Monday, June 29, 2009

Merciful Measures

As I muster some strength for the first time in almost a week (my nemesis, severe bronchitis again) and try to repair the damage done, I find myself thinking about my friends and family, and where I’d be without them. The illness took its usual toll—two canceled shows, a week’s worth of income permanently lost. More than that, it reminded me again of the fragile nature of the creative life, a life entirely dependent on the Mercy of the artist’s fellow man.

Music is a frivolity, a leisure activity for most, a foolish passion for a few. Those of us who pursue it full time used to require patrons and benefactors (factors of benefit to the arts) on whose Mercy we relied entirely. Things haven’t changed that much for most of us dreamers and n’er-do-wells. In spite of the jabs from critics and ill-read commentators, we aren’t all comfortable and fat, rolling in our royalties and scoffing at working class society. We are struggling to pay the bills just like everyone else, and in tough times we are often forgotten while the layoffs and plant closures affect larger segments of society. We feel for those who tumble into a life of insecurity in ways others probably don’t unless they’ve been there themselves. It’s unimaginable to many—a life stripped of steady income, no healthcare insurance, no sick pay, no disability protection, no pension… I feel for you, good, decent working folks, I feel deeply. I am with you.

Mercy doesn’t seem like Pity to me, although the words are often used interchangeably. Pity implies something wrenched from the gut and bestowed with some hidden disgust. No one wants it. Mercy, on the other hand, is a gentler thing. It’s the response to a supplication for energy, faith, empowerment, a request for spiritual or physical support, the kindness of kin. Mercy we all need.

Perhaps my biggest regret is my youthful attempt to circumvent Mercy; my thinking I could do this alone. It wasn’t resentment exactly, I just don’t like debts. But one thing a man learns as he gets older: life is full of debts that go unpaid. Mercy is the thing that allows him to go scot free sometimes.

My good friend and brilliant songwriter Nathan Bell goes back to a steady day job soon. Having come from an artistic family and lived for long periods of his life as a creative soul, he knows the job is a blessing he can’t refuse. His wife and children depend on it. My wife and children depend on me, too, so I must depend on the Mercy. I must hope there are those who will, out of kindness or out of a sense of duty to principals, choose to pay for downloading my songs even when they can get them for free on Pirate Bay; who will pay to hear my concert even when they can hear music that’s just as good by staying home and flipping on Austin City Limits; who will reschedule a show when I’m sick and not complain about all the ticket refunds; who will forgive me for all of the insecurity I lay upon their shoulders when they could have so much more in life; who will send me an email just to tell me what a song means to them; who have made, and will continue to make my journey a little easier and a little brighter just by being part of it.

For the merciful measures of each and every one of you, my deepest thanks.


Tim Wheeler said...

Your point about not receiving mercy hit me between the eyes. Connecting it to the fear of debt was all the more enlightening.

The world would be a more pleasant place (not to mention more peaceful) if we could all give and receive mercy without thought of repayment by the receiver OR the giver.


P.S. If you're in town, and need a place to stay... mi casa si casa.

Anonymous said...

Glad to be a part of your journey, Craig. Hope you feel better soon.

Barry Alfonso said...

Hi Craig,
I do hope you are on the mend. I found your post very thought-provoking and moving – it certainly relates to ongoing challenges in my life. I wonder if the world is any more or less merciful to artists these days. Certainly, America has often been a very trying place for those creative souls who were not in sync with (or interested in pleasing) the market. One thing that amazes me is the apparent ignorance of the mass public about who creates art and on what basis. There may be less understanding about how an artist makes his or her way in the world now than ever. It’s puzzling, considering how entertainment-obsessed this society is. Maybe it's willful ignorance.

Your aside about Nathan Bell raises another point – how does an artist maintain being an artist if he or she is obliged to make a living by other means? It’s an especially good question if you’ve worked in the arts professionally and then had to switch gears to do something else for money. It can be hard on the spirit. What do you have to do to keep your artist credentials renewed, so to speak? I’d be interested if any of your readers has thoughts about this.

Pat Weghorn said...

I'm happy to read that you're on the mend. Personally, I feel the giving between us goes both ways, and doesn't necessarily have anything to do with mercy. I make the effort to see you and support your music, you make the effort to make something that brings joy. It's a mutually beneficial relationship at its simplest terms. And to consider you a friend is an added bonus. ;)

angelo said...

I sure hope you're back in the saddle behind a mic with your 6-string in hand, and the losses incurred while ill abundantly restored.

steve robinson said...

Thank you for being genuine and humble..Creative and generous..It will all come back to you in many ways..In many blessings. You are a blessing to me.
I love you brother,