Just after Christmas, an Australian songwriter I’ve never met or heard of decided to contact me to pitch some songs. He wasn’t charming about it. He was actually kind of harsh. I went into shock first, then sadness, then quiet, quiet rage. It’s not that I have a problem with criticism. And it’s not that I’m not open to suggestion. It’s the I-know-nothing-about-you-but-I-know-better-than-you tone. I almost didn’t respond. But I couldn’t help myself.
Thank you for contacting me to talk about music. I’m sorry to hear that a cursory search of my name in youtube did not yield a more enjoyable listening experience for you. I understand that country music, especially of the older style may not be to your liking. It is, however, my favourite kind of music to sing and play.
I haven’t always sung this way. I was a Catholic school choir girl first, then I sung folk, jazz, opera, musical theatre, blues. But none of these ever fit quite right. And then I found country. I was 2o. Maybe 21. The years blur. It was a particularly rough period of young womanhood. My father had just drunk himself into an early grave. I’d just left my first serious boyfriend for a lover of lesser quality, though I did not know that nearly soon enough. I was down and out and almost insane with sorrow. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to say then, country music found me.
I was not singing very much at the time. Certainly not playing gigs. But I was undergoing the first phase of what I now consider my artistic becoming. It began with a copy of Neil Young’s Harvest, then continued with Gram Parsons’ GP, Emmylou Harris’ Elite Hotel and Luxury Liner, Patty Griffin’s Impossible Dream, Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker and always, always, perhaps more than any other album, Lucinda Williams’ World Without Tears, a collection of songs which, if ever there had to be just one, probably saved my life.
David, I have never met you. I do not know if you know these records. I do not know that you could ever know what they mean to me.
Some time after those albums wove their way into my heart, but well before I was singing the “daggy old country tuners [sic]” you found on the internet, I lived in sin with a particularly unsupportive boyfriend who held similar sentiments to the ones expressed in your facebook message. He was a career musician who I loved desperately and whose opinions I cared about way too much. His feedback about my vocal style, song choices and artistic heroes all but shattered my self-esteem and willingness to sing along to music on the household stereo, let alone get in front of an audience with a guitar and sing for real, my songs or anyone else’s. I would not say this was a positive way to spend four years of my life, or what I now half-jokingly refer to as “the best years of my breasts”.
David, I have never met you. I do not know that you could ever know what it is like to have your life force and bosoms slump in unison.
Just before that relationship ended, just before my creative spirit could be considered completely trampled, just before I almost lost myself and my love for music completely, I took a trip to the country I now call home – America. I drank in dive bars. I flirted with cowboys, real and imagined. I drove a silver convertible through the Grand Canyon at dusk blasting Roy Orbison songs on the stereo. I watched stars burn bright above the hilltops of ghost towns overlooking the desert. I felt – for the first time in years – real joy.
David, I have never met you. I do not know that you could ever know what this experience meant to me.
When I returned to Australia, I ditched the bloke, picked up my guitar and decided I would sing whatever the fuck I liked. Sure some would like it. Some would hate it. That’s the way music goes.
I’m sorry to hear that you find the songs of George Jones, Gram Parsons, Alex Chilton, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, A.P. Carter, Lucinda Williams et. al. “boring”.
Not just because you felt compelled enough to contact me about it and put me down. Not just because your message hurt my feelings and my ego and made want to go back through the videos of bootlegged gig footage with a fine tooth comb and obsess over the many performance flaws, as though I haven’t already done enough of that.
I’m sorry because these are great songs. Songs I love. Songs that speak to my soul. Songs that deserve to be heard and respected and enjoyed. Songs that I want to do justice to.
I understand from your message that you’re a songwriter and your music is, in your own words “some good shit”. That’s great. Good for you. And I’m flattered that you think my voice might suit the songs you’ve written. But since you did not like, nay was “not once impressed” by the songs of some of my favourite songwriters, I think we might not be a good creative match. I think I might be too old-fashioned for you. I think you might find a more suitable singer somewhere else on the internet.
David, I have never met you. I may never get to know you or your songs. But I know this: the era where I valued a man’s opinion about art above my own ended half a decade ago.
With that in mind, you too should know something. There’s a good chance I will never call you.