Cross my heart

I’ve never been a good liar. If getting away with it is any sort of measure of success, that is.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried.

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?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Cross my heart

  1. Texas J

    I may never hear my true voice. If I did, how can I be sure I would like the sound of it? Lying, however is a way of life. “Hi. How are you doing?” “Fine Thanks.” Liar.

    If you haven’t you should see “The Invention of Lying” . Great Movie.

  2. Yes! I know how you feel!
    My very worrying about whether I will LIKE and APPRECIATE my own true voice may be the very thing that keeps it from coming out…. the very thing that prevents me from recognizing it when it does.
    Then again, if I’m focused on liking or disliking, then I’m smack in the middle of the process of JUDGING.
    What might it feel like to sing without self-judgment?

  3. katie

    tim, you have some really great points that i can totally relate to! sometimes i get this rush of inspiration and i start a piece and like 20 minutes later i’m thinking “why am i even doing this? this isn’t my style? wait, what IS my style? do i even have one?!” i guess i keep doing it hoping that i will stumble upon “my style” someday by accident. i think it’s better to explore those things than to instantly discard them because you don’t think they are “yours.” hence, i have never had a cohesive body of work and nearly failed senior seminar because of it.

    the weird thing is, if i heard one of your songs, i would know that it was you. guitar “style”, voice, the fact that it’s AWESOME, etc.
    if you saw one of my paintings, would you know it’s mine? provided i actually made more of them? lol.

  4. This post really resonates with me, Tim… I remember struggling in high school art class with wanting to do something completely original, with every assignment. And yet I wanted it to have relevance to others, so it seemed it needed to reference something that others were familiar with. What a frustrating no-win situation! And the lack of confidence (and authenticity) seemed to scream from every piece (to me).

    Ironically, I’ve found recently that the more I abandon expectations and deliberately trying to “relate to others”, the more the results please me, and the more others say they relate!

    Life’s mystery just rocks.

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