From "Life in the Industry, A Musician's Diary, by Mark Heard, an article from the Summer 1992 issue of the Image Journal. Mark Heard was a songwriter, producer and performer before his shocking death at the age of 40. Often remembered as the "greatest songwriter you've never heard of," Mark left an enduring legacy on the hearts and minds of many notable songwriters and musicians since.
Music is a solace for me now. As I age, contrary to common sense, I am more and more drawn into it and apt to spend more of my waking and some of my sleeping hours thinking about it, or just feeling about it. It is my escape. what with earthquakes, medical insurance, taxes, correspondence, fatherhood, traffic, lack of job security, I am increasingly irresponsible, it seems, in that I take on the mantle of Peter Pan and follow the second star to the right directly between a pair of speakers, or to the case that holds my mandolin. To feel the wood in my hands makes up for a variety of stress and pressures that I probably should spend more time worrying about, things which never go away regardless of how caught-up you feel. They do go away for chunks of time, though, when I am making music of some sort.
I don't know why the attraction is so strong. I am surprised haphazardly by the same deep resonances inside when I find myself thumbing through a magazine and come upon a particularly striking photograph, or see a painting hanging in an out-of-the-way place. I'm drawn into the mood of those photographs or paintings-I think of feelings I have had when stopping my car on a cross country drive in the desert and standing there in the windy loneliness for a while, hearing nothing, seeing shadows, the subtle color differences in different heights and textures of blowing grasses, feeling the extreme largeness of the outdoor room and its horizonless walls; or I think of the feeling of waking up in the musty woods with daylight barely filtering through motionless leaves overhead, the dampness on the ground felt as an unheard thud; or the smell of pinon wood burning, and the cold air carrying it into my nostrils, as the sun drapes red dirt and rocks with the crimson curtain of a melancholy sunset; or the feeling of standing helplessly in a fluorescent hospital corridor, watching the minute hand of a cheap wall clock stand still while my Daddy dies a grueling death and steps into eternity.
The primacy of these feelings impels me to capture them, and preserve them in my memory forever; to conjure the magic of something good waiting around the corner, over the hill, tomorrow, on the morning of the resurrection.
Music is my job, so it does not always fulfill this purpose, but usually, at the least, it sets me on the path to it. It is difficult at best to reveal one's true self to those who are closest, much less to friends and acquaintances and audiences. But when you are able to catch a glimpse of your true self, of the beauty you have felt and the despair you have been burdened with, that is something that transcends the antiseptic responsibility of making the daily ends meet.
I wish sometimes that I just didn't have to think about any of this, and could drone away my life. It would be easier. I have worked in a factory, and one becomes a bit hypnotized after some time to the point where all one can think about is going home, watching TV, having a beer and going to bed- so the cycle may be repeated. The music business can be like this, but I find myself ever thankful that I have not lost the resonances inside when the music is right. I have no idea how we have made ends meet thus far, as I am rather useless in other areas. But increasingly, writing brings about a catharsis of my own terror and pity. It is something I have to do. Dare I say that it becomes an experience of worship for me at times?
When you can see through the fog for an instant, and you understand haltingly and briefly what good is, and how God is connected with that, it cannot help but put a hell of a perspective on things you perceive as problems, and help you discover multiple ways in which you have been numb. For that brief moment you feel that God's in His heaven and all's right with the world.
I've tried to explain this to those family members who are not of the artistic persuasion, and they find it difficult to understand. I find it difficult to understand myself, and sometimes wonder if normal people can feel these strong pluckings of the celestial strings.
Maybe those inclined towards the arts are so spiritually retarded to a degree that we must go through the whole process of cathartic expression just to discover how we really feel. Artistic expression might be seen as a Darwinian protection device for the psyche of fragile individuals, for whom sensuous contact with the outside world is too much to bear, and is repressed, and must be brought up and thrust out into the open from time to time at great effort in order for them to simply survive emotionally.
I only know that I am cursed with doing it.
I must at least tell somebody, even only God and myself, what I have seen and felt. As soon as I think of how I have felt, the words to describe it come, and only need to be written down; the melody is there, and it works its way out of my larynx onto a cheap dictation recorder, to be forgotten or to be listened to later and fleshed out as part of the job.
Maybe I'm just a selfish maniac who is wasting his time trying to transfer feelings which perhaps no one cares about onto a fretboard and a piece of magnetic tape. Maybe it's the modern petroglyph, or the modern way to write on the wall of your cave: "I was here." Maybe it is a cry to God about how much I hate the bad things and how much I love the good things.