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April 2014 Newsletter

Monday, March 31, 2014

April 2014 Newsletter

Cartoon by Eli Stein


Recently, I was in my car listening to a TED talk by Alain de Botton on "success," and it got me thinking as only time alone in a car can. I laughed when he talked about job snobbery, and the tendency to use some small part of you to extrapolate opinions about the entirety of who you are. He gave the example of how quickly small talk between strangers at a party turns to "So...what do you do for a living?" After all this time as a musician, why is this the question I still dread?

It's not that I mind talking about what I do--I am proud of my work--it's just that I often cannot fully address the other person's concept of what being a successful musician entails. Maybe by now I should have better answers to such reductive questions as "what kind of music do you play?" and "where do you play?" but I don't. The former is innocuous enough, but if I start getting too specific about all the "different" genres I've worked in (western swing, murder ballads, lullabies, protest songs, bluegrass, etc.), the result becomes hyphenated beyond all comprehension. Myself, I have abandoned confusing hyphenated descriptions for the only two kinds of music that matter to me--stuff I like and stuff I don't like.

My answer to the latter question always catches people off guard, as they have usually never heard of me and yet I've played everywhere from Talkeetna, Alaska to Paris, France. This inevitably brings up how much I travel, and assumptions of how this affects my marriage and my role as a parent. Yes, I travel a lot. Since the boys were born I don't go away for as long as I used to, but I'm usually either trying to get back home or figuring out how to be present and engaged as a father and husband, while preparing to travel to wherever I'm going next. I see as much or more of my family as anyone with a straight job, but my schedule is long and winding road.

What really bugs me most about such casual questions is the degree of existential confusion they inject into my own notions of success. I always thought that success meant you had it made, but now I know it's all a trade-off. I have nights on the road where I slay the audience, sell a bunch of cds, and people seek me out afterwards just to say how much my music means to them. We should all be so lucky, and this never fails to make me feel successful. But then I'll call home and learn that someone is miserable with an ear infection, or that I'm once again missing Movie Night Friday in our living room (will I ever see "Frozen"?). The first rule of successful parenting is being there, and because my family doesn't come on the road, being a successful musician usually means I am failing as a parent.

Fortunately, these successes and failures come and go in such a blurred, frenetic procession that I never get too cocky or depressed. In the short term I may succeed or fail spectacularly, but it is the long arc of the years that most concerns me. Thirty years from now, will I still be making relevant music from a place of deep feeling and conviction? Will my family think of me as a good father and husband? God I hope so, but that is some heavy shit to get into when introducing yourself over cocktails.

So if we ever meet at a party, don't be surprised if I ask you what you do for a living first, and keep you talking with a string of follow-up questions. If you get the chance to ask the same of me, I'll probably just give you my stock reply: "I'm a folksinger."

That one there is a guaranteed conversation-stopper.

CALL FOR PICS/RECORDINGS: With the cold, gray weather really hanging on this year, "Bill Morrissey Season" has been extended. I only find myself listening to Bill's music in the fall and winter, as his songs always evoke that time of year for me. I've been listening a lot this past season, thinking about the good times I had with one of my musical heroes. I don't, however, have much documentation of those memories. Is anyone out there sitting on a picture or recording of the two of us together? If so, I'd love to see or hear it. Please pass anything on to me at mark@markerelli.com.

MP3 of the MONTH: In honor of April Fools' Day, what could be better than a song about fools. This month's track is the original version of my song "Fool No. 1," which first appeared on a free sampler that Signature Sounds Recordings was giving out in 1999. I re-recorded and re-released the song on 2004's Hillbilly Pilgrim, but this first version has always felt special (notwithstanding that I kind of sound like a chipmunk). It's available for FREE for the month of April on my Bandcamp page, spread the word and enjoy!


Sat Apr 5 - Sounding Board Coffeehouse, West Hartford CT - 8 pm
All that exposition above for ONE show this month? Yup. I'm finishing up my next record this month, as well as one I'm producing for Lori McKenna, then there's Easter, April vacation, blah blah blah. There's no time. So this one is it. Don't miss it.

Fri Apr 4 - Nantucket Atheneum, Nantucket MA (with Alastair Moock)

Sat May 2 - Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton MA
Fri May 9 - Me & Thee Coffeehouse, Marblehead MA
Sat May 10 - Sumner Knight Music Series, Keene NH
Thu May 15 - Strange Brew, Austin TX
Fri May 16 - San Benave Concerts, League City TX
Sat May 17 - Hot Damn Tamales, Fort Worth TX


updated 3 weeks ago