Wednesday, October 31, 2012

how to improve your sex life and save America

I was at a Halloween party on Saturday, sitting between two men whose entire bodies (including their heads) were covered in green spandex, when I reached this conclusion: all of us, in the company of our friends, families, lovers and co-workers, ought to spend much more time talking about sex.

I propose that talking about sex will help us to feel less shame, have better sex, and even weaken the influence of politics (and worse, politicians) on our personal lives.

Here’s how it works.

Waste less of your life feeling ashamed.

We feel ashamed when we think that we are doing or feeling something uniquely awful. You can’t feel ashamed of doing something that everybody you know and love is also doing. At least, in theory you can’t, but in practice you do: everyone you know and love picks their nose, poops, does not look like an airbrushed supermodel when naked, and has all kinds of dirty, dark, and deviant sexual desires. Just. Like. You.

Keeping the shameful stuff to ourselves keeps us isolated from each other. We are so afraid of each other’s judgment that we clam up, and forfeit the possibility of connection. The irony is that connection is the only thing that can alleviate our shame - when we realize that we are not uniquely dirty-minded, just plain old run-of-the-mill dirty-minded, the shame begins to evaporate. Of course, it may not be the case that your best friend shares your fantasy about being tied up. But guess what: there is only one way to find out.

Personally, I am sick of shame. I’ve spent enough time with it to recognize the depth of its uselessness. If you could also do with a little less shame, follow these simple instructions: 

  1. Invite some friends over. 
  2. Make a pot of tea. 
  3. Pose this question: "What turns you on?"

Have better sex.

One thing I’ve often found perplexing is why competent, intelligent, fully-grown members of society so often turn into simpering weenies when things get sexual. They lose the ability to ask for things they want, and to say NO to things they don’t want. As anyone who has ever hung out with a toddler knows, these are not advanced skills – every one of us mastered them completely by the age of 2.

So what gives? It seems to me that our vast reserves of shame cloud our judgment and thicken our tongues. Whatever the reason, the fact is that most of us suck at communication when we’re turned on. Luckily there’s a really easy and reliable way to get better at things: practice.

Start talking about sex before you get into bed with somebody. Like, WAY before. At the party, on the date, in mixed company. Right after “what do you do?” and “where are you from?”, ask “what turns you on?” 

If you’re honest with yourself and the ones you covet, here’s what I predict: you may have fewer sex partners (having filtered out the incompatible and easily-offended ones right off the bat), but you’ll have much better sex. Your sex partners will know what you like before they have the chance to try all the things you don’t like. You’ll know what they like, too, so you can spend less time worrying about your performance. Even better: the more you practice talking about sex, the better you'll be at it; so when your desires inevitably change and develop, you’ll be more likely to get those satisfied, too.

And here’s the revolutionary part: when you talk about sex, the people around you will also have better sex. Talking about sex is contagious (that’s why I wasn’t allowed to hang out with my Christian homeschooler friends after I was about 13). It jumps from host to host, devouring their shame, connecting them to each other, and making their sex lives hotter. It’s a miracle drug. If I could make it into a pill I’d be a billionaire.

Kick politicians out of your sex life 

(unless you're having sex with one).

Part of the reason politicians and voters support stupid, counterproductive, dangerous legislation about sex is because they are under the influence of sexual shame. Remember how being open about sex and sexuality brings people closer together? It also weakens people’s opposition to no-brainer civil rights issues like marriage equality. In short: shame makes us stupid.

Sexual shame gives politicians and voters the selective-blindness required to support policies that are bad for them and their families. Shame allows closeted gay politicians to endorse anti-gay legislation. Shame allows parents of gay kids to keep mum about their support for marriage equality. Shame allows otherwise rational people to suggest that abstinence-only education is a good idea. Shame allows people with uteri (or daughters) to support a Presidential candidate who wants to de-fund planned parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade - a lethal combination for women, regardless of your religious or moral position on those issues (HELLO SCIENCE: making abortion illegal does not mean that fewer women get abortions, it means that more of them die in the process.)

