Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No Country For Old Men

I am going to turn 56 in a few months (June of 2008.) That makes me a lot of things: a Gemini, a baby-boomer in the prime of life and an over-the-hill songwriter. I have lived more than half my life in Nashville, having moved here at the age of 25 to do the only thing I wanted to do: write songs – and have someone sing them. Although I am delighted that this has happened from time to time in the past, I am saddened and perplexed that it happens no longer.
Vince Gill, a most gifted gentleman I consider a friend and colleague, wrote and performed a song called Young Man’s Town. It is a poignant tune about the moment one begins to realize that they’ve drifted outside the inner circle – that what they do (and often do so well) – is no longer recognized as worthy; that they have aged beyond relevance and been replaced by a youngster with a better look, a hipper attitude and a younger sound. In my case this realization was accompanied with appropriate amounts of anger, envy, incredulity, sadness and eventually, acceptance. 
It is inevitable, of course; it happens in every aspect of our lives. However, the issue I put forth here is a bit complicated. You see, in most businesses folks will work for 30-40 years, steadily progressing in their companies until retirement comes at the age of 60, 62 or 65 – typically at the peak of their earnings. They’ll get a watch, maybe a cruise and a pension. For songwriters it’s a different story. With few exceptions the peak of a songwriter’s career – assuming, that is, that they ever have a career - may last 10 years. If a successful writer takes advantage of his or her moment in the sun and saves some money during their productive era, things can work out reasonably well. Then again, truly successful songwriters are scarce – rare individuals, indeed. Songwriters are self-employed, responsible to make quarterly payments to the IRS, pay for their own health insurance, answer to their own decisions regarding investments and, as a group, have no right to a collective bargaining agreement.
But, that’s not the real issue. The real issue is this: unlike athletes, most gifted songwriters improve with age. Their skills are honed, intuition more reflexive, insight keener and their sense of wisdom deepened. What they lack is the piss and vinegar and endless energy of youth – that audacious, internal mantra that says, ‘I don’t give a shit what you think, I’m the best there ever was!’ Although the mantra may still be playing quietly in their souls it lacks the combustion it had in the early years. 
So, we sit now in small gatherings of our peers, lost in recent memories of fleeting success, talking smack about the state of the music, telling each other ‘It’ll come around again,’ knowing it will not. We replace the beautiful nakedness of a guitar, a pencil and a blank sheet of paper with a stack of technological gear far beyond our ability to use adequately and pump out drum loops, bass patterns and synthesizer pads as if in some freakish Mayan ritual calling up visions of youth, vigor and energy. In so doing we taunt and tease the modest gift we may have been given and it begins to retreat. If we are fortunate and perceptive we will be humiliated back to our senses when we realize that the rhythm pumping from our speakers has created an audio environment that can only be defined as a vacuous shit hole and we are sitting in the middle of it. And so we turn off all the gadgets, power down the computer and bang at the gates of our meager talent begging to be allowed back in.
Oh Mercy, let me in again - There is no country for old men


Blogger Ken Van Durand said...

Wonderful thoughtful piece.

A shame it is all too true.

However, better to admit it and remain yourself, then to be an old guy with a pony tail, tattoos, body piercings and tie dyed shirts.

Don't go changin'


April 2, 2008 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger Thom Schuyler said...

Kenny - Thank you - Given your closing comment I trust you will be engaged and amused by what I hope to post this afternoon.

April 3, 2008 at 9:06 AM  

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