Truth is a rabbit, is a rabbit, is a rabbit
Truth is a rabbit in a bramble bush.
This month’s lyric is from one of my songs from my first solo record, released in 2006. This was before I added the “Lewis” to my name because of confusion with other “same name” artists on streaming platforms. To be perfectly honest the idea for the song was stolen, as are the ideas that serve as inspiration for many songs. This song was written when I read a quote attributed to Pete Seeger‘s father. The entire quote is:
The truth is a rabbit in a bramble patch. And you can’t lay your hand on it. All you do is circle around and point, and say, ‘It’s in there somewhere.’
That statement burned me with its raw power and ironic truth. I saw the honestly in that statement telling me that truth is right in front of us but still very difficult to pin down. For my song I stole the entirety of that quote and simply added music and repetition. I am not ashamed of that fact in any way. Songs come from where they come from: overheard conversations, random comments, newspaper articles, poetry or even other songs. Inspiration has no bounds. But that quote and the resulting song articulate the topic I want to cover this month: truth, specifically in the context of art.
The music business and the business side of all the arts for that matter, have one thing in common; the truth, and the fact that the REAL truth is very hard to come by. When you come off stage, folks may tell you that you were great even when you know you weren’t. You will be told that your new material isn’t as good as the old stuff even when you know damn well it is. Folks may tell you they love you when you know they hate you. Because music, including songwriting, is almost exclusively a business in which success is determined by public opinion, it tends to be a business of lies and half truths. So how do you handle it that? One deceptively simple strategy is all that is required: always tell yourself the truth about your art. In the end that is all that matters.
To really tell yourself the truth about your art is not easy. Only you know whether or not you truthfully communicated what you intended and if you hit the mark you were aiming for. At this point in the process, the opinions of fans and critics mean nothing. Only the honesty of the art matters. If there is no personal truth, there is no purpose and consequently there is no art.
Please understand that the truth we are discussing is relative to the teller. While your art may or may not express the truth for others, it cannot be real unless it first expresses your truth. Now hear this; Art IS truth or it isn’t art. This is the crucial place where many folks lose their way, but this is the starting point of where you need to be. But wait, there’s more.
Art is not a thing, it is truth incarnate. We humans seem to have an innate, imbedded B.S. Detector. We can smell it a mile off if an artist is not telling us their truth. When we meet someone who tells us something we immediately know if they believe what they are saying. You will notice that I did not say that what they told us was absolutely true but that they believe it is true.
So what does this wandering pseudo-philosophical diatribe have to do with your art? I contend that it has everything to do with it. Use that built-in B.S. Detector on your own creations. Do they feel/sound/ring true to you as the artist? Now, just because they pass the “true to you” test doesn’t mean that you will be successful or accepted as an artist. It only means that you have passed that test. The next step is to pass the test with the fan/patron.
You have all heard that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This is the ultimate test for art. Can your truth, as the artist, be transferred to the beholder? In that act of agreement lies the mystical/magical power of art: the transfer of your experience/perception to another. That doesn’t mean that the audience agrees with your statement of truth, but that the beholder agrees that they are experiencing the artist’s truth. Now this is not a subtle difference.
You don’t have to agree with Vincent Van Gogh that his painting “The Starry Night” looks like what you see when you look up at the night sky. But what you know for sure when you see that painting is that it was his truth. Vincent was allowing us to see that sky through his eyes. An act that seems so simple, yet is so hard to achieve.
So, are you ready to dive right into that bramble bush, and get bloodied by the thorns? Who knows, you may catch that rabbit. But even if you only get a few hairs from his tail you will have more than most and I’d say you were successful. After all, truth is an illusive little critter but in my opinion a very worthy adversary.
So until next month…
Find last month’s column here: One is the Loneliest Number