All of this is not to mention that oral sex is currently illegal in eighteen states.

In short, sexual shame is what a lot of people are smoking when they vote against there own interests. And what have we learned is the sobering antidote to sexual shame, friends? Or at least the morning-after, hangover-easing french toast and OJ? Talking about sex.

So turn to your neighbor, open your mouth, and say something sexy. For the good of humanity.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A couple things I forgot to mention about sex.

1) Sex is not that big of a deal.

Despite the fact that I love it, and I love to write about it, I firmly believe that sex, between consenting adults, is not that big of a deal*. I don't think it's worth falling in love, falling out of love, ending a friendship, breaking up a marriage, impeaching a president, or maiming or killing anybody over. 

I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, and I'm starting to think that this sentiment is unusual. Somehow I keep coming across the type of movie where two people fall in love, have a giant conflict involving sex, hate each other's guts for a while, and then realize that love conquers all and get married. Or, in the tragic version: realize that said conflict has revealed their insurmountable incompatibility, and go their separate ways.

In other words, pretty much every American movie that isn’t about war, or a heist.

I can’t help but wonder whether these movies would be so poignant and popular if we all stood up, en masse, and said, WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL ABOUT SEX?

How about a movie where the boyfriend casually mentions to the girlfriend that once, before they were together, he had sex with her best friend/sister/nemesis, and she says “that makes sense, she’s a cutie”, and that’s the last we hear of it? How about a movie where the wife cheats on her husband, and then confesses tearfully, and her husband says “Well, that’s a real bummer, but I love you and I think we’re great together and we have all these great kids, so I’ll get over it.”? How about a movie where the heroine has unprotected sex with the dopey-but-lovable guy at the party, and then wakes up the next day and says to herself, “I don’t know this guy at all and this is a terrible time for me to have a baby”, so she takes the fucking morning after pill? Even better, how about a movie where the heroine has drunken sex with the dopey-but-lovable guy at the party, but she doesn’t get pregnant, because she uses birth control like any sane woman who has drunken sex with guys she meets at parties

I would love for sex to exist in pop culture, but not be central to the plot line. I would love to see characters who have other shit to think about. Perhaps if we all start living that way, Hollywood will follow suit.

So here's my advice: have some sex, or don't. Be safe, be honest. Above all: don't freak out about it.

2) There is no normal.

People, as a species, tend to be pretty concerned with whether we are "normal". Which is really too bad, because "normal" is not only impossible to achieve, in many areas it's impossible to identify. Normalcy is determined by your perspective. Louis CK brilliantly illustrates this point in the opening lines of his stand-up act
"Hello everybody. Actually, I shouldn't say everybody, because most people are not here. By a pretty huge majority, most people are not here tonight. In fact, most people are in China.
Actually, most people are dead. Out of all the people that ever were, almost all of them are dead."
So next time you ask yourself, "Do most people dress/eat/fuck/think this way?" Remember: most people are dead.

For example: is it normal to drink cow’s milk? If you live in North America or most of Europe, you might think ‘yes’. But the answer is: only if you don’t live in Asia or Africa. Considering the fact that most people (that's living people; about 5.2 billion of them) do live in Asia and Africa: no, it is definitely not normal. If you drink milk, you are a freak.

As Christopher Ryan observes in his brain-busting book on the topic, Sex at Dawn (I've mentioned it before and I will again - read the damned thing): cultural attitudes about sex vary at least as widely as cultural attitudes about food. Plus, our personal sexual desires seem to be affected not only by our culture but by our genetics, our epigenetics, our family dynamics, our formative experiences, and probably other things that we don’t even know about. Even our species' evolved sexual behaviors are not as you might expect. What’s more: the way all of these things affect our sexual interests and behaviors is complex, unpredictable, and extremely difficult to study.

In short, if there is such a thing as “normal” sexuality, we probably don’t know what it is.

