“Son, it’s not too late. You can still go back to college…Well tonight, you’re just gonna have to settle for rock and roll.” Bruce Springsteen, from the introduction to “Growing Up”
An artist’s life is hard, joyous, depressing, daunting, rewarding, poverty stricken, and often all of these things at once. We’ve heard it doesn’t have to be that way from self-help gurus and feel-good books. sometimes, when things get close and mean, when the sacrifices we have made hurt the most, we wonder whether it was all worthwhile. But I believe true art is born from this struggle.
Now, I don’t think the only way to be a great painter is to cut your ear off, that melody must arrive from pain, that literature only flows from broken, bearded, drunken angst. There are better ways that aren’t cliches. But it’s hard work. There is no way around that part. There will be sacrifice and tears, and hopefully we learn from the experience and get better at what we do. Maybe that’s part of the refining process, the purification of our creative souls.
It’s hard. But we choose to pursue the life of the artist, and we can only hope that what we love chooses us. The legendary songwriter Harlan Howard, whom I had the privilege of knowing, told a writer who was whining about the music business “Well, nobody asked you to move to Nashville.” Those words sting me when I realize I’m slipping into complaint mode. That’s right, Harlan. Nobody asked me to become a writer. I may feel called to do it, but in the end, it’s my choice, and the time, loves, and brain cells I’ve squandered along the way are a consequence.
I do not understand the writer who does not read, the painter who does not see, the musician who will not listen, or the artist who does not live. There is glory in it, earned joy which is the process and the product, but not the recognition or fame. We writer types often equate the glory with adulation and miss out on the glory of life. Like a hiker so fixated upon reaching the summit, he walks through the golden October woods, missing the grandeur of the low clouds blanketing the slopes and ridges, ignores the green smell of hope and mountain, and the trail itself, undulating, rocky, muddy, and wonderful. If we are focused on the peak, we miss the path. I’ve climbed many mountains, but the best views are usually from the ridges and valleys. The peak is often shrouded in the mist, and it’s really just another rock.
It’s hard. It’s beautiful. I’m still not going back to college.