At one point or another, we’ve all felt an attraction toward the underground or the underdog. Andrew Yang 2020 anyone? The razors edge of desire to belong to something and/or stand out for something feels noble and meaningful. The unsettled brawling mindset ready to defend a position or a cause with evangelical zeal is as punk as you can get. For me, it's also a sign of loneliness and it has become important for me to notice and even embrace it.
When we lived in Ferndale Michigan, we lived feet from great neighbors, blocks from crowded amazing restaurants and festivals, and had the added benefit of most of our local friends being in the same generation with similar interests (ie - kids same age, music, politics). Leaving Ferndale after nearly 20 years was one of the hardest things we ever did as a family. I was really worried that my kids would become more isolated but in the end, none of us escaped that.
I lost my good friend Caleb on November 19th, 2015 shortly after we had made the transition out of Ferndale. I let it become a symbol for my new found loneliness and I grieved long and slow for him and for what he represented which was a connection to others I took for granted and no longer felt that I had. This isolation and grief lead me back to my guitar and to writing songs again so that's good. It was super healing for me but now a forty something year old guy wants to share his music and that is where things got a little weird, un-punk and dare I say, middle aged?
I found it so awkward to share my music with friends these last few years so I just haven't. When I started writing music back in high school and college, many of my friends were my friends because of music. We were rebelling in the same way… like soldiers in lock step. Like everyone my age, I had a deep desire to belong and though I would try to project a cool independent vibe, it was only possible then because I had amazing hair and a backing of friends who were doing the same thing I was. We were fabulously fitting in… Fast forward 25 plus years and life looks very different. "Hey neighbor Joe, check out my latest midlife crisis song I call, “I’m too old to be doing this anymore” Or my teenage parenting song "Just Stop the Embarrassment Dad”. Not real songs yet but you get the idea. I was standing out and it didn’t feel good like it once did so why bother mentioning it right?
Today, my confidence comes from seeing both my strengths and weaknesses on full display as a husband, father, employee, home owner, faith seeker, and musician. And, a quiet confidence comes from realizing that people rarely think about me as much as I do. Even writing this, I am honestly writing for me. I don’t expect many of my dearest friends to take the time to unpack this. They will be there for me over coffee or some other real life engagement and that is good with me. I need that more anyway. But, I am also writing this for people like me who suddenly don’t feel the sturdiness of the ground under their feet anymore or who find themselves back behind a microphone after years of having nothing to say or no time to say it.
To them I say, I am starting to find the music scene in Detroit again and it is beautifully lonely. It is very different than it once was or maybe it is the same. I dont know but I am back. I am reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. While I once had a vision for my music touching millions, I now feel like the pursuit of writing a good song is the goal and finding other writers and performers to share the stage with is as much fun as actually having an audience to play in front of. I am finding meaning in my music as I share it with others and I am finding others bring meaning to my music as well. I played what I felt was a horrible show a few months back to maybe a dozen onlookers at a coffee house but afterwards, a woman came up to me to thank me for my music. She said she needed to get out of the house because her husband was quite ill and she was his full time care taker. She seemed to think my songs were just what she needed that evening. The middle aged subversive punk in me needed to think it was possible impact someone in that way with my music and it did. Maybe I was there that night specifically for her. And maybe lonely clubs and cafes all around us contain a bigger ecosystem of artists capable of connecting with and healing others as well as ourselves. That doesn’t feel so lonely. And even if it is, it's a subversive punk kind of loneliness that comes with the territory and I think I like it.
I am really liking the sparse arrangement of "The CIty" here. It is a real loneliness kinda song. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!