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Following the Song

I forget how much I love songs all the time. I’m not one of those people who just loves to write. I don’t know if that makes me less of a songwriter, but there it is. Whenever someone says, “I write because I have to,” I always feel envious and a little ashamed of myself, because I just don’t have to write.

Life is full of interesting things, most of which don’t come with as much difficulty and self-doubt as songwriting, so it’s easy to avoid the grind of trying (and usually failing) to make something beautiful out of thin air. For whatever reason, after twenty-some-odd years of putting out records and books, I’m feeling exhausted and oddly content to not make music. It’s frightening, to be honest. Does it mean God has dried up the well? Does it mean I’m called to something else for a season?

Last night I was talking to Jamie about all this, and she said, “It’s okay. You go through this every single time you make an album.” It’s one of the advantages to being married to your best friend for twenty-two years. She sees the pattern better than I do. And part of the pattern is that, when I’m lost in the wasteland of the blank page and wondering why I’m even there, there’s a moment when I remember why I got into this in the first place, when there’s some flash of inspiration upon hearing someone else’s music and I get the flutter in the belly that tells me that there’s more to be written, more to be sung, more story to be told.

This morning, that flash came from Tom Douglas, a legendary songwriter here in Nashville. I did a songwriter’s round with him last year and I almost fell out of my chair when I heard him sing “Little Rock,” which was recorded by Colin Raye many years ago. An amazing song. Tom (along with Allen Shamblin) also wrote Miranda Lambert’s “The House that Built Me,” and about a zillion other great ones. I saw Tom a few days ago and was reminded of this video, which I urge you to watch, whether you’re a songwriter or not. It’s his acceptance speech from his induction into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame a few years ago. “This,” I thought again today, “is why I love art. It’s why I love songwriting. It’s why it’s worth it to put yourself out there, to suffer the heart-wounds that come with the touring and promoting, the warring between hope and futility, pride and humiliation, gratitude and guilt.”

Thank you, Tom, for these words. I’m a (relatively) young songwriter who needed to hear them today.


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