1996 – Nashville
Rodney Crowell is on his way to pick me up for breakfast. I’m standing in the lobby of the hotel wondering why this is happening. I don’t know Rodney that well. We’ve toured together a few times, ran into each other a few times in airports and on street corners in New York.
Like so many events in my life, I’m not sure how I got here, but here I am.
He shows up in a brand new Lexus. This is the first time I’ve been in one, maybe even seen one.
“Nice ride,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says, “Pretty tall cotton.” (That has to be one of my favorite Texas turn-of-phrase.) “You know, I’ve done well, but I never did so well that I wasn’t hungry. I’ve always had to work. All my friends that don’t have to work? Their songs start to suck. They’re not hungry anymore.”
And looking at Rodney’s output, from songwriting, records, touring, producing, books, it shows. He works. He both wants to, and needs to.
Just as there are many ways to get paid, hunger comes in many forms. Call it drive, desire, passion, the need to pay the bills, it’s all the same. It’s that thing, that voice telling you to get busy, the motivating fire to make something. And to do it better, constantly pushing to find something new, to go a little deeper.
Always be a little hungry.
(I took this photo of Rodney Crowell in Nashville on 9.12.16. He sounds better than ever. And that is one nice hat.)
My agent quits on Monday.
On Wednesday I tell my wife that I’m filing for divorce.
That afternoon my manager Ron calls and tells me that my record deal is history.
It’s been a big couple of days.
I’ve been building up to it, these 72 hours in 1995.
And this triple slap brings on a five-year whirlpool.
I hit the ground again and again. Hard. It hurts. I break all the way down.
And I question everything — money, responsibilities, music.
I wonder how to make all these seeming opposites work together,
Travel so hard for so little cash, and so little time home,
Put myself, my songs, out there over and over
For people to love, slam, or worse, just fucking ignore.
When my brain is at it’s darkest,
I see a hundred reasons for quitting music,
To stop making everyone put up with the fallout from my dream.
But I come to the simple fact that nothing fills me
Like putting words on a melody, telling a story that I’ve pulled from thin air.
The success or no-success of it is completely disconnected from the work itself.
And this is why I do it, what makes it worth the fight.
I fell in love with the work, not the feedback.
And I’ve never looked back.
Now the challenge is how to make daily life fit in with music,
Not the other way around.
Music is the constant.
It’s what fills the cup.
Everything else is just extra goodness.
It was my time to hit the wall, 1995,
To come up against myself,
Who I thought I was,
To find the reason to keep moving, stronger,
More exact in my dream.
The value of a good breakdown can never be underestimated.
As an artist, if you never confront yourself,
Your work is going to be stuck in the beginning phase.
Grow up. Crack up. Rebuild.
Tell the truth.
© 2015 Darden Smith
Every now and then I find myself in a situation that makes me realize how incredible my luck is. I’m reminded how music has taken me places I never dreamed I would go, and that the surreal quality that it brings to my life is way beyond what I could have ever imagined.
Like today: This morning I did a radio interview from the Green Room at the Grand Old Opry on WSM-AM. Radney Foster had told me to make sure to check out the main stage, especially the wood circle where the microphone stands. This circle came from the original stage at the Ryman Theater, where the Opry originated. Johnny Cash and June Carter, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill and countless other heroes have stood on those boards and played their songs.
I walked out on the stage and stepped inside. I heard the wood creak under my feet, felt the rhythm ghosts from a thousand songs come straight up through my boots. All those voices, the ones who had called out some of the best music ever written, were begging me to join them. I got the guitar out, grabbed a stool from behind the piano, and just sat there playing and singing for about 30 minutes, soaking it all in, listening to the echoes.
To stand in the place where Hank stood is a big damned deal.
The theater was empty, but this morning I felt like was singing with the angels.