May 21, 2014

Do Your Job Well, There's Nothing Better/ An Afternoon Lull

"I've been hunting something for a very long time. I guess since I started playing music."

Sheila wanted more of an answer, and was happy to work for it. Though it's hard to tell what she's thinking behind the straighteness of her smile.

An interviewer who wants, but doesn't give makes for a tough interview. But when conversation is slow, persistence helps, and Sheila never stops.


"Can you describe that hunt... what it is you're after? What it means to you?"

The two of us, and her tape recorder make three, are in a bubble amidst a fury of backstage noise. Other bands loading gear; stragglers and hanger-ons earning their titles. The melted ice sloshing in the tubs of beer emptied by young bar hands, and I remember having a few more than a few cans myself while I'm holding the warm remains of a can. I started to feel light, and the emptiness swirled in to my stomach, as all the brave fury seems to evaporate. And there's a strange feeling in the back off my mind when I know I'm going to talk too much, beer makes me talk too much.

"I wanted a purpose," I said with a thousand thoughts of my first days playing music playing in my head. "But less noble than that... I wanted to go... Away from people I knew. Away from my past. This feeling really started in high school. Some people had a great time and never wanted to leave. Some of us," I said with an raising brow, "couldn't wait to escape."

My eye zeroed in on her small notepad, and that red rubber ball of an erasure dancing up and down between her fingers.

"I knew the world was bigger. I wanted to run in it. Leave everything I couldn't change. Remake things I could. That's what I see most of us doing. Musician's, artists."

She's not writing a word I'm saying, I have a feeling this is unusable for her and we are just talking. I don't like giving interviews after a show, but it's the only time we had. I'm fried. Sweaty. Red faced. Ridiculous.


I spent the first few questions splashing water on my face from the small dirty sink, near-falling off the wall, in the edge of the room. I moved, slightly clearer in thought, on to the one cushion free of cigarette burns and questionable stains; but once I sit, I can't help feel stuck between the couch and the question.

Sheila smiled, "Do you think you've found the life you want?" Suddenly there's a commotion over a lost guitar, I turned my attention away. She leaned in, and hit me with her pencil dead in my hand. "Your purpose... did you find it?"


"Well I don't know..." I laugh, rubbing the small stinging pain, like an ant just had a snack across the back of my hand.


"How can you go up in front people and not know?" She pushed. The good ones try and let you lead because with enough space, people will confess as much truth as they can. And she's gave me more than enough rope to hang myself with some deep-old-dirty truth. But something's are too big to explain.


A great interviewer will bend questions, acrobaticly, weaving words to the right answer. I've had the privilege of meeting only a handfull of people who can, and do, this well. Sheila's knows how to get her way, not by tact, but it's her own lovely pushy-ness.


To tell the truth, I had asked her not to ask the regular questions. Tell me about your band? How would you describe your music? I could do without ever answering those again. But still some lazy writer, won't even give a Google to get those. So a few days before, on a phone call when I was still three cities away, I challenged Sheila to think of something different for us to talk about.

So now it's on me. Forget clever. Everyone wants to say something clever, but it's not easy when the question is there, and the moment is quick and tired. Stick to honest.


"I think I found a purpose... Trying. Every song. Every show... To try. Others want to change the world. Enlighten. They want their music to instruct. And they do. Beautifully. I guess I want that too but... there're many ways to do that. I'm just not so direct."


She started to write in her pad again, "so you consider yourself a teacher?"


"No," I laugh again. Artists hate being concrete. "Still a musician. But we can learn from everyone. We all have stories, not just songwriters." I search the shelves to find an un-opened water. "And those stories have truths. Even when I make mistakes," I finally find it and come back to my chair. "You can get out there and explain your message. Spread the word."

"Or..."


"By example. One note at a time."

My head is finally slowing down.


"My favorite teachers gave to me by example. By living clearly in the day-to-day. Subtle meaning you know? I feel like if I give honestly. People can listen honestly. That's all I have. My purpose. The simple tasks say so much. Showing up to a performance and not playing the motions, but really trying to get there."

I could tell she wasn't buying it, "example?“

"Great players, my favorite players, don't fall on theatrics or clothes to get noticed. They play. And that speaks for them. They don't even use the music. They play the song, the best they can, and let the music illuminate itself, not the person behind it... you see? And that's what makes them so special. So simple. To do your job well, there's nothing better."


Sheila put down her pad, then lays back in her chair. She asked, "Is that what you think people want?... A great effort?" And I have the feeling this is off the record now, but you never can tell in an interview. I heard always assume anything you say will go.


“I don't," I start then catch myself in half-lie, "I try not worry about that. I worry about what I can give. With my mind. My song. What they want is up to them... I can't control that. Only what I give. I'd go crazy worrying about others'. Though I admit it's a struggle."


Sheila sat for a moment before she reached for her pad and got back to her list of questions when my tour manager came in to get me. The club was closed. People ready to leave. The show was done. So was the interview. And we said goodbye, in the mess of a green room. But like any conversation not ready to end, there was more hanging in that room waiting to be said.

I rested my head against the window looking out into the night highway, and I can't help but think of what I said to Sheila. My home. And what I was looking for out here. I realize I wasn't done. In fact I wanted to change my answer. I hadn't lied, but it wasn't complete.

The truth: I was running. I was exploring. Searching the country. Collecting. Hunting. Looking for it or away from home. Away from the things I couldn't change. Away from the life that was. In every part of my journey I have gotten something, but I also realized then, I brought something too. I was carrying all the best parts of home with me, and gave them to everyone I met. I carried the movement of the people in our streets. The songs of the wild hill country beauty that surrounds my home. I carried the subtle meanings, and lessons of all the wonderful people I knew. I wasn't just leaving home, I was being sent out.






An afternoon lull, a long breath of street
in a lonely town. Stores are quiet,


Doors closed, keeping out a summer heat
only the brave would wander.


But if they follow the end of the sidewalk
wrapping round the last posted light


Down a worn and broken row of slippery rock,
it might even be lost for a while,


Down through a huddle of branches,
under their low unkempt strays,



Down away from the plague of concretes,
where the hum and highway whistles never reach


There, they can cool in the long waiting shade
take off their shoes, and be light


Under a vault of oak, listening to the fade,
the song of evening.
-rené