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Sunday, 11 September 2011

Art for art's sake

Songwriting and performing are subjects close to my heart, perhaps because I’ve written literally dozens of hit songs and played to thousands of people in fantastic venues all over the world.

No … wait a minute, I was thinking about someone else there.

Over at my website, I regularly post a ‘song of the week’, which is usually accompanied by a few brief notes designed to illuminate some of the musical and lyrical aims of each piece.

The idea for this week’s song (‘Novelty Act’ by The Eisenhowers) came to me while I was driving home to Glasgow at stupid o’clock, having played a gig in Aberdeen to not very many people. At that time in the wee small hours, faced with the prospect of dragging myself into work on a meagre ration of sleep, it seemed like rather a foolish way for a responsible adult to spend his time, an idea conveyed in the opening line: “To get right to the point: it’s looking bad.”

Up until sometime around your mid-to-late twenties, it’s relatively easy to maintain the enthusiasm, energy and belief required to play in a band. The combination of wide-eyed innocence and exuberant ambition can be intoxicating if you're on the inside, but also quite endearing for the observer. At that stage, you are pretty resilient (in fact, you’re close to being bullet-proof) because, essentially, you believe that your big break is just around the corner. As the years pass and you begin to realise that you are still quite some distance from becoming the next U2, you’ll wonder, sometimes, why the hell you are still doing it. Your friends and relatives, once full of enthusiasm and willing to turn up in numbers at your gigs, will start to withdraw, perhaps puzzled and slightly embarrassed as to why, in the face of all the available evidence, you’re sticking with it.

From that point, a peculiar brand of resilience is required to maintain your efforts, but it’s a brand that may lead those friends and relatives (and don’t even think about your enemies) to write you off as being -at best- slightly eccentric, but more likely drifting somewhere on the outskirts of Delusionsville, just a few short stops away from Nutter Central, where 55-year old postmen can turn up at the X-Factor auditions believing themselves to be the natural heirs to David Bowie or Jon Bon Jovi.

Anyway … to get right to the point. I concluded a long time ago that people should make music because they want to. If they are 'successful' (whatever that means), then good luck to them. If they are not 'successful', who cares? If you’re getting something from playing music, you should continue to do it. That 'something' could be peace of mind, catharsis, the sheer joy of making some meaningful noise, or perhaps the admiration of three slightly drunk folk at a midweek acoustic gig. Your 'something' might even be the deranged notion that somehow your genius will one day be recognised by the rest of humankind. Whatever. Making music might occasionally lead to heartache and humiliation, but it’s still better than lots of other activities I could name.

And that, I think, is what the song in question is trying to say. In spite of being forged in the dark foundry of jaded cynicism, it somehow manages to express a degree of optimism about the creative process.

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