THE WATER TAP

My friend Gary Nicholson says he rarely gets writer’s block.
To him, it’s like a water tap.
If you turn it on every day, the tap works easily.
The water comes out clear.
Let it go a while — say, a couple of months,
Rust sets in and the water runs brown.
It takes a while before it runs clean.
 
Make something every day.
Turn the water on.
 
There’s a confidence that comes
From believing that when you turn that handle,
Something good is going to happen.
———
From “The Habit of Noticing: Using Creativity to Make a Life (and a Living)
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Text and Photo © 2108 Darden Smith

Knox Chandler

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In 1992 I was in NYC to make “Little Victories.” The producer Richard Gottehrer told me that he had this guitar player he wanted to try on a couple of tracks. I showed up at RPM Studios on 12th Street a little before we were supposed to start and there was this guy in the main room, bent over a stack of amps and pedals. He’d been like that for two hours, an assistant said. I’d never heard anyone play so loud.

Knox Chandler. Over the next two days he played some of the most amazing sounds. The first song we did was “Loving Arms.” I remember when we came on the opening guitar hook for that one. It took my head off. “Levee Song,” “Little Victories,” “Levee Song,” “Dreams A Dream,” that’s Knox’s crunch and wail holding it all together.

Knox was one of the coolest and most bizarre guys I’d ever met. I remember walking through the East Village with him around this same time, and asking him what he thought about the tattoos that seemed to be appearing from nowhere. He turned to me and said, “You know, that’s just too weird for me.” I thought about that for a few seconds and said back, “Brother, if it’s too weird for you, it’s way too weird for me!” I’ve never been tempted to get a tattoo since that conversation.

On one of those walks we used to take through lower NYC, he turned to me suddenly and asked, “Feel like a pickle? Let’s go to Gus’ Pickles (I think that’s what it was called).”

He was there when I did the Tonight Show. That’s his guitar all over the “Sunflower” album. Our sons are the same age. I realize now that we’ve known each other for damn near 25 years. When I went to NYC around the end of September 2001, Knox was one of the people I went to see, just to give him a hug and hear his story of living below 14th street during those weeks.

Last night in Berlin, sitting, talking with Knox in my friend Jan’s backyard garden, it took me back to those days in the early 90’s walking through NYC, getting an education that can’t be found in any book.

August 25, 2015

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.