Into the Barrel

One of my least favorite things to do is perform at an Open Mic night, so of course I did it last night at a place in Asheville called The Barrelhouse.

Performing is tricky for all of us, not just people who willingly get up in front of an audience. With few exceptions, “You’ve gotta serve somebody,” as Bob Dylan sang. In other words, we have to work through the dual, competing needs to please others (the external process) and please ourselves (the internal process).

The Performer

When I was eight years old I started taking guitar lessons. Soon, I was playing and singing which pleased my parents immensely. Within months, little Scotty was asked to bring his guitar out in front of friends and family to “show off.”
My parents were understandably proud of my accomplishments and I’m sure they enjoyed some of the shine. All of us know how we parents love to talk (brag) about our children’s accomplishments. My parents were not exceptional in this way. I see it everywhere. But…
I don’t think my parents knew how much these little shows terrified me. Outwardly, I was already learning to be a professional in that I was covering up the fear in order to present the song and please “the audience.” My parents were community theater people, so I had already absorbed a lot about how to move through the challenges of auditions, rehearsal, jitters and giving a good performance. It was what was expected.
I see the external process as donning a mask, perhaps creating a character that is the Performer.

The Artist

While I was strumming chords and learning songs in my childhood bedroom, I discovered that the guitar was my new best friend. We developed a connection, a way of conversing that was the first stirrings of my internal process as a developing artist.
The Artist does not need an audience, not initially. He or she has a connection with their thoughts, feelings and, if they’re lucky, other artists who share the love of the play, song or creative process.
The Artist is located in the passionate center of Scott. It is the sometimes scared little child, the angry young man and the mature grownup who uses the art form to connect to self and others. It’s a beautiful thing, my closest understanding of what it is to be in sacred connection with the Divine. Some of us still refer to “the muses” because we don’t write or create from our own small selves. We connect to the larger Self and, as many songwriters have said, we channel.

The Immature Performer and Artist (Vs. 1.0)

The immature Performer in me wants to please people, needs to hear the silence when I talk or sing followed by the reaction – laughter, a knowing nod or some other form of rapture. This is the eight-year-old me still wanting the approval. It can also come in the form of audience size, money or critical praise.
Immature Performers can become very successful! Their need turns into ambition and that can lead to lots of what we think of as success. Unfortunately, they are not particularly happy or grounded adults.
The immature Artist in me finds everything in the above paragraphs to be beneath his dignity. He loathes people-pleasing and would just as soon create for himself, by himself and live a melancholy life.
Many a poet knows this and has written about it before he takes some sort of poison and dies a lonely death (half-kidding here). Others can have brilliant careers creating deeply moving work, but they are rarely happy or grounded, either.

The Maturing Performer and Artist (Vs. 2.0)

Frequent readers of my blog know that there’s no good alternative except to go through a problem. The Performer and the Artist need to have a conversation. They need to connect and form an alliance that pleases both parts (or angers each, equally).
Performing does require setting boundaries. It doesn’t work to open myself up to seek love from strangers as the sole barometer of my success. Instead, I seek to create a connection between me and an audience. I offer up my work as best as I’m able. I recognize that your attention and appreciation are your part of the relationship, but I don’t force it on you. It’s not my job.
As the Artist, I see my job is to be willing to go deep and create a good piece of art. Then, I must meet the Performer and develop an alliance as to how to convey that in a shared setting. The Performer takes care of the Artist’s needs and vice versa.

The Barrelhouse

If you’ve made it this far in the blog post, thanks. This topic may be one that draws you in or causes some eye-rolling at my tendency to dissect my life. Regardless – it was important for me to get it written.
Last night was important, too. I didn’t go with a lot of joy in my heart, but Beth and I rehearsed four songs and sang all of them with all we had to give. Our friends, Giles and Bridget, joined us for dinner and stayed for our set. I really appreciated the support.
At the end, a man who was “the real thing” – a great player and performer – came up to me and said, “I’m so glad I got to play for you. Thank you for staying.” He recognized, before I did, that we fit in with all of the really good musicians that were present last night. He may have seen the Artist or the Performer but I choose to think he recognized someone else, another Artist/Performer like himself that’s bigger than those two parts – the Person.
And that, my friends, is worth all the trouble.

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