But I can tell you what it's not: it is not normal for two completely heterosexual people to meet in high school, fall in love, get married at 20, lose their virginity to each other, and have mutually orgasmic missionary-position sex once a week, exclusively with each other, until they both croak. 

So if that doesn't describe you, congratulations: you're normal.

And if you're not married, but you're still having sex, congratulations to you, too. And if you're gay and married, gay and partnered, or gay and single. And if you're a transgendered bisexual sex worker who's into threesomes, or a super-femme housewife who's dominant in bed. If you need a lot of time to have an orgasm, or you need to use your hand to have an orgasm, or if you have orgasms at 'inappropriate' times, or if you don't have orgasms at all. If you need to be in love to feel aroused or if you can't get it up unless you're with somebody new. If you had sex when you were twelve or if you've never had sex at all. If you love giving head or hate getting head or love porn or hate porn or like being slapped or hanging from the ceiling or fantasize about animals or high heels or, actually, if you're only into missionary position once a week with your high school sweetheart:

Congratulations to all of you. You are just as normal as anybody else. Which is to say perfectly, blessedly, magnificently abnormal.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

the first-sippers

The Pepsi Challenge is a marketing stunt wherein volunteers are asked to choose between Pepsi and Coke in a blind taste test. The results skew heavily in favor of Pepsi. In Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, a new set of taste tests (some single-sip, some whole-can) suggest that although Pepsi (being sweeter) is preferred upon first sip, Coke (with its more complex “flavor profile”) is preferred in full-can form.
Lately, I’ve had a creeping suspicion that American culture (which unfortunately seems to be rapidly devouring most other cultures) has become first-sip obsessed. In many areas of life, we’re trading in quality for convenience, and experiential complexity for candy-coated immediacy.

Take music, for example. 

On my recent trip through Europe, I was plagued at every turn by the sort of hyper-emotive, autotuned, electro-dance-pop that much of the world is so enamored with.  I’m not saying “Somebody That I Used to Know” and “We Are Young” are bad songs, but I’ll tell you what: the dance remixes, which are being played not just in the clubs but in grocery stores, restaurants and radio stations internationally and at alarming rates, have been robbed of any element of soulfulness they once possessed.

What do I mean by soulfulness? Well, as Ray Charles said, soul is “when you become part of your song… so that the people really believe every word you’re singing”. A soulful song reaches out and grabs your attention, like a stranger talking directly to you about their personal, emotional life. I think Gotye was on to something when he originally recorded “Somebody That I Used to Know”, but whatever kernel of truth made it believeable has since been remixed, multi-tracked and autotuned right into oblivion.

So why do we love these shells of songs? I would venture to say that we don’t. We take pleasure in them, especially upon first listen, because they are sweet to the ears. They are emphatically, overwhelmingly in tune. They are devoid of all non-musical sounds, like breath, movement, or catches in the throat. They are agreeably inhuman, like airbrushed supermodels . They are so pleasant, so unobtrusive, that they can play in the background while we drive and text and drink Pepsi, and they do not demand our attention.

But I’ll tell you what does demand your attention: every song Ray Charles ever recorded. Ditto The Beatles, in spite of all the ear-candy. And how many great artists have demanded our attention in a way that wasn’t pleasant at all - at least not at first? Billie Holiday. Bob Dylan. Tom Waits. The more pressing question is, how many great artists did strike you as pleasant, within the first ten seconds of the first song of theirs you heard? I’d wager that pleasantness is a common feature of mediocrity, and an uncommon feature of genius.

Imagine you’re in your car, driving and texting and drinking a Pepsi, simmering in a not-unpleasant fog of caffeine and Facebook-induced narcissism, and Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame” comes on the radio. You’ve never heard him, or anything like him. The piano is out of tune. You hear breathing, a creaking piano bench, squeaky fingers on bass strings. His voice is like a thousand years of cigarettes and whiskey and unrequited love. How long does it take you to turn the dial?

