I woke up this morning (Ba DAH dah dah DUM), and as I tend to do after clearing the cobwebs from my head, I checked my e-mail. In the midst of the usual stuff, there was a note from the guy at whose studio the Berries cut their album back in 2013. Last year, I had contacted him about the possibility of doing some more tracking, but since bands sometimes operate on, um, eccentric schedules, we kind of fell out of touch, and he was following up.
I told him that the Berries had imploded last year, but that we appreciated his interest. He replied with something I really hadn’t expected:
It was always refreshing to record a band like you guys, because you guys were just having fun. You wouldn’t believe how many bands I record that are just trying to get famous, and they have no passion for music to just play it and have fun!
And that pleased me a lot. I’ve noted before that years ago, I realized I was too old, too fat, and too odd to be a rock star. I decided to take that as a license to play whatever kind of music I wanted, and accept that if other people happened a) to find it and b) to enjoy it, then that should be pretty satisfactory. This didn’t mean that I would take it lightly — quite the contrary. If I wasn’t doing stuff with intent of pleasing a target audience, then I assumed the responsibility of making sure that I was doing stuff that I meant in some form or other. Music wasn’t going to be how I made my living, but it was (and is) an essential part of who I am.
The same is true of my writing — if anything, it’s even more so, because it’s less collaborative than music (at least when you’re a drummer.) I noted last year that I’m the king of liver-flavored toothpaste; that is, the stuff I write is out of step with a fair amount of what’s popular within my genre. Novels with reasonably happy endings seem to do pretty well in the marketplace, so naturally I tend to write short stories that end, but generally in a manner that most folks wouldn’t call happy (even if I think some of them are kind of funny.) OK, fine — that’s what I write. But to me, that again means that since I don’t have an obligation to the marketplace, I do have an obligation to myself and to the stories that come to me to write them as … earnestly? genuinely? as possible.
I’ll never get rich off my music or my fiction. Again, that doesn’t make them hobbies, a term that feels dismissive and deprecatory. For me, it makes them what Harlan Ellison calls Holy Chores, or what Frost described:
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.
And there needs to be joy in it — that fun that our producer heard — or it’s something worse than drudgery, it’s betrayal and corruption of whatever that creative spark is, the spark that Coleridge says imitates God’s creativity. (It’s okay if someone else misses it, but if it’s something I’m doing, I had damned well better sense that it’s there.)
So when my friend in Greenville told me that he valued the fun he heard us having, what I heard him say is that in our own awkward way, the Berries got it right. That’s a high compliment, and I’m grateful for it.