My daughter, Hannah, came home from her first day of 6th grade Monday.
"How was your first day of school?"
“None of my friends are in any of my classes. And I sat by Madison in P.E. but she didn’t even say hi to me. She just kind of smiled.”
“You’re entering into a really strange time,” I said. “Kids are changing.”
“Yeah, Madison was wearing makeup and she had this cool haircut with a stripe down the middle.”
“Oh. Well it’s like we talked about the other day. You have to focus on who you are. You have to remember that even though kids are into things and people that they think is cool, you can be into something completely different and that’s alright. You have to be true to what you are inside. You can’t like someone just because of a cool haircut, right?”
“Well I might,” said Ethan the 8 year old.
I said, “If you ever like someone just for a haircut you will be grounded for the rest of your life.”
His eyes got wider – I think he knew I meant it.
Life for me has been a succession of living outside coolness, hipness and sometimes just the norms of social boundaries. I admit to a certain nerdiness. But beyond that, I don’t think that I was even Queen of the Nerds. I seemed to always feel that I was on the outside of whatever group there was and for some reason it bothered me.
While intermediate and middle school is a challenge for any child (I daresay even the cool ones), the dilemma of fitting in is still one that I face. And I still find myself constantly answering that question of “Who am I” and “What are my values?”
The music business is an easy one to find yourself lost in. A record company wants you to record a certain song. A bandleader wants you to play a certain way. A club owner wants you to wear certain clothes or play certain times. The audience wants you to play certain songs.
It’s never-ending. It could cause anyone to have an Identity Crisis. And many of us do. We change our look. We change our music. We change our style. All in an effort to be successful.
Which annoys me to no end - music should be this outpouring of the soul from a genuine artist. And the music should be able to find its audience. Music should be a real, free market interchange of artist, music and listener.
In order to have this free interchange there are 2 things that must happen: The artist must stay true to their music and those that hear the music must either accept it or reject it (in other words, they must not REQUIRE it to change).
We all compromise. In middle school, you buy cool clothes and you get a new haircut. In music, we take a request or even experiment with a different sound.
Aubrey Mayhew, producer of The Little Darlin sessions with Johnny Paycheck, made a suggestion to Lloyd Green to play way up the neck. It worked and made a defining sound with those recordings. Emmylou Harris was criticized for not singing enough country songs and in 1979 she released “Blue Kentucky Girl” that contained more traditional country songs and broadened her audience. But she was still Emmylou.
How can you compromise but still stay true to who you are?
As my show gains more and more original music, I find myself in what I call a Texas Dancehall Dilemma. Do you become a cover band (or stay a cover band) and be a human jukebox, playing all the songs that the crowd heard the week before, or do you play your original music? Can you meet them halfway and still feel like you’re playing YOUR stuff?
These are not bad questions. It is not some horrible dilemma. But it is an identity crisis. Maybe not crisis – identity situation, I guess.
Hannah was crying, “This is the worst day of my life.”
I told her, “I PROMISE you one thing that I KNOW FOR SURE. Today will not be the worst day of your life for very long. It always gets better. You will make new friends. It’s just the first day. Give it time.”
That’s the thing about the crisis. When you’re going through it you are in that panic mode – like Ethan caught in the surf. You see the worst around you. You imagine the worst. But if you stay out long enough you realize that not only can you get through it, but you usually have the power to make it better – or at least you have the power to feel better.
The more I live my life, the more I learn to live with unanswered questions – about myself, about others, about life in general. I feel pretty good about knowing who I am – all of the strengths and all of the flaws. But I question every day how I apply myself to this mixed up world we live in. I question how I fit in, if I fit in and whether I should fit in.
I play original country music. It has twang and soul and melody and a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new. I love my music. From the very first note of Between the Whiskey and the Wine, I realized that I loved my own music. It probably will never fit in with anything – whether it’s music that’s similar or different. Some days it’s the worst day of my life. And other days I’m riding the waves just enjoying how it feels to be me.
Just like my Hannah. She’ll get to the end of this year and she’ll cry because the year is ending and she’s nervous about going to junior high next year and she wants her new friends to be in her classes. And it will go on and on.
To me, that’s living – the pain, the heartache, the discovery, the triumphs, the surprises. I don’t want to miss any of it.