember me?
But almost everywhere I went, a group of you showed up and told me things like, ‘“Strawberry Lover” was one of my favorite albums – when I heard you were playing in Burlington, Iowa, I had to come!’.
I was like, “Whoa – that album came out 10 years ago!!”
You people are committed.
I love this quote of Langer’s too “Hitting “Like” on a Facebook fan page isn’t commitment.”
I really don’t know how many people have liked my Facebook page. What I do know is that you share my Facebook events and invite your friends, bring them to my shows, post videos of the shows, let me crash on your couches, drive me to train stations, give me your cars (yes, 5 years ago one of you actually GAVE ME YOUR EXTRA CAR so I could tour). You fund the recording of my albums. There was even a stretch back in 2006-7 when I had no booking agent and several of you in different countries stepped up to help me get gigs – more/better-paying gigs then I had been getting with the agent! I know several people who are so committed to music that they made the ultimate leap and started hosting house concerts, or even built actual venues with stages, sound systems and lights in their houses!
It can be a brutal world out there for an independent touring artist. There are a lot of nights with 5 people in the audience. Sometimes the sound sucks or the 5 people talk so loud you can’t hear yourself play. A lot of nights you lose money. Some places won’t even give you a free meal. Many clubs now take money for the sound person and door person out of the artist’s pay, despite the fact that the artist showed up to work too, and probably drove about 5 hours to do it. Pay to play – it’s horrendous.
But somehow people like me are still alive and the reason is clearly people like you. (If you are reading this, you are probably one of these people.) At Club Passim in Boston, or Music Star in Nordestedt, or The Red Room in Abenraa, or Amazing Grace in Duluth, or my friend’s friend’s living room in Wycombe, or Threadgill’s in Austin, for 4-5 hours I am reminded of our humanity. I’m treated like a person with an important job to do. I give everything I have and I receive much more.
I’m a committed music fan too, so in theory I get it. Last week I went to see Radney Foster. I’ve sung on an album with Radney (Drew Womack’s “Sunshine to Rain”) and have sung with him live. But I got to just listen this time, and I appreciated every minute of it. Then I bought the album and haven’t stopped listening to it since. (Listening to artists who inspire me, I am like a 12 year old music nerd all over again – I have to learn the whole album, note for note, word for word, so I can absorb it, so whatever I do next as an artist is a little smarter, better-crafted, deeper.)
Even though I am so blown away that anyone would be committed to listening to my music, maybe I should wonder instead about people who don’t seek out new music: what is life like for people who aren’t committed to finding inspiration? Isn’t inspiration what makes us human and keeps us believing that things can get better?
This where I believe it gets real – this isn’t just about marketing or some fame-seeking egotist trying to charm people into helping them get ahead. This is about something that moved you and you want the people you care about to be moved too. That’s why I do this and I think that’s why you do this. That desire to share what is real is so beautiful and human. This world is undeniably nuts. But so is the tenaciousness of the human heart. The impulse to love and to invite people in is a powerful force.
Thank you, all of you who go the distance. It keeps me (and a lot of other artists) alive and kicking. I’m grateful for the opportunity to sing for you and be part of your world. I hope Langer’s piece can open more peoples’ eyes to this kind of perfect symbiosis.