Monday, February 8, 2010

A Lot of Power in a Little Honesty

This will be my third post on Justin Townes Earle. Does this mean I have a problem? Perhaps. Perhaps I do. Nevertheless, I feel I must mention him again in anticipation of Thursday night . . . the night the alternative-country love of my life takes the stage in LA and sings (I will imagine) just for me.

I love JTE for the same reasons people all over the world love their favorite musicians: because he makes music that cracks my soul open, that speaks to me, that moves and inspires me. When I listen to Justin Townes Earle--cheesy as it sounds--I catch myself thinking of the type of person I want to be.

It's not that he's singing "Man in the Mirror" type songs. It's simply that he's singing truth. He sings about the good and bad in himself, in the people around them. He sings about how he's loved, how he's failed to love, how he's been hurt. These are, of course, standard topics. But there's something pure and simple in his delivery. Something very honest. No forced poetry, no attempt at clever phrasing. Just stories . . . true stories, shared with deliberate openness.

Take for example one of his most popular songs, "Mama's Eyes." As the son of a largely absent, but fairly well-known father (Alternative Country artist Steve Earle), Justin wrote "Mama's Eyes" to, as he says, "set the record straight." Justin skips past the typical angsty descriptions of his relationship with his father and instead sings in earnest simplicity about the dark habits he learned from his dad. "I ain't foolin' no one," he sings. "I am my father's son."

After a length of singing about being the same as his dad in all the wrong ways, he pays tribute to his mother (and communicates his discovery of his own personal strength) with no great poetic displays of adoration. He simply leans into the microphone and sings:

Now it's three a.m. and I'm standing in the kitchen
holding my last cigarette.
I Strike a match and I see my reflection in the mirror in the hall
and I say to myself,
"I've got my mama's eyes,
her long, thin frame and her smile,
and I still see wrong from right,
'cause I've got my mama's eyes."

Pure and simple.

There is something marvelous about an artist who isn't trying to force emotion out of you. It takes tremendous confidence and balance of mind to be able to simply speak the truth--to simply tell the story--and trust that the clear and simple truth is enough.

This is how I would like to operate as a writer. No manipulating my audiences, simply writing truthfully and trusting that truthful writing will be enough.

This is also how I hope to live my life. No games, no affectations, just pure and simple honesty. And when I am a little bolder, some deliberate openness of my own.

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