I grew up with idols who didn’t speak, except occasionally on the radio or tv. Although Windsor was a medium sized town, not a lot of folks came through. So I never saw any of my celebrity idols in the flesh. Most of us probably grew up like that.
Impossibly large, flawless characters. You only heard them on their official recordings. Only read their official lyrics. Rarely saw anything but their approved press photos.
One of my first conscious thoughts was that I was a musician. Later on, when I really started to develop my sense of self (and self-consciousness) I decided that the way to be a great artist was to become elusive, aloof, buried in my journal – ultimately SILENT, except when I was creating my art. Like the fancy people I strove after. In my silence, I’d focus on the traits that I thought separated me from the rest of humanity. My unique talents. My drive. My otherness…
I desperately wanted to be seen, heard, listened to. Discovered. But I was terrified of engaging. I’d never engaged with Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, or the Cranberries. They didn’t ENGAGE. If anything, they lead, presided, but only by virtue of the existing technology and access. Nowadays it seems like an antiquated form of celebrity. And only those grandfathered in by their pre-internet fame can have that kind of weird anonymity within the spotlight.
There is safety and immunity in being untouchable, you know. It’s a nice fantasy.
But it’s also ridiculously lonely. And it’s not enough to propel a career forward anymore either.
For someone growing up with a lightning strength impulse to communicate, restricting that channel to only performances and composing caused me to leap out of my skin whenever I’d open it. A flood bursting forth.
Last week, I had a conversation with a fellow artist about our anxiety surrounding the compulsive social media networking required of most artists today, our resistance to giving up our privacy, sharing the minutia of our lives. It feels too intimate, and incongruous with the idea of artistry that we were served as children. We no longer have the luxury of revealing only polished products and images.
But I’m slowly coming to realize that there’s something really amazing about the immediacy we have now. It used to be imperative to create a polished product in order to reach an audience at all. Now, it seems that the only imperative thing is to communicate at all, which we can do so directly and efficiently. A game changer. And something I’ve recently become enamoured with.
The mere act of talking to a friend and identifying that we both share this same anxiety is enough to nearly neutralize it, at least in the moment – yet another argument for sharing, opening, community. If what we truly desire is a feeling of fulfillment and happiness, then the more truthful, vulnerable and public we are with what we are most afraid of is the perfect way to dismantle the very structure of these fears.
Lately, I’ve been especially enamoured with the writing of Courtney Martin and Parker Palmer. Though they publish books (which are wonderful!), they also write really thoughtful blog posts on a weekly basis, and are active on social media. With such clarity and humility they often put into words things that I’ve been feeling but haven’t figured out how to express.
So, instead of being filled with resentment of these technologies that are forcing us to adapt more quickly than we are comfortable, I wonder whether they are actually helping to wear away at the veneer that insulates us from each other, from our idols, from our humanity.
So. I am choosing to speak. And play. And write.