Unfortunately for the first-sippers - the Blackberry dads,  the Real Housewives of Atlanta, and the whole eat-on-the-run, sleep-when-you’re-dead, one-stop-shop, party-in-the-USA generation – soulfulness, with all of its inherent sorrow and strangeness and black magic,  demands our full attention.

Upon posting this, I plan to turn off my computer, throw my phone in a lake, and allow the soulfulness of life to grab me by the hair and shake me, yawning spit and sound into my face. I suggest you do the same.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

backseat video

Wow! People sure had a lot of feelings about that last post. Let's see how y'all feel about the video:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

on women who like sex

Tomorrow, I am releasing a music video for “Backseat”, which is a song I wrote about wanting to have sex with a hot tattooed guy who unfortunately had a girlfriend. In said video, I will be dancing around in lingerie, drooling over my dear (hot tattooed guy) friend Dan, and singing some pretty thinly veiled sexual innuendo. (Update: see the video here.)

So, this seems like the time to make my confession. Confession might not be the right word, actually, considering my last album, Idiot Heart, was more or less an epic poem on the topic. But, for those of you who don’t know me, or who aren’t big on lyrics, or who are still nursing your vision of me as an innocent young folksinger, here goes:

I like sex. A lot. I don’t like it because it’s all about love, or because it’s some kind of spiritual journey for me. I like it, mostly, because it’s just so dang fun. Because it makes me feel alive, and it allows me to share that aliveness with other people. Because it helps me to learn things about my body and mind and heart that I otherwise wouldn’t. In other words, I like sex for the same reasons I like music and dance: it is a joyful, playful, fun, surprising way to connect with people, and to explore the human experience.

So why, when I’ve written and talked extensively about music and dance, haven’t I gotten around to writing about sex? Because I am afraid of what it will mean. I’m afraid of being judged, shamed, belittled, or reprimanded. I’m afraid my fans will either run screaming into the hills, hiding their children, or become creepy stalking phone-breathers. It’s only recently occurred to me that these fears don’t belong to me; they belong to a culture with a long history of wrongheaded, destructive views about sex, especially as it pertains to women.

In my own interest, and the interest of sex-liking women everywhere, let’s get a few things straight.

1. Sex ≠ love. I think the idea that sex and love are the same thing (perpetuated throughout the world for much of recent history by religion, art, literature and advertising) is responsible for many of our misconceptions about both, so let's get this one out of the way first.

Clearly, on occasion, people who aren’t in love have sex. Clearly, also, people love other people and don’t have sex with them. I’m not saying they’re mutually exclusive, but neither are they inextricably linked. Love and sex, like milk and cookies, pair well; but neither is required for the enjoyment of the other.

2. Women like sex just as much as men. Countless theories have been put forth over the past few centuries about why women don’t like sex. Without going into the tedious details, let me state my own opinion on the matter: they do.

If you don’t buy it, let’s do an experiment. Let’s start a new culture where women, from their girlhood, are told that sexual pleasure is a natural, fun part of being female. They are never told that sex is dangerous, dirty or weird. They are never badgered, shamed, pressured or forced into any sexual experience. When they become interested in sex with other people, they are encouraged to explore it in a consensual, safe, fun way, with whomever they find themselves attracted to. All of their sexual partners are caring, communicative, generous, and happy to take direction.

That will be our control group.

3. Women who like sex are not sluts. Let me try to sum up the meaning of the word “slut”, as I think it is commonly used, in a sentence or two. A slut is a woman who will sacrifice a lot of valuable things (her physical and emotional health, her reputation, her friendships with women) in order to have sex. It’s generally understood that sluts are not truly interested in sex; they just use sex to get other things they want (like attention, love, or money).

So, a slut is not actually a woman who likes sex. A slut is a woman who uses sex as a bargaining chip to get other things, which she does like.

A woman who likes sex, on the other hand, is just a woman who likes sex.

