Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I have competing voices in my head. One of them sounds like this: "You can be as successful as you dream with your music. You can and will make a living with your craft; your songs will be played on the radio and in the movies; You're good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like you." I find having Stuart Smalley as an internal guide is helpful. At least as far as self esteem goes.

The other voice is the counterpoint, and sounds like this: "Music is a nice hobby. You've written some good songs, had a good run, but the odds of you making it are slim to none. You are too old, not a good enough writer, and seeing as how there are some thirteen billion really good singer songwriters on the planet, well, don't quit your day job."

I hear the former voice when I'm centered, feeling clear, eating well, reading something inspirational, or exercising regularly. Or when I've just played a really good show at a nice venue. I hear the other voice when I'm stressed, overwhelmed, tired, hungry, or played another coffeehouse gig for 3 people.

On one hand, it's always easier to give up and give in to the inertia of being sedentary. It's easier to watch TV than to work at writing a song; it's easier to sleep in than to exercise. And it's certainly easier to stop putting energy into booking gigs than it is to hear 8 "No's" for every "Yes."

Yet every time I get rejected by a venue, artist, or booking agent, I try to use it as a gut check, a test to my resolve. It begs the questions, "How serious am I about attaining my goals, and how much am I willing to endure to get there?"

Because on the other hand, to give up on what I think about and dream about the most propels me into an alternate universe that feels very disconcerting.

When I find myself listening to the internalized "small" voice, the one that begs me to give it up, I remember those who have gone before: Sly Stallone was rejected 1,500 times before Rocky was picked up. Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Babe Ruth also led the league in strikeouts.

And I trudge on, preparing to book more shows, make more albums, write more songs, and hear many more "No's" along the way.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Making It Happen

I was told that by the time the record label finally said yes to Smoky Robinson's "Tears of a Clown," he had been rejected the prior 68 times. Similarly many sports teams and literary publishers took passes on Tom Brady, Julia Child and J.K. Rowling, all of whom have gone on to not only succeed but in many ways define their generation in their chosen field. I think of them when I get yet another "thanks but no thanks" from promoters, booking agents, talent buyers, bands, managers, contest judges and others who seem to hold the keys to the music industry kingdom.

I recently opened for the Paperboys at Seattle's wonderful Triple Door, and with our combined draw we sold out the show. I have been asked a number of times how I was able to get my foot in the door with this great band and stellar venue. Quite simply it boils down to persistence. Through sheer diligence I had gotten to the point where the talent buyer at the Triple Door was willing to consider me as an opener (after I had given him my sales pitch as an artist with a Seattle-area fanbase) if the right gig came along. Yet as I have reached this stage a number of times with similar venues, it often happens that by the time I see the name of a band appear on the calendar, the evening's lineup is already set. I am still learning about how to involve myself in these earlier discussions. But this time, I went straight to the Paperboys (nearly every band has contact info on their website, and some will even respond), gave them my sales pitch, and we made it happen.

I remain convicted that writing songs, playing the guitar, singing, and performing are among the things I do best in the world. As a result, I strive to remain clear that my pursuit of life as a professional musician is a key component to my life's larger purpose. With that in mind, receiving another "thanks but no thanks" can be viewed as yet another test, encouraging me to look within and ponder, "How badly to I really want this? What am I willing to give to make it happen?"

I believe in dreaming, in writing down goals, in manifesting what I wish to create in the world. Every day I take at least a few steps in this direction, with this aim. And I am doggedly making it happen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Painting With Words

I have come to realize lately that in the 29 years I have been playing instruments and 18 years that I have been writing lyrics, I have worked far harder on the former than the latter.

Creating lyrics is a tricky process for me, and the public expression of them is far more intimidating than playing an instrumental piece. There is obviously something quite vulnerable (and therefore valuable) in using one's voice as an instrument, but going one large step further and using it as a vehicle for the disseminations of particular ideas, thoughts and feelings can be the penultimate challenge…for me.

What I realized recently is that I have spent many hours learning how to play the guitar. This includes learning cover songs, rehearsing scales, nailing chord changes and building up the callouses on my fingers. In other words, I have meticulously studied the craft of playing the guitar.

