I’ve never been a good liar. If getting away with it is any sort of measure of success, that is.
I’ve lied when it didn’t matter very much; I’ve lied when it mattered a LOT. I’ve tried those “gray area” lies… I’ve tried lying by omission… I’ve tried lying by redefining the topic… by using distraction… I really tried to find that magic angle.
And time after time, like clockwork, I got caught. My mom would know that I was about to tell a lie before it even came out of my mouth.
I think it had something to do with the eyebrows. I would have the thought, “make a face that looks like you’re not lying” and that was the very moment that I’d give myself away.
You can see me making funny faces in lots of pictures. The funniest are those in which you can tell I was really REALLY taking myself seriously. In some old photos of me celebrating different religious occasions, the pious expression of self-righteousness is almost unbearable to look at. People have seen these seemingly ridiculous photos and asked, “you really thought you were holy, didn’t you?”
But it wasn’t that I thought I was holy. Rather, at age 9, I figured I was a pretty horrible person and simply wanted to be holy. I was doing my very best to be holy; to be good. Because I thought that if I were truly holy, truly a good person, then some higher power would make the divorce go away. Would make life happy, gentle, and welcoming. (You know. Like on tv.)
It’s not that I was trying to deceive to be hurtful. It’s that I was innocent and thought I could transform myself from the outside, in. (“This is what holy people look like. This is how they hold their hands. This is how they stand. This is how they smile. I’ll just do that, and I’ll be a good person, too.”)
Trouble is, at the end of the day, I was trying to be someone I was not. And people can spot it a mile away.
I think that comes through in our music, as well.
Steve Vai talks about how his fans (and anyone’s fans) can tell in a second when an artist is trying to, as he puts it, “pantomime someone else’s music.” (Premier Guitar Magazine, October, 2009, page 104)
I still catch myself falling into this trap… “This is how GOOD guitarists play a solo. This is how GOOD musicians write a chorus. This is the set of licks they play to sound impressive.”
While I fully agree with Steve (first-name basis now), I think it’s also important, at the same time, to acknowledge the difference between ‘lying’ (intentionally trying to mislead someone) and innocence. That is, the innocent act of searching for my own honest and genuine musical expression. An act that (hopefully) leads to deeper understanding and self-awareness.
At times this process feels to me like I’m trying on hundreds and hundreds of masks… “Is this me?” “What about this one?” “Maybe this one?” …All the while hoping to find the one that will help me uncover my own true face.
And my truth, my genuine, authentic truth today, is that I’m not sure what that honest music… MY honest music, sounds like.
But what if no two of my ‘honest’ songs ever sound the same? What if authentic expression has no common thread except an invisible, un-touchable, un-smellable, un-tasteable, un-hearable but definitely perceptible SOMETHING that makes the listener nod her head with a smile and say, “yeah… that’s it!”?
I don’t think I’ve made it to the point that Steve Vai has, where, like he seems to, I can write a song and feel confident that it’s coming from the heart. I’m still trying to figure out what it feels like when I’m authentically expressing myself through an original song.
Maybe my biggest mistake here is that I’m trying to use my eyes, ears, and other senses in a logical way to pick up on that magical SOMETHING.
Maybe it’s a simple as listening to my own music and recognizing that warm feeling in my gut. The one that makes me smile, nod my head and say, “yeah… that’s it!”
What about you, Fellow Dream Chaser? Are you able to recognize when your art reflects authentic expression? Can you feel when you’re beginning to pantomime someone else’s work? What does it look like when you get in touch with your own, genuine voice?