Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Am I Building Something Better?

While I've been writing for new record that has no title, studio schedule, or release date, I do have a new release on iTunes. Well, kind of. It's actually one of my oldest releases, my first full-length album entitled Building A Better Me. I have mixed emotions about it being there.

All of us (read: "musicians") have one of these albums; the kind that you're almost ashamed has your name on it. The kind that you, the person whose voice comes through the speakers, absolutely refuses to listen to under any circumstances. The kind of recording that inspires you, the artist, to institute some kind of "buy back" program or a CD swap just to get them off the streets. You know, the kind of albums that just aren't very good.

At least to you, the artist.

I recorded Building A Better Me in September of 2001, right after 9/11. It was a weird, uncertain time for me (as it was for all of us), and with trepidation and some anxiety, I boarded a plane in Atlanta and flew to Corona, CA to spend a weekend in the studio. Three days later on my way home I had to connect out of Chicago, but because some moron at LAX left their bag unattended - shutting down the entire airport for three hours while the bomb squad investigated - I missed my connection, which just happened to be the last flight out that night. With night already upon me, and not really sure how to get back to O'Hare if I left - seriously, that place makes no sense - I played it "safe" and spent the night on a bench in the Delta ticketing area and waited for my flight. Plus, my flight left at 6 am, and it was nearly 10 pm when I got there, and figuring security would take me an eternity seeing as our country was on lock-down, it just didn't seem worth it to me to leave when I'd just get to a hotel and sleep for three hours and get back at the airport at 4am. But I digress.

I remember laying on that bench, trying to sleep (but ultimately being unable to) and wondering about my future. About our future as a country and a free society. I wondered about the value of what I had just done; being in the studio making music just didn't seem all that important at that point. Cold and tired, I just felt like most of what I was doing then - trying to do well in grad school and do something with music to help others - didn't do it for me.

So, looking ahead to the day we celebrate our freedom, I wonder to myself, "Are we building something better?" Here, nearly seven years since I slept in that airport terminal with all those questions, am I looking into a better future?


But that, to me, has little to do with elections or politics or music or culture and absolutely everything with that ever-deepening realization that while I am "free" to a lot of things, there is actually very little that I can even control, and that reality is freeing. Sure, there are days when I feel angry or spiteful that I cannot with my own two hands stop people from killing themselves or each other. That I can't stop fathers from abusing their daughters. That I can't keep the costs of fuel or staple foods down, and I surely can't end a war, help everyone who needs it, or bring home a National Championship for the Bulldogs. But then there are the days when i realize that "freedom" means that I am not asked to do all of these things. It is not up to me to fix everything at once, and certainly not on my own efforts alone. I can hardly pick out clothes to wear, much less solve a nation's problems or cure something like "poverty." But I can do the best I can to look ahead and continue to build, to make something better. Jesus said we'll always have the poor among us, which means our help will always be needed.

Am I building something better? A better me, if you will? No. I can't. I simply cannot make myself better. But if I do the things that make things better for others - treat others with respect, make giving a priority and a habit, laugh when things are funny, lament when things are hard, run a fair business, write honest music, etc. - then I think I can contribute to a culture, a nation, and a world that is maybe better for all of us. That's a bit "We Are The World," but I'm okay with that.

I guess what I'm saying is that sometimes it is the effort that counts. Not to say that we have no responsibility for what comes of our effort, but to say that if we make our attitudes that of service, kindness, and compassion, what comes of our trying will be good. And when it's good, we also see that we really had nothing to do with it and that the burden to fix people was never really ours to bear. We just need to keep showing up, and it just works out in some way.

Building A Better Me is an album that I still receive encouraging emails about from time to time. And though I hear it for its faults, I guess a handful of others don't. And so it went that I decided to put my pride down a little bit and allow this record out a little farther out to be heard. It has my name on it, and I made it, and it's a part of my story. My friends David and Natalie both have albums out (or in Natalie's case, coming out in two weeks) that deal mainly with the fact that small things add up to big changes, and making the Better Me album - however imperfect I may think it to be - made Rebuilt Records a reality. And hopefully, we're adding something of value to this world. And at the risk of being REALLY cheesy, I think that's how we are as people, too. We fail to see our own worth because we focus on what's not so great, but despite our shortcomings, we have the capacity to make things much better for others. So there you have it, a justifiable reason for putting that old album on iTunes.

But if no one buys it, I'll be okay with that, too.