One of my teachers, Dr. Gabe Goldman, gave me a lesson years ago about ego. He asked me to share one of my songs with him. (I’d just started songwriting a year or two before – but refused to let anyone hear my music.) I said – no way – it’s not good. People won’t like my music. It’s not professional enough. He stopped me cold in my tracks. “What makes you think your music is yours?” Huh??
What ensued was a conversation about whether there is original creativity. Was my songwriting all a gift that comes from God, the universe, a chemical moment in my brain that has nothing to do with me? It was powerful to examine. When you’re writing you may think your music is about you, or for you – but your music is not about you, not for you – you’re not the end. Gabe ended with: “Naomi if you take credit for the good stuff, you have to take credit for the bad too.”
I hear that. How many times have we heard a song and said – wow, that writer wrote that for me – I mean, that is SOOO about what I’m going through. It’s as if they’re speaking right to you. We all have that song, right?
But clearly, those writers didn’t write it for you – or did they? Did they write a message intentionally, with a universal audience in mind? Or did they write it about/for themselves and you weren’t even a consideration?
I think of my own songwriting – sure, there are the songs I write that are full of angst, pain, heartbreak, love, wonder – they’re about specific people and experiences in my life. Am I conscious of the larger audience while I’m writing them? Usually not. Songs like “Elohai” and “One Simple Thing/Hashkiveinu” – those are my “musical selfies” – but countless people have shared with me that they thought I wrote those songs just for them.
And then there are the songs I write that are for an intended audience – like “Gibor/Hero” – which was written for 19-21 year old camp counselors – about following your path/being the hero of your journey. Or “The Real Me” – written for 6th-8th grade girls who feel they have to hide themselves, encouraging them to break in the “Real” them. You’d think that these songs would be constructed purely for those audiences, but as I review them now, they are laden with self-reflective references. The self is there even when I’m writing about an other.
So is it all about me in the end? Is it all self-indulgence?
The truth is – no matter what – when I sit down and vent/vomit a song or meticulously construct one, it’s all about me and it’s not at all about me. Gabe was right – I can’t take credit. And yet, if I weren’t there, it wouldn’t have happened. So how to deal with this juxtaposition?
I say “Thank You” to that which allowed me to be the conduit and then get the heck out of the way.