When I started songwriting in earnest and learning how to play guitar, sing, and get on stage, way back in 2011, I had one constant goal: don't suck. As it happens, I've managed to do that from time to time, and have seen constant improvement in my art. But the steam ran out a bit in my engine recently, and it's a struggle to get the cars back on the track.
Despite improvements to my skills, and some very receptive crowds, I have found myself haunted by the nagging question: why are you doing this?
Of course, much of my music and writing has focused on things that have been trigger points in my brain,. These include things like social, racial, institutional, or environment issues. There’s an art to being a protest songwriter, and from time to time I’ve fit that billing. But there’s a broader question for each and every one of those songs: what am I preaching, and am I really living by the verses and choruses I compose? Am I giving enough of my time and energy to do more than just write and sing? Are my words and music doing anything to help anybody but giving me periodic polite applause at the back of the neighborhood bar?
So it goes that I connect the dots in my own work and find myself wondering if I am telling the truth or am I just painting a pretty picture in a world that needs more than three minute song poems.
As I look at what I’ve done, where I’ve journeyed, and where I’m headed, this thoughtful reflection has caused me to pause as if in classic writer’s block. My feet are stuck in the big deep muddy (apologies to Pete Seeger for the reference). As part of getting stuck of course I’m doing more thinking. And overthinking. But also a lot of self-reflection, and thinking about how I can write about that stuff. So the result is that my art is getting more personal, and perhaps this will resonate with more folks who happen upon my performances. And perhaps I’ll feel like I’m more authentically sharing my truly unique worldview and Simeon Peebler’s Truth.
Some of the best stories and best songs are completely made up affairs. But the best of them are a consequence of self awareness that leaves very little doubt that the work is indeed the Truth (or just simply, true). That mountain-top position reflects on our unique perspective on this planet where we actively bear the responsibility of knowing that we are but temporary lightning bugs in an endless field of mind-bogglingly Carl Sagan huge time and space cosmos.
Time to write more, and sing new songs, and get the locomotive on its way.