Wake Up, Show Up

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The songwriter Billy Kirsch and I were talking about our work a couple of months ago. What we came to was that in order to do our jobs well, to really be in the song we’re writing, recording or performing, we have to be present, alive, and paying attention.

For artists, job #1 is to wake up. In order to write a song, I first have to see the world. Only then do I have something to pull from, something to say. It’s not so different from other jobs. Whatever you do, being awake and bringing your whole self to the task is the route to your best work.

When I sit down to write a song, I pull inspiration from anywhere I can find it. Something seen while traveling, bits of conversation overheard in a coffee shop, the latest article or book I’ve read, a movie, anything, it’s all fair game. Basically, I throw a lasso around my life and use it in the song.

I bring myself to work.

I used to put up a wall between my work and my family. I kept the guitars in the studio, rarely played music in the house. I was afraid that I would overwhelm those around me, take all the oxygen out of the room. At some point, I did a U-turn, and started hanging guitars on the walls, kept one in every room in the house, put a piano in the kitchen. I let my kids see me working on songs, played guitar while they got ready for school in the morning. The result was that they began to know me, and I saw them differently as well. They would come sit in the living room while I played piano and do their homework. When I showed up, it opened doors for my family to do the same.

I brought myself home.

At work, at home, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, bring your whole self.

Show up.

Eli Reed on 23rd Street, NYC – 6.27.14

In a random meeting last night last night on 23rd street in New York City, (between 7th and 8th Avenue), I meet Eli Reed. He lives in Austin, but has traveled the world, seen more than most have twenty times over. Eli is a Magnum photographer. It’s a small, elite club. What are the odds that we know the same people? He’s an international photographer, been all around the world, and I’m a songwriter from Austin.

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Random. No connection, right?

I was walking with my friend Nigel Grainge (from LA, via London; the man who introduced me to Boo Hewerdine), and saw these two guys walking, coming from the opposite direction. And yes, the thought did cross my mind, “You see some crazy looking people on the streets of New York.”

His friend John stopped us. We’d met in Austin previously. Introductions are made.

Within minutes, Eli and I found eight connections between us, stretching from Paris to Seattle, from the photo editor John Morris, who I met at an event in Paris, to photographers Michael O’Brien, Stacy Pearsall and Andy Dunaway. There were more.

The point isn’t that we happen to know some of the same people in the photography world. It’s that the lives of two people walking down 23rd street on a Friday night, who might on first look appear to be vastly different from one another, intersect many times over. And how easily it could have slipped by us, had Nigel and I had stayed a little longer in the restaurant, or walked south on 7th Avenue.

So many times we see someone and think, “I have nothing in common with that person.” We miss the connection, and it’s often because of snap judgments and secret prejudice. It’s the idea that we’re separate islands.

More and more, I’m seeing that it’s up to me to make sure that I’m not the one pulling down that curtain.

When I open up, I meet the best people. I mean, Eli Reed, on 23rd Street, NYC, on a Friday night. Really?

Yes, really.