Yet when I examined my process around writing lyrics, I found that I had grown content with whatever first made it onto the page, believing that in order to land on the paper, these words first passed through enough of an internal filter to render them worthy. Granted, I may tweak or re-write certain sections until they were "good enough." Then, if I still liked the song I would begin performing it live, and over time decide whether or not it would stick in my live repertoire. Not much more would happen from that point on, and the song would go into the ever-expanding catalog of possible songs to play or record.

In short, I've never worked very hard on my songwriting, at least as far as the lyrical content is concerned. But this summer I had an epiphany. I was, for the first time, being recognized as an award-winning songwriter and finalist in a few big songwriting contests. But I didn't win. And when it came down to it I didn't make the top 5. So it led to me question, what is it exactly (other than the tastes and sensibilities of the judges) that is separating me from the winners?

Thankfully, I wisely chose a great producer (Jamie Mefford) for the album I am currently working on, and he was able to offer some possible ideas.

One idea, he taught me, is that when one picks up a piece of paper with poetry (or song lyrics) on it, one should be able to shake the paper and have literal things fall off of it. Nouns, like bottle caps, scrap books, dusty work boots, and the like. These things give the listener something to hold, while also helping them to conjure their own emotional connection to the thing, the image, the song.

There are a million ways to say "I'm sad" without spoon feeding it to someone, a tendency which has become so commonplace in popular country music. The other extreme of course is that a song can be so lyrically nebulous that it gives the listener nothing to grab onto. The balance is magical, and we already know this. Think of your favorite songs and ask yourself which lyrical lines stick with you, and why? Often times (though certainly not always) there are things in the line to which we have our own emotional connection. We all tend to have some emotional reaction to the thought of a high school yearbook, for example. And it will mean as many different things as there are people having reactions.

Long story short: I am learning how to work on my writing. It is a process that at once is exciting, painful, frustrating, and sublime. All I ask is that it continue.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Talented Americans

I arrived at Denver's downtown Sheraton at 7:15am this past Saturday full of coffee and contained optimism. Along with what appeared to be a couple thousand others, I was resigned to waiting in one very long, serpentine line for a chance to try out for the blockbuster television show, America's Got Talent.

In line I was initially amused to find that I was standing next to a trio of twelve year old girls who were dressed in an amazing display of mismatched skirts, tights, shoes, and various hair accessories, all finished off with multi-colored bands on their braces. My amusement slowly grew to a quiet rage when, for what must have been the 300th time, they rehearsed their version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." I used to like that song.

After a 4 hour wait in line, I was given a number and ushered into the "holding room," a ballroom-sized monstrosity full of chairs and various groupings of people who woke up earlier than I did that day. It was here that I got a glimpse of those souls who, like me, thirsted for some combination of fame, stardom, wealth, acceptance, adoration, and attention. The room held innumerable dancers, musicians, singers, jugglers, strange-looking outfit wearers, and one guy with the world's most obvious toupee and I couldn't tell if that was part of his schtick. I hoped so, but was doubtful.

I waited another three hours in the holding pen, listening to people rehearsing, making conversation, and dreaming of life in the bright lights. I found myself feeling rather maudlin, wondering how many lives were counting on the instant fame that so surely lurked around the next corner. I wondered if I was no different.

Finally it was my turn, and after another hour of waiting, I was standing in front of three very young looking "producers." They strongly suggested ahead of time that all singers perform a well-known cover song, so I played Ray Lamontagne's "Trouble." It went well, I thought, and I was later told that they liked me enough to have me to stick around and perform for another group of "higher up" producers.

After another three hours of waiting, 120 seconds of playing and singing I was thanked, told that I would hear from them in March if I made the cut, which I think means a trip to LA.

Any bitterness I feel is of my own doing. In my naivete I forgot that this was, first and foremost, a television show. Talent second, television first. This hierarchy explains the "producers only" bathrooms, and the repeated calls from the camera crew to "look excited, go crazy, scream and yell."

All in all I'm glad I went and stuck it out. It was a very long day with a slim chance at a tangible upside. I give myself a .001% chance of winning the million dollars, and about a 30% chance of getting the call in March. But there are at least 6 industry types who have now heard of me and my music that wouldn't have otherwise.