4. It is not “dangerous” to like sex. All people are vulnerable to rape and sexual assault. All sexually active people are vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections. I don’t believe there is anything about liking sex, or acknowledging it, that puts me in a more vulnerable position.

That’s not to say that there are no risks to having sex, but those risks are not higher than, say, driving a car. Driving a car is generally considered a justifiable risk, whereas having sex - colored by its cultural legacy of shame - is not.

5. Women who like sex will not necessarily have sex with you. This, my friends, is the clincher.

When I find myself in a conversation about sex, and mention that I am a fan of the activity, the men in the room tend to get very nervous, very handsy, or very surly. I think this is due to a common misconception: that women who like sex will “give it up” to anybody. Like, our brains will be so flooded with arousal endorphins that we’ll transform into some kind of pansexual nymph.

Women who like sex still have all our wits about us. Like most people, we only want to have sex with people who we think are attractive, and trustworthy, and with whom we have chemistry.

In conclusion: I just made a music video that is sexy, based on a song that is about sex. Why? Because I like sex. I like sex that is loving and profound, and I like sex that is fun and casual. I like sex as much as any man I know. I am not a weirdo, I am not a slut, and I am not in any excessive danger. I like sex, but that doesn’t mean I want to have sex with you.


Recommended reading:

Monday, June 18, 2012

on living extraordinarily

“We are human beings, for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery: the mystery of growing, the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves.” –e.e. cummings

 As you might have heard, I packed up my lil’ pink studio and left Philly at the end of May. Currently, I’m taking in a pristine view of pines, poplars and blue sky in northern Maine. Later this summer, I’ll be ping-ponging around Europe. I’ll still come through the northeast on tour (don’t worry your pretty heads), but I’m not sure whether I’ll be living there. I don’t know where I’ll be living after September (but I have a hunch. I’ll give you a hint: it’s my favorite place in the world).

 Why? You ask. Well, let me explain.

The worst thing about being an adult, by far, is the sense of obligation. I think in most cases, we don’t have very many real obligations, and the ones we do have (loving our spouses, feeding our kids, paying off our debts) were freely chosen (even if it doesn’t always feel that way). I, for one, have even fewer real obligations than your average bear. But I have plenty of imaginary ones.

 Imaginary obligations create a vague, creepy feeling that you can’t possibly stay home from work/go skydiving/move to New Orleans, because of an imaginary jury of disapproving people. In my case, the imaginary jury includes my fans, my manager, my band-mates, and some of my friends and family members. I’m not sure what would satisfy them, exactly, but it seems to include a constant supply of new songs, an ever-expanding fan base, and a tour itinerary wherein next month’s gigs are always more impressive than last month’s. So we keep ourselves from doing things we want to do – for example, packing up my house, taking the summer off from touring, and bouncing around the world for who knows how long – based on a set of assumptions about what an imaginary group of people would find appropriate.

 So, although I’ve been hankerin’ for a move for a while now, I didn’t think my jury would be in favor of that choice. But I’ve gone and done it, because here’s the God’s-honest truth: I am obligated to only one person, and it’s myself.

 Let me clarify. My purpose is to live an extraordinary life. And by living extraordinarily, and being vocal about the joy and magic I stir up, I aim to inspire others to live extraordinarily (whatever their version of extraordinarly living might look like).

 My version of extraordinary living, so far, includes lots of songwriting, performing, and making records. But it also includes pointless travel, spontaneous adventures, creative fits, hedonistic binges, friendships and love affairs of many varieties and durations, periods of selfless giving, periods of extreme solitude, periods of extreme creative passion, and, apparently, the occasional hermitage in Maine. And I’ll be candid, blog-readers: it very likely includes a move to New Orleans.

 If the songs come, they come because I have been living extraordinarily, and I have some noise to make about it. So, Philadelphia, don’t be sad to lose me. Be thrilled for the mischief I’ll get into, the magic I’ll encounter, the music I haven’t yet made.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Levon Helm and musical joy

Levon Helm was a rare spirit: he radiated love so great you could hear it in his voice, feel it in his backbeat, and see it on his face.

