Why I sometimes wish I were a photographer or a painter instead of a songwriter.

As I songwriter, I occasionally hi-jack small gatherings of friends with the phrase, “Would you like to hear a few songs from the album I’ve been working on?” Of course, they say Yes!, as they are usually guests and concerned about being rude, but as the music starts to play I always start to feel acutely aware of how the energy in the room changes. What seconds earlier had been like a classroom before the teacher arrives becomes like a classroom once the lesson has started. A calculus lesson. All convivial conversation stops, all eyes become fixed on either the stereo or the floor as people listen intently, any conversation is done quickly and quietly, brows furrow. For about 30 seconds. Then someone says something like, “My pedicure sucks, I mean, look at my big toe.” Or “Can you believe the Giants won the World Series?” Often, this reversion to everyday life can happen before the chorus. To quote Dr. Smith, “Oh, the pain.”

At this point I always feel much maligned. I feel insulted, ignored, uncared for and unloved. It’s awful. But then I think about what I’ve asked of people. I’ve asked them to stop what they’re doing, to shut up and to pay attention. Who’s being rude? And therein lies the curse, or a curse (there are so many), of being a songwriter: to share a song with others is to ask a lot of them (unless you’re using the Internet!). Seriously, get a stopwatch and set it to four minutes. Now, wait. And wait