I suppose that last post bears some explanation of my secret rock star identity.
It is so secret that hardly anyone is aware of it. Hopefully that will soon change.
I started writing original music in high school as a hobby – not something I defined myself by. In college i was a part of a group of extremely talented actors, singers, and musicians. But, though i could rightfully identify myself in all three categories, i never felt as though what i was bringing to the stage was as valid as what other people did. After every audition or performance I was my own harshest critic, and as a result I slowly disappeared from performances, relegating myself to a off-stage role.
However, there was still one thing at which I was better – maybe best – than everyone I knew: writing songs.
It wasn’t a matter of pride or self-confidence – it was just something i knew. My best five or ten or twenty songs stood up against the songs of my friends, and even the songs on albums I bought every week. I could remain a performer as long as I had my songs, so I labeled myself a singer-songwriter. I played at parties. I recorded songs for my webpage. I walked from my apartment to campus, playing guitar and singing the whole way. As long as i had a song to stand behind i was fearless.
As college wore on, some of the more multi-talented friends in our extended group gained an amount of local notoriety as singer-songwriters fronting bands. I finally had people – peers – to compare myself to, and it was immediately clear that I didn’t sing as well, or play guitar as well, or record as well, or work the stage as well.
This was especially demoralizing because my songs were still great – it was just me that wasn’t good enough. I let it get to me – right down to the very core of me, and as a resultI graduated having not played an original front of people for over a year (with one exception – poorly received), and I had even stopped recording – frustrated that my voice never came out how I heard it in my head.
I decided that for my first year of professional life i was leaving my creative side behind – i had to focus on working hard, and on being a good boyfriend to Elise, because that’s what was important. Creativity, music especially, was a lark I could afford to ignore.
My resolve was strong, and even after the year was over and I starred in a successful bit of post-collegiate theatre i was still holding out on music. I still hadn’t performed anywhere, and even my once-prolific writing had ground to a halt.
I can pinpoint the exact moment when everything changed.
Last December I made my yearly appearance at the Shubin Theatre Holiday Revue. I appear not because of any great talent, but because I am friends of the Shubin family, which includes Gina, my sometimes co-writer. In 2005 I was performing on relatively short notice, and so instead of my typical cover or collaboration I decided to play an original – Seams – a song all about my imperfection, my lack of confidence, my reticence to perform anywhere outside of my own bedroom.
In that tiny theatre with forty or fifty people watching I rediscovered me as a musician. I was singing words I had written, words I still very much meant, and as they left my mouth I could feel – even see – them connecting with members of the audience. At the after party people asked where they could see or hear me perform and, slightly embarrassed, I told them that they couldn’t.
As I said it I realized the ridiculousness of it. I had these great songs – catchy songs, witty songs, meaningful songs – and here I was refusing to play them because I didn’t deem myself to be good enough. It seemed rational to me for years, but that night I realized how unfair it was to the songs.
I am no longer a part of that disproportionately talented college friends – I’m a part of the world at large. And, in that world I am unique in my ability to sing and play at all, let alone with some amount of skill, and I am unique in my ability and willingness to document my life through song.
In this much wider world I am done with hiding my songs in my bedroom, and with that newfound confidence i find that my singing, playing, and performing are suddenly not so bad as i thought they were. I can play in front of friends or strangers knowing i deserve their attention as much as anyone else, and sometimes i even win it.
Today, and tonight at The Sidecar Bar, I am a singer-songwriter. And, it’s not a secret anymore.