I was sitting at a table in one of my favorite Salt Lake bars listening to Rooster, a traveling country singer. His song was about something he experiences on any given night of the week. It was a song about sleeping in his truck in some middle-of-nowhere Wyoming town after a gig.
Throughout the song, a drunk lady leaned against the stage yelling repeatedly, “play Johnny Cash!”
It wasn’t long before she found out that I’d be up next, so she made her way to me and began demanding that I should make him play some Cash. It was an eye opening moment for me. I know people love cover songs, they like the familiarity and the way that a old song can take them to another time and place. However, as I explained to her then, it’s important that we listen to the real voices out there living life now. I said “listen to him for a minute; he’s singing about something he really lives. This is real music, maybe one day people will be looking back on his song.” The lady understood and for a moment at least, gave Rooster her focus.
Authentic voices are a rarity in music these days. The pop format has infiltrated all genres of music to create marketable products that can easily be sold. Story telling suffers as a result. They say modern country music has a list of about 20 words that every song on the radio has in it. Sure, this can make for a great melody but we don’t see the kind of caricatures the genre was once known for. We no longer have those “voice of a generation” type musicians filling our airwaves. We have models with investors on our stages singing songs written by distant corporate songwriters. They feed us what they think we want to hear. These songs stop at our ears, they don’t reach our souls.
In my travels I have heard countless songwriters. I love nothing more than hearing songs about that rare life where one takes the path less traveled. There is something about these songs that wake people up and make them ask, “am I really alive?” In this era of debt, war, and never ending work, maybe we need more songs about real life—an adventurous life. Maybe we need those songs that make us tune in, turn on, and drop out. The next time you’re in some little bar and there’s some folk singer up there singing his heart out, lend an ear, and don’t be afraid to feel something and let them know if they touched you. Respect the real.
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