Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Adventures of a Sexagenarian Singer Songwriter

It has been an exhausting few weeks here for yours truly. Summer is by itself exhausting. The only season that comes even close for luring one out of one’s house and into society for pleasure, activity, and enervation would be the Christmas holidays, a season which is shorter in duration.
The fine weather has been calling me (and you) to more than ordinary exertions. There are beaches to walk, picnics to attend, trails to hike, pools and other bodies of water in which to swim, mosquitoes to slap – in short, the fun never stops.
For me the fun has taken the form of songs to be sung to appreciative audiences. I have performed twice this summer.
To be a performer you have to have the willingness to get up in public and make a fool of yourself, and not everyone has that willingness. I call it “being vaccinated with a hambone.” Many talented, clever people would rather be dead in a ditch than have to get up on a stage to speak or sing or dance or act. To the rest of us the interaction with an audience is the breath of life.
I’ve been inhaling deeply lately. I won’t lie to you. I love performing. It’s a pain in the butt to be a performer, though. You have to work when others are playing; you have to leave your perfectly lovely home and wonderful family to go to work; you have to put out a lot of time, effort, and money before you get anything back; and everyone thinks you’re not working, you’re playing.
Women, Women & Song did a set at the Strawberry Festival to a large and enthusiastic crowd of old friends and a few new admirers. It was heady stuff. To get up and sing the favorite old songs was comfortable, and wonderful – and took us four weeks of rehearsal to pull off. I had made up a few CDs of our first album, “I Won’t Wait to Be Happy,” which sold out immediately.
The next week I played solo for the Vashon Saturday Farmer’s Market. Not so many turned out for this gig – I am not so legendary and loved solo as the trio is, but a lot of people did turn out. This time I had to sing two sets solo instead of one set with the trio, and it was hard work for the old sexagenarian. I had made more copies of “I Won’t Wait to Be Happy,” and also of the second album, “The Key of ‘R.’” My cousin Nancy and I spent most of one day and part of another doing what Nancy calls, “Arts and Crafts 101,” burning CDs, designing covers, printing covers and labels, cutting paper to size and folding it, and sticking labels on discs.
It is easier in some ways to be a singer-songwriter than it was when I was younger. I am not so distracted by worldly things, such as, for example, men, as I was years ago. My concerns these days are more spiritual and more prosaic – singing and writing are the only work I can do. I don’t have the stamina for gainful employment of the five days a week sort. The irony is not lost on me that it has taken illness to force me to fall back on the work I do well.
I won’t make a lot of money – perhaps not any in the long run. So why do it? Well, because it’s a calling, and because it is important for people to sing their truth, and to hear other people sing their truth. It’s easy to forget this when you go out to sing and people walk by trying to avoid eye contact. It’s easy to think, who cares? Why the hell am I doing this?
You always have to remember that this is a calling, a vocation, and you’d better enjoy what you do for the sake of doing it. If your art isn’t your joy, there is no point to being any kind of artist.
So this is what it is to be a sixty-year-old songwriter. After decades of striving for self-improvement, of seeking to become transformed through work and prayer and meditation and study into the best version of the person I was born to be, after all that, I find at last that I am left with no alternative but to be myself. I have arrived here partly through my strength and endeavor, but what has really kicked me through the door has been weakness -- the failure of my body to keep going as if I have not aged. I am forced, at long last, to be myself.
Life is full of these odd surprises.

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