OK, singer-songwriters are fine, I know, but I still have a knee-jerk prejudice against singer-songwriters as a genre. If you are one, rest assured, the post becomes much more friendly to you later on. Fortunately, I never experienced any kind of singer-songwriter trauma. I’ve never had a guitar-toting busker too-earnestly insist I support his art. Really, it’s nothing like that. At some point, I bought in to a stereotype, chose to follow a crowd, and just placed singer-songwriters in with polka artists (I’m not apologizing to polka fans. I just hate the music.). So, here’s the roots of my problem:
- Hee Haw. I remember four TV programs that were allowed in our household and our grandparents household (where boredom prevailed). There was the news, Lawrence Welk, Sesame Street, and Hee Haw. Singer-songwriters have nothing to do with Hee Haw, but, when some hat-wearing dude or dudette stands in front of the microphone with just an acoustic guitar, it really looks like a singer-songwriter. But, yes, Hee Haw was all country music and, more specifically, a kind of exaggerated folksy version of it. It made me hate the music and whatever looked like it. Even re-runs of Gomer Pyle shows looked too much like Hee Haw.
- Earnestness. An earnest 5 year old is great. Some Earnest’s are important and Earnest (Ernest, really) went a lot of places but, other than that earnestness can be just too much. An earnest guy in a coffee shop with his acoustic guitar fits the ambience, but if you make even a little eye contact, every song will be sung to you, just you.
- Solitude. A singer-songwriter in her natural element just seems so lonely. She can’t find even one other band member and everyone wants to be in a band. She comes across as a friendless board gamer
or an isolated music blogger. It’s not natural!
But that’s all wrong. I am all wrong. You see, singer-songwriters are artists, too. Some are quite good. That earnestness? Some are out to save the world and, too-sweet that may be, it’s still a positive goal. As for the solitude, that’s just a person with so much talent that no other musicians are required. And Hee Haw … well … let’s just leave it at that.
My prejudice is real, but fading. In real life, Dana and I met some new friends and Alex, half of that cool couple, is kind of a singer-songwriter. His songs are basic, not boring, poppy songs about life, love, and feelings. Yes, he plays with a band, but almost everything about his music fits the niche of singer-songwriter. But he gets along great with people and just wants to share the fun he gets in music. Sure, he’ll look at you from the stage, but it’s not creepy, it’s just another way to spread his joy. He takes his art seriously, but his art is fun. That’s a huge crack in my unfair stereotype. All that’s required is one more tap and it’s gone.
Recently, I stumbled across the blog of another real singer-songwriter, Jasmine Kyle who’s made a living at it, for awhile in LA, and now, after detouring through regular life, is starting up again in Milwaukee, including live performances. I know nothing about her music, nothing at all, but, from her blog, I can tell that her music is about tapping in to her deep creative drive. I was so stuck in my view of singer-songwriters crusading for justice, one folky song at a time, that I never considered how the inner spark, flame, or pilot light just has to get out. So, there goes the prejudice, at last. Echoes may remain, but the main prejudice? Gone.
Now, in my new, more open self, I realized I already knew some folks who, in some way, might be considered singer-songwriters. Barbara Parker, an all-around artist, has several songs on SoundCloud where it’s her voice, a guitar, and some more-or-less folky songs. I was against her? That’s just wrong?!?! There may never be a more relaxed, accessible artist. Another blogospheric member, Mr. J. Hubner (one of my two go-to bloggers) doesn’t play conventional singer-songwriter music, but he sings, writes songs, and records many of them all by himself. Technically, he’s a singer-songwriter, too. Rejecting him would be like rejecting an
electronic brother. Some day, hopefully soonish, I may join their ranks, although I could be more of a howler-songwriter or just weirdo-songwriter. We’ll see.
So, as a genre, I am probably still not a big fan, but I respect the art, the creative process, and, given the right song, even the music. If I don’t like it as music, it’s still valid as art and art is good.