I am an American and I have talent. And I am still wondering what to make of the bizarre glimpse into the making of "reality television."

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Songwriting contests inherently bring up something strange in me. What I often esteem as an organic, creative, painful, beautiful, spirit-generated process of songwriting and performing becomes a bit distorted. Instead, it moves towards being a competitive, anxiety-ridden, heady process that challenges me to stay present.

And so it was, this past Friday when I got to perform on the Big Stage - that is, the main stage at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. We ten finalists (out of over 700 they said) were invited to perform two songs in the showcase. We were performing for cash, exposure, and a chance to be invited back to perform a full set at next year's festival.

We drew lots to determine the order, and as luck would have it, I drew #1. Lucky? Unlucky? Who can say. I was happy to get my anxiety over with quickly, but was less than thrilled about having to warm up the crowd.

At any rate, I did my thing, felt pretty good about how I sang and performed. As I then sat through the next 9 performances the evaluation began: are they better than me? What does that even mean? Ooh, I don't like this song - so I must be better than them. So many ways to evaluate this occurrence: vocal performance, guitar chops, stage presence, lyrical content, phrasing, melody, likability of each tune. What a bizarre exercise to be placed in a pecking order and determine a "winner."

OK, so I didn't win. Didn't even crack the top 5. I found myself disappointed and envious of my friend Megan Burtt, who did take home the title (and a nice custom guitar). My malaise lasted an hour or two, until I decided to spend the rest of the day backstage taking in the VIP treatment afforded to us finalists.

There, my fog quickly lifted as I found myself having dinner with, chumming with, laughing with, and telling stories with Ani DiFranco, David Wilcox, and Jonatha Brooke. Pinch me! This went on for hours.

As I was talking to another musician friend (Amy Speace) and relating her my joy at talking with these folks, she looked me in the eye and said, "You belong at the table."

So moving forward I am trying to integrate that, to fully believe and embody that. I am so exceedingly grateful for the experience, and hope to be back again. More contests of course to enter next year, to see how "good" they think I am. How strange.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Desperate Mama


I originally intended this blog to be accompanied by my first video recording of me playing one of my new songs, but I am momentarily technically challenged, and have not yet found a suitable time to sit down with the flip camera. Soon, dear readers.

I do, however, have happy news to report, and that is this:

I am one of 10 finalists (out of nearly 600) for the Folks Fest Songwriting Competition here in Lyons, CO this year. So on August 13th (Friday the 13th of all days), I get to play two songs on the main stage to kick off the festival which later includes sets by Ani DiFranco, John Prine, David Wilcox, and more. I am giddy. The better I do in the contest the more money I make, and the winner gets: cash, a custom guitar, and an invitation to perform a full set at next year's festival.

In lieu of the aforementioned video recording, I have decided to post the lyrics to one of the two songs I submitted for the competition. The story behind the song is this: My assignment was to write a song with some lyrics that were stolen from a conversation had by others. In other words, I had to eavesdrop and steal lyrics.

After a few weeks of not overhearing anything of interest, I heard one woman remark to another, "As we say down in Texas, 'have a good day and don't kill anyone.'" My first thought was, "weird." My second thought was, "interesting." And the song was born. A dark song, to be sure, but it helped get me into the finals.

Desperate Mama

Round about here in the Texas sun
We say "One day at a time and don't kill anyone"
But I got a little problem and it's growing inside
Way down yonder underneath my pride

I sold that away so long ago
In the back of a truck down in El Paso
I never even learned his Christian name
But I heard him calling Jesus just the same

Now I'm in a pickle and I'm in a bad way
Can't keep the thing could never give it away
Me and that boy shoulda never been
I wanna get it done, but I know it's a sin

Desperate mama, desperate mama
Got a lot of worries not a whole lot more

I'm praying to God but I swear he's blind
Got me looking for a reason or a simple sign
Can't be living with myself now either way
It ain't what you have it's what you're giving away

Now I'm in a pickle and I'm in a bad way
Can't keep the thing could never give it away
Me and that boy shoulda never been
I wanna get it done, but I know it's a sin

