This week I saw a newspaper clipping shared on Facebook about raising teenagers. It was essentially parenting advice from a judge. Advice from anyone on parenting always makes me a bit leery. I always wonder if it’s coming from someone either without kids or from someone still trying to validate their own lack of a childhood. The article in question was full of fortune cookie-meets-Reader’s Digest nuggets. Like both of those literary legends, the article was just true enough that I couldn’t completely disagree with it. So why after reading it did I feel like I needed to take a shower, walk outside in the sunshine or just generally purge. It complained that teens are ungrateful, irresponsible and wanted everything handed to them. It went on to imply that society should not spare the rod in disseminating the hardened truth that children, like the rest of us, are just small pieces of a larger whole. There was one statement, about halfway through the article that got my back up and prompted me to change altitudes right there in my office chair (otherwise known as self-righteous levitation.) The old judge said, “Grow up, stop being a crybaby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone and not a wishbone.” Now, I’m a devotee of the wishbone-backbone metaphor. It shows up in the music that I love and is even plastered across the kitchen appliance I love even more (which is a whole other problem).
Night Sky was a mountain duo in Snowshoe, West Virginia. I saw them when I was barely 13 years old, just when I was in my duck imprinting stage of music loving. Their LP, “The Road That Take Us Home” is still a seminal record for me. In it, with guitars, banjos and flutes, they sing, “Your wishbone’s connected to your backbone and that’s all you ever need to know.” On my refrigerator, the aforementioned appliance, I have a cardboard sign where I wrote down Tom Paxton’s advice on my first night in Nashville some 25 years ago. He told me not to wait on songs, but to work tirelessly at tracking them down. The phrases, now faded on the cardboard but etched forever in my ethos are, “Inspiration is connected to discipline” and “Disappointment makes you bitter or better.” Night Sky was right and Tom Paxton was right. So why do the words of the old judge strike me so wrong? Maybe it was the “crybaby” part or the sentence that came after. “Start behaving like a responsible person.” Yep, I think that’s it! Responsibility, civic duty and selflessness are all fine goals and rightful expectations, but to attain them in lieu of dreams, wishes and feeling special seems a tough sell even to me at 47, so good luck with selling it to a teenager. Ego, whether wielded by an unruly teenager or a snarky judge, is something I don’t mind people having in extra supply, but especially the young. This world is at times very hard and unforgiving, and it can be quite unfair in its dissemination of life lessons. Life tears at self-esteem with near Gail-force power. So much so, that if you don’t go into the world with a little extra wind in your sails, enough to push back with, you’ll come up way short of the necessary confidence to navigate the world, and at the very minute that you need it the most.
You might ask what this blog subject has to do with Runaway Home or music in general. A fair-enough question. Well, nothing…and everything. Artists of any age are not all that unlike teenagers. Artists working in every possible medium, leverage societal expectation against one good shot at the extraordinary, and they do so on a daily basis. Artists like teenagers, appear self-centered and overwrought with emotion, until you see that their art reflects the true world around them and low and behold, it turns out that they were listening to everything the entire time. As far as being an artist or a good human being is concerned, nothing is more important than work ethic and follow through, except for maybe the dream itself. Hard work without dreams is just misplaced enthusiasm. Bottom line. There’s no use in having a backbone if you got no wishbone.
Mark Elliott – Runaway Home
“It’s the music That Makes Us Smile”