Saturday, August 31, 2013

The unlikely songwriter

Ever hear of alternate universes theory? It goes something like this. Every time an outcome is in question, the universe splits into two, or three, or however many possibilities exist.

You turn right or left.

You have a second cup of coffee or you don't.

You take the job in Dallas or Berkeley.

Science fiction is rife with stories about alternate universes. Some physicists believe they exist for real. I don't understand the science nearly well enough to form an opinion about that, but isn't it fun to think about? To imagine all those different lives our counterparts could be living because they chose differently?

I thought of this tonight because of a post on Captain Awkward, one of my favorite advice column blogs. The letter writer had just about completed a first novel, and instead of being thrilled, felt sort of meh about it. Where could the writer find the motivation to keep going?

Captain Awkward had tons of great advice. The piece that clicked best for me referenced, of all things, the theme song from Flashdance.
"First, when there's nothing ..." the song starts. I am skeptical that "Flashdancing" is actually a thing-distinct-from-stripping that was popular in working-class Pittsburgh in the 80s, but I do think that all creative acts start there.

First, there is nothing.

And then there is you.

And then there is something that didn't exist before in the world.
What does this have to do with alternative universes?

When I ponder all the different courses my life could have taken, one of the first things that comes to mind is songwriting. In how many other universes do I end up doing that? My answer is always "not many." Not even if every version of my life provided me with a random song idea. Inspiration is the easy part for daydreamy fog-heads like me. It's the follow-through that's hard.

The first three lines of what would become my first song came out of freaking nowhere. A gift from the universe, or God, or random neurons colliding. The rest of the line and the vocal melody for the verses came just as quickly, through improvisation. Anything else—if there was to be anything else—I'd have to work for.

I mused, That's kind of catchy. It could be a song.

I thought, That's dumb. I don't write songs.

Here's where the road forks.

I easily could've thought: Yeah, I don't write songs, no point trying. That would've been the end of the line. Why attempt something so difficult when I knew I'd fail anyway?

I also could have given myself a pep talk. You can do it! You just have to believe in yourself! It probably wouldn't have worked. Not for long, anyway. Not enough to overcome my natural fear and self-doubt and laziness the first time I ran into an obstacle higher than my knees.

What I actually thought surprised me. One of those pieces of internal dialogue that seem to come from someone else. Okay, said the indifferent voice in my head. But if you don't, nobody else will.

Nobody else.

If I didn't make it exist, it wouldn't.

So I did. And here I am.

And sometimes, like tonight, I think about all the universes where I didn't keep going because I didn't understand why I should. I feel bad for those other selves.

Then again, who knows. If I wrote my first song when I was 30, another me could write my first song when I'm 44, or 63, or 80.

It's never too late to do the unlikely thing that changes your life.

If you don't, nobody else will.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Same love, different audience

You've probably heard "Same Love," a song that advocates for gay rights. If not, take a listen:

Cool, right? Hip hop has a history of homophobia. It's nice that someone is using the genre to speak out against discrimination. Not everyone is feeling the love, though. Tyler Coates, a gay rapper, finds the whole thing kind of annoying.
I know it's OK to be gay. Most of those I know in the LGBT community know it's ok to be queer, too. And here’s a surprise for the heterosexual world: most of us didn't learn from you anything about understanding and appreciating ourselves.
It's understandable, his frustration. The gay community hardly needs Macklemore's validation. On the other hand—and Coates acknowledges this throughout his piece—"Same Love" isn't for out-and-proud gay people. "Same Love" is for heteros with homophobic tendencies. Bigots are generally more open to a message that opposes bigotry when it comes from somebody they consider to be one of their own.

I don't know how many people "Same Love" has reached. I don't know if anyone ever reconsiders strongly held prejudices because of a song. I do hope that at the very least, it will encourage straight allies to be more outspoken when they encounter bigotry.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

We'll stick with our Cinder Bridge T-shirts

My friend Pamela sent me the following Buzzfeed link with the message, "Don't be these bands."

21 Painfully Awkward Band Photos

No worries. If anybody tried to pose Ron the Drummer and me that way, we wouldn't be able to stop laughing long enough to finish the shoot.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cutting-edge copyright, part II

Remember those songs I sent to the US Copyright Office back in June? My certificate of registration came in the mail today. That was a surprise. The last time I registered songs, it took them four or five years to do anything about it.

Maybe registering online is just that much more efficient. If so, it's nice to know that the government is capable of using the internet for more than just spying on us.