A few years ago, in the middle of releasing one of my solo records, I had what has come to be one of the most bizarre phone conversations ever. I was torturing myself trying to book a New England concert tour. First, you have to know that for a solo folk performer, New England, especially the Massachusetts area, is the mecca for folk singers and folk venues. It is normally a beautiful symbiosis of the musical lover and the musically loved. However, it’s also quite the magnet for venue owners and promoters who feel odd levels of self-importance and wield it with the finesse of a child’s over-sized baseball bat.
This one particular venue owner I am referring to, lorded over a 35 seat, church coffeehouse and struggled mightily to hide her disdain for songwriters based in the commercial Nashville publishing scene. I was barely seconds into my pitch of having a new record out and travelling through her area looking for gigs, when she asked me what seemed like a candid camera question. She said, “Now hang on, before you go any further, do you have any bridges in your songs?” Having not been born the day before or with any interest in being slapped around by a venue that was going to most likely pay me in donations and home-baked muffins, I gave what could be described by my United Kingdom friends, as a slightly “cheeky” response. I said, “Well are you referring to a structure carrying a road, path, railroad, or canal across a river, ravine, or other obstacle, or are you referring to the more lyrical span that contrasts the previous verse and chorus and prepares a song for the big final chorus?” She disgustingly told me that she felt as though I knew her intention, that she did not like songs with the format and structure of a bridge and furthermore, she did not need to hear any of my songs because I was clearly “one of those Nashville writers.” Little did she know, I have actually had to fight my way into the Nashville music scene because I have always been one of those “folkie-writers.”
On that day, even a conversation between a folk music maker and folk music lover, about a bridge no less, would leave us separated with no hope of union. So many things about society and culture seem to divide us and leave us sneering at one another from distant shores. Oh, and how I wish they were all just superficial spaces, like that stupid bridge conversation. If it were only the opinions and rants of the superficial, hot-blooded fanatic it would be tolerable. I can handle the occasional toothy-argument over whether today’s country music sucks in comparison to yesterday’s country music, whether a college football team’s merit should be measured by how they perform in the first half of the game or by the full 60 minutes, or even the intense but respectful political debate. I know from our country’s history that great turmoil generally leads to positive change, but the process seems far too ugly and I have grown weary of it. The divides are all too painfully familiar. Race, religion, culture and faith. Cops, protesters, vandals, and armchair quarterbacks. The issues at hand are important, but the arguments barley rise to the level of the inane.
I think that crazy venue owner from New England was wrong. We don’t need fewer bridges in music, or for that matter in or lives. We need more bridges. You can argue and even hate one another over all aspects of our current culture war. But you can’t argue over songs like “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Seven Bridges Road” by the Eagles or “Ode to Billy Joe” by Bobbie Gentry. You also can’t argue with the song writing genius of Sir Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Just about any bridge in any Beatles song will blow your mind. So let us debate with vigor, our passionately held political and cultural beliefs, but always with the purpose of bettering ourselves and the world around us. In the meantime, let’s sing a song together. In fact, lets sing a song about bridges, especially one with a damn bridge in it!
Mark Elliott – Runaway Home
“It’s the Music That Makes Us Smile”