Seeking that place of sincerity


Recently, I went to see a random bill of four unknown bands at a local rock club. One stood out.

First, the scene: The crowd was light, and many in the audience clung to the bar and the edges of the room rather than standing by the stage. The first couple of bands started their set by ordering the crowd to come close to the stage. People generally ignored the instruction. I stayed at the bar, myself, thinking, “Why should I?” When they started playing, it struck me that these bands sounded like they were trying to be other, specific bands. There was a Green Day clone. A Foo Fighters clone. These guys had a studied indie-rock look, had chosen their guitars apparently to look good on stage rather than for sound. (One lead guitarist played a $1,500 archtop with so much distortion that he turned it into a pawnshop Telecaster.) The between-songs banter was full of attitude and

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studied ironic cool. One of the singers actually told everyone, “We have some crappy T-shirts in back, or whatever.” It was all an act. It was insurance: They didn’t put their real selves out on stage, so their real selves couldn’t be rejected.

But the third performer was a guy by himself with an acoustic guitar plugged into an amp with a bunch of reverb and sounding like nothing I’d heard before, a local guy called J Kutchma. He didn’t exhort anyone to come to the stage; he just started to play his music, and people did. His lyrics and the passion with which he sang them reflected his most painful personal experience, his hurts and disappointments. He sang to a crowd of 20 as if it were a packed stadium (and the crowd by the stage naturally grew as he sang and played). He had just as much attitude and even wore work boots with spurs, both spray-painted gold. But somehow it came across as authentic, not an affectation. He did a set of maybe five songs and brought down the house.

As judgmental as the beginning of this post probably sounds, I took the experience as a caution as well as an inspiration. That night reminded me always to seek that place of sincerity as a novelist and writer. Not to spiritually and emotionally hang back and try to construct a device to entertain the people but to be unafraid to infuse my work with the hardest personal truths I’ve gained in life. To refine my own true sound, put it out there and hope that at least a few people will draw close to the stage and listen. To take myself seriously enough not to undercut myself with dismissive comments nor think I can just order people to listen. To go all in, to play from a vulnerable corner of my experience. To be a writer, not just to try to sound like one.

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This article has 2 comments

  1. Kimberly Israel 09/14/2011, 10:22 am:

    I think this applies to the rest of life as well as art. One of the great things about becoming an adult is eventually discovering that if you live as yourself, without hiding or being pushy, there are probably some people out there that will like the person you actually are. And some won’t, and that’s okay.

  2. Edward Roswell 09/18/2011, 9:04 pm:

    How true. I saw a band recently on a whim at a little tavern in the hip side of my city. It had been a while since I saw some live music and I was pumped about it. I had never heard of the band before but I am usually optimistic (about many things). Turned out to be some guys that bit Oasis and The Strokes,… poorly. It was sad watching the crowd not respond to them at all. I could tell the musicians had talent and found myself wishing I could talk them into coming up with personal music, that might actually connect to someone in the room instead of copying a style, trying to connect to everyone in the room, but actually connecting to no one.

    On a different note: This makes me want to read your next novel Bryan. How’s it coming?

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