It's a cold, dreary, wet January morning here in Middle Tennessee. There is a light but steady Irish rain dimpling the pond and dripping off the few leaves that remain on the hickories and maples outside my window. The strong acidic coffee--a roast ominously called Midnight Volcano--tastes good but fails to ignite my drowsy constitution or stir my imagination. Any inspiration is dampened not only by the weather but by a nagging sense that I should be doing something "productive." I should be booking gigs, working on a new CD, revamping my website. I should be writing lyrics to the dozens of melodies languishing on my handheld digital recorder. Yet all I want is more coffee. And a cigarette. Geez, I haven't had a good, strong tobacco urge in years. Despite the rain, I think I would indeed walk a mile for a Camel.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not depressed by today's forecast. In fact, I used to find days like this highly motivating. The cold and damp set the milieu for a self absorbed melancholy, something I used to call "the wonderful loneliness." It was a chance to play the angst ridden artist or--if I was in a political mood--the plotting revolutionary. You've seen that guy in the cafe before, sitting behind a floating wall of hand rolled cigarette smoke, reading Bukowski or Vonnegut or maybe pretending to read Das Kapital or the Tao Te Ching, drinking pot loads of the darkest brew, studying his role like a method actor, blissfully unaware of his own self awareness. That was me.
As a young songwriter, I would tap my feigned existential broodiness. I would mostly write songs about women. There was love lost and love unrequited. There were noble and lusty daydreams about heroic sacrifices for something ultimately unattainable. I was Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, going to the guillotine to secure the safety and happiness of my one true love. That will get her attention! Yet I wrote for an audience of one. It's a lot like a drum circle: it may be fun to be in, but it's boring as hell to listen to. And really annoying if you are trying to sleep.
The winter still affects my artistic mood, but I no longer encourage the inner Lord Byron. I guess the difference now is the sense of urgency. I'm pushing 50 with little to hang my hat on. There is so much that I want to do, yet time is a shrinking commodity. I can't accomplish even the simplest of goals. I'm like the US Congress, at war with myself, completely inept and incapable of compromise. Outside interests lobby my conscience for attention until, in the end, nothing of value gets done. Unfortunately, I don't have the power to mint a one trillion dollar coin to solve the Deficit or name a new airport.
Take a deep breath and step away from the coffee.
I'm not one to make bold New Year's resolutions or pronouncements. There is too much room for disappointment, and who needs that? However, after jotting these thoughts down, I find a nascent promise tripping off my tongue. No more posing, no more self-editing. No more rare air and absinthe. It's time for meat and potatoes. A song that is clever and smart is just that and nothing more. Those worthy attributes should be in service to a higher goal; without a kernel of truth, they are an empty exercise. Unless of course you are Roger Miller. And I, sir, am no Roger Miller. Therefore I will seek authenticity as my way out of this straightjacket. For my next trick, I will attempt the most dangerous feat a writer can attempt. I will be Real. Rain or shine.