When you read bios about people you’re interested in you often see head shots like the one above. You look at those head shots and come to all sorts of conclusions about them. I’ve been reading some bios and here’s what I think:
When you think about Steve Earle you think about “Copperhead Road” and when you think about Jack Kerouac you think about him driving across America in a big old car. You don’t really think about Jack working the railroad or serving as a merchant marine. You don’t really think about Steve Earle being married seven times and all the legal fun that that must be.
At 4 am this morning I was driving home from work and I was thinking about Townes Van Zandt. Although he didn’t reap the benefits much, it is reckoned that by the end of his life his annual income from song royalties was somewhere in the region of about $100,000.00. It’s not a ridiculously enormous amount of money but it’s pretty damn great for a songwriter. I think most people would be pretty happy with that kind of income. But most of his life was spent living on people’s couches or in hotels and playing dive bars.
As a latecomer to the game of songwriting, in my mid 30s, I take inspiration from reading about the real lives of some of the artists I admire. When you look at these guy’s lives you start to see the benefits of sticking with a thing over the span of a lifetime. You also get the sense that these guys can’t be summed up by their art. Their art represents tiny little splinters on the tree of their lives. All that tree for just a few tiny splinters. And we look at those splinters and we think we know a guy.
We’ve got it backwards. We’ve idolized the artists and their art rather than the life that created them. It takes a lot of living to write a song or paint a painting or build a building. A lot of the time that life is just like everyone else’s.