Desperate mama, desperate mama
Got a lot of worries not a whole lot more

I found a way it won't hurt I'm told
Gonna meet my maker before I grow old
I love you Papa and to all my friends:
Don't you do what I done this is how it ends

I was in a pickle I was in a bad way
Couldn't keep the thing and couldn't give it away
Me and that boy shoulda never been
I had to get it done but I know it's a sin

Desperate mama, desperate mama
She don't worry 'bout a thing no more
Desperate mama, desperate mama
She don't worry 'bout a thing no more

Wednesday, June 30, 2010



When I was 7 years old I was over at my best friend’s house. We were discussing riding our bikes to the local general store to spend the entirety of our allowance on candy. As I asked him how much money he had to spend, his mother yelled from the back room, “You don’t ask that question of someone! It’s none of your business how much money someone has.” I was stunned, felt shamed, and the lesson stuck with me: Money is taboo. Make it, save it. But don’t you dare talk about it. The original Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

As human beings we place weight on numbers. How much do you weigh? How much money do you make? What version of the iPhone do you have? And the subsequent evaluation begins. How do you measure up to me? Am I skinnier? Am I wealthier? I hope so. If I make more than you I might feel better, more able, more resourced, more accomplished. If I make less I may feel envious, seeing you as luckier, smarter, more fortunate and I grow resentful – putting you on a pedestal and me in the pit. My thoughts and expectations about you and how much of the dinner tab you pick up are influenced by the information I have about your numbers. These are the things we don’t talk about, acknowledge, and own.

This is the backdrop to my recent fund raising campaign through which I aim to raise the money to record, mix, master, press, and release my next album. With this knowledge of societal mores I am blatantly and shamelessly asking people to invest in me, to contribute their hard-earned cash to my dream, to support my musical career with money that could otherwise go to non-profits, family vacations, and IRAs. I am offering things in return, however - $50 gets 2 autographed copies of the album, $100 gets those + a Jeremy Dion T-Shirt, etc. Still, in deciding to proceed along these lines, I was keenly aware that this proposition would ruffle some feathers.

I have consciously embarked on a campaign that has been called “tacky” and “gutsy,” “inappropriate” and “inspiring.” Some are eager to contribute while others are philosophically opposed. We have unspoken rules about money and some will perceive that I have broken them.

There is no question that there are many in this world more needy than I. I do not have a disability, a disease, or life-threatening situation. I simply have a dream, and a vision. I create music that draws upon my experiences, and seeks to help you know yourself more fully, so that you may realize your inherent perfection. As a musician and psychotherapist, this is my mission.

I know a number of musicians who have created similar fund raising campaigns, and I am following in their footsteps. I trust that those who feel inspired to invest will do so, and those who do not will still be able to understand why I was willing to challenge our unspoken rules about money and self-sufficiency.

Thank you to those who have been willing to invest, and to those who have not for their honesty. I rest in the knowledge that we grow the most at the border of support and challenge.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Therapy and Music

I have, for the past seven years, made my living as a psychotherapist. And as much as I dream of making the switch to full-time musician, I am keenly aware of the lyrical treasure trove that my current profession affords. Few other contexts would allow me to probe the human psyche quite so thoroughly, to so consistently ponder the intricacies of relationship, and to explore the innumerable ways we come to know ourselves through relationship with others.

Many is the time I have begun the lyrical portion of the songwriting process contemplating people and issues that were presented in my office. Yet by the time I reach the second verse, I realize that I am in fact writing not about my client, but rather about my own life. This reflects a commonly held belief in the therapeutic world that we, as therapists, attract the types of issues (in the form of clients) that we ourselves need to examine in our own existence. And I remain convinced that this phenomenon is not relegated to the therapeutic world.

We are all attracting people and events through which we have the opportunity to see ourselves more clearly. Sadly, few of us recognize the magnificence of this occurrence, and spend more of our time cursing the other (person, event, etc.) rather than feeling gratitude towards ourselves for creating the unique and perfect circumstances for our own evolution.

As a songwriter and a therapist, these are some of the many things I ponder. May we all continue to expand our self-awareness.