Levon was a musical bodhisattva, and part of a lineage which stretches back into the centuries, and which I believe is still alive today. The Band's music fills me up with a kind of joy that is familiar to me, and that I absolutely live for. When music is beautiful and joyful and honest, and played with kindness, it speaks directly to your heart. You get a taste of enlightenment: the feeling that you are just a drop in an infinite ocean of human experience. That your pain and joy are one in the same as the pain and joy of the people around you.

I want to thank Levon for his life and for his music, and for the inspiration he provided for me and so many of my compadres. I also want to thank the musicians and writers in his lineage: those who have moved me, from the stage or the speaker, and filled me with musical joy. Those whose kindness is palpable, whose grace is evident in their voices and hands. Most recently and to name a few: Oliver and Chris Wood, Cary Ann Hearst, Devon Sproule, Chris Kasper, Seth Walker, Milton. I hear you, I feel you, and I thank you.

Levon: the business of music isn't easy, but thanks to you and those like you, music itself is very clearly a spiritual necessity. I feel grateful every day for the opportunity to make music: to make a joyful noise unto the world, and just maybe to move somebody the way you have moved me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

theory of songs

Let me start by crediting my friend and inspiration, singer/songwriter Milton, for much of the following theory. He didn’t coin it (and I wouldn’t be surprised if he disagreed with some of it), but it was born out of hours of conversation between the two of us, over which I’ve been mulling for the last few years. Let me add that I don’t pretend that anyone can be an authority on this subject, and I don’t mean to sound like I’m trying to be one. I just like talking about it. The following is my current theory of great songs.

Songs are like lovers: the best ones have a good heart, a good brain, and a great body.

The heart is the emotion: the melody and harmony, the shape and feeling of the song. The brain is the insight: the part that makes you think, usually it’s conveyed in the lyrics, but sometimes with fancy chord voicings or time signatures. The body is the physicality of the song: the rhythm, the primal, erotic force that makes you want to get up and dance.

In other words: a great song should break your heart, make you think, and turn you on.

Since I started thinking of songs like this, I’ve noticed that most songs (like most lovers) tend to be unevenly distributed. Most are heavy on one or two of these categories and lacking the third. Even whole genres of music tend to concentrate on one or two aspects. For example…

Folk music tends to be heavy on the brain and heart, and light on the body. Think about Joni Mitchell’s canon: sweeping, heartbreaking melodies, brilliant lyrics, but generally not much going on downstairs. The few times Joni brought in some eros - some sexy, powerful rhythm - she had a hit (think “Big Yellow Taxi”). Leonard Cohen has the same concentration: “Suzanne” is one of my very favorite songs, but you could sing it to a metronome, and not lose anything essential. It’s got a tempo, but no rhythm. It doesn’t move rhythmically. To think of it another way: Dylan was a folksinger when he played solo. When he brought in The Band, he became a rock star.

Pop Music, for most of the last hundred years, tends to have plenty of heart and body, but no brains. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of pop music. The hugest. But rarely does a pop song contain much insight. This spans the decades, from “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, through “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “What’d I Say”, all the way to Bruno Mars’ “F**k You”. Those songs are like smokin’ hot lovers, sweet and kind and passionate, but without a thought in their pretty little heads.

Think about “Dock of the Bay”, one of my favorite pop songs of the last fifty years: It moves you, and it makes you want to move. It’s sexy and sweet and full of longing. But what is it actually saying? This guy is sitting on a dock, thinking about life. He thinks to himself “looks like nothing’s gonna change”. Then he whistles. Again: I adore this song - and I think it has “meaning” in a sort of cosmic, big-picture sense - but it’s not going to change anybody’s mind about anything.

I don’t know rap and hip-hop well enough to comment much, but based on the heart=melody theory, rap seems to be light on the heart, and heavy on the body and brains. I could say the same about punk and hardcore. It would make some sense, because so many of those songs are conveying strength, anger, and toughness, and you don’t want to show too much emotion if you’re trying to win a fight. You want to show brains and brawn: words and rhythm.

