Songwriters - Just Who We Are
by Irene Jackson
© 1996 Moonstone Productions. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission
I began songwriting before I knew how to read or write. My first memories of songwriting were at the kitchen table, singing songs off the top of my head to my mother while she cooked. Now I'm a mother myself, and I get such a kick when my youngest daughter Gracie, with her sweet voice, does the same thing! Watching kids do their thing is a key to understanding our own creativity. They have no preconceptions as to what a song has to be, little or no self-consciousness, and they experience a great deal of joy in simply doing it.
My story isn't the stuff of great novels, but I think it might be worth sharing with some of you...especially those of you who are just starting out.
I discovered I had a voice when I was in Grade 5. I auditioned for the school choir and was the only one who got a part as a result of the audition, the other person was picked by pulling a name out of a hat! This was really good for my young little ego, and I remember going home after school and singing at the top of my lungs until I was hoarse, I was so proud! My parents, although they were happy for me, always gave me that "It's a nice hobby, dear." line. When I wanted piano lessons, we couldn't afford a piano to practice on. When my best friend Kelly got a guitar, well guitar lessons were out of the question. They did get me a little guitar for Christmas one year, but I had to make up things to play on it. In fact, that is how my songwriting blossomed. Because I couldn't play the songs I liked on the radio, I had to make up more of my own! On one of the very first songs I "officially" wrote, my mother actually helped me write a line when I was stuck. She passed away when I was not quite fifteen, and before she knew how important songwriting was to become for me.
The emphasis was on getting a real job, getting married, and everything else that comes with it. I assumed this attitude for many years and did exactly what I was supposed to do. Although I kept playing and performing from time to time, and had lots of encouragement from other people, I really didn't take any risks and I didn't believe that much in my ability because the people who mattered to me most didn't.
I would venture out every now and then, only to find that "industry" types had even less encouragement for me. I remember deciding one day that I needed an agent. I did some research and found a few names, and set up appointments with them. This was a major step for me. However, I found that few of them were very interested in what I had to offer. They said I should set myself with a male performing partner, or they would spend the whole time talking about their other wonderful clients. This reinforced my attitude about myself...that I wasn't good enough, that I should just forget about music.
Another time, I had signed my self with a booking agent and got the opportunity to play at some ski resort. What did I do? I turned it down because I had to work. I remember a friends' father who was a performer himself said to me once after hearing me perform, "Next time you get an opportunity to play at a ski resort, do it!" I knew that he thought I really had something to offer, but I was still in doubt.
In the meantime, I would occasionally play in public, and I would always get wonderful responses from people, although I didn't believe them. What did they know? They weren't in the "industry", like those agents were.
I was 26 years old before my old belief system started to change, when I married my husband Michael. Here was a guy who wouldn't listen to any of my old crap! He absolutely, 100% believed in my music. Not that he liked all of it...he's still my harshest critic when it comes to my writing and although he's not a songwriter himself, he has an uncanny knack for picking out all of the weak stuff!
It still took another ten years...TEN YEARS...for me to get rid of most of the old ideas about myself! I hung onto even part-time jobs until two years ago, because I couldn't quite let go and let it happen. But gradually I built myself a home-based business in music.
I teach guitar to about twenty-five students, I do commercial voice-overs for local television, I have a little recording studio in which I recorded my first album (after two hundered or so songs, it was really hard to narrow it down to eleven!), and I do some recording for others. I even wrote a theme for a television show called "HOME CHECK WITH SHELL BUSEY" which plays across Canada! And most importantly of all, I continue to write my songs, which are such an integral part of who I am that I couldn't imagine life without them.
I'm ready for another step now in actually getting the songs some real exposure, perhaps through other performers or publishers. And I've actually begun to refer to myself as a SONGWRITER.
I have absolutely no regrets, I don't spend my time wondering what could have been. After writing for more than thirty years (if you count back from those times at the kitchen table), I've come full circle in understanding that this "joy" that I see in Gracie when she sings is what I really do it for.
My philosophy regarding life in general is the same: We begin by being ourselves, are taught to be something other than ourselves, and spend the rest of our lives growing back into ourselves. Perhaps in getting away from who we really are, we are given the gift of learning just who that is.