All of this is to say that the greatest songs of all, of course, shatter the boundaries. They transcend genres by displaying, in all their beauty and vulnerability, the heart, the mind, and the physicality of the singer. They sing of the complete human experience.

My fans are currently nominating their favorites. Here are a few of mine.

Lean On Me (Bill Withers)

Still Crazy After all These Years (Paul Simon)

Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)

Picture in a Frame (Tom Waits)

What A Wonderful World (Theile/Weiss)

Forgiveness (Patty Griffin)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

the “pay what you please” manifesto

In 2008, I helped start a business called “Quidplayer”, which built a nifty little widget for artists to post on their websites. The Quidplayer is a music player that allows fans to pick their own price for the music they download from artists. It was a fairly revolutionary idea at the time (I had only heard of Radiohead taking that approach, never a smaller-time artist). These days, because of the success of Bandcamp and similar businesses, I’m happy to say it’s becoming more commonplace.

I’ve now adopted Bandcamp on my website, allowing fans to download tracks from the Buoy album for any price they choose. I’m planning to release the new record, Idiot Heart, in the same way. Additionally, for the past year, I’ve been inviting fans to choose their own price for my physical CDs at my shows.

This approach has gotten mixed reviews from fans. Some people are instantly in favor of it, others are downright incredulous. I’d like to let you in on where the idea came from, and why I’m now 100% sold on it.

The fan experience

Before I was a musician, I was a music fan. I still am! Music that moves me is worth more to me than almost anything else in the world. I would eat gruel every day for the rest of my life, or live in a tin hut, before I would give up good music. Music that doesn’t move me, on the other hand, is worth nothing to me. So how can two songs, one totally inspiring and one completely boring, both be worth $.99?

My answer is, they aren’t.

Not everybody has the same taste, but I will wager that everybody who loves music has a similar experience. If you really love an artist, if their music gets inside you and wreaks glorious havoc, destroying and rebuilding your interpretation of the world, making you laugh and cry and reconsider things, their art is worth an infinite amount of money to you.

The industry

Something big happened in the music world about a hundred years ago. Vinyl records were invented. Suddenly, record labels could record musicians, and distribute their music to jukeboxes, and later, directly to music fans and radio stations.

Imagine the enormity of this! Before 1910, a musician was a working person who traveled from town to town, performing their music live, in the same room with their fans. A fan was a person who saw that artist, enjoyed their performance, and planned to see them again the next time they came through town.

Recording changed the face of music in countless ways. The most shocking and new and important way, I submit, what that it turned a song – previously an experience, unsellable and unquantifiable - into an object which could be bought and sold.

With that one little idea, the recording industry was born. You can’t have an industry without a product, and you can’t make a product out of a musical performance unless you stamp it onto a piece of plastic. Now, a hundred years later, the music-buying public seems to think that a song is more or less the same as a pen, or an iPod, or an ice cream cone: it’s a thing, and it’s worth a fixed amount of money.

This, my friends, is lunacy. Songs are magic. Money is just money.

In Conclusion

It seems to me that the big mistake – the very biggest mistake in the history of the music industry – was not highly paid record executives, or unfair royalty distribution, or Napster, or iTunes. It was the faulty premise on which the whole empire was built: pretending, in the first place, that a song could be bought or sold.

So, here in the 21st century, as I make my songs and sing them into microphones, as so many others did before me, I’m challenging that premise. If you hear my music, and you like it, and you want to take it home with you, don’t ask me what it’s worth.

To me, it’s worth everything. It’s worth every failed love affair I wrote about. It’s worth the debts, and the late nights, and the incessant station wagon traveling. It’s worth every ounce of heartache that went into conceiving, writing, singing, and recording it. It’s worth all the money I’ve ever made, and ever spent, and ever will.

The question is: what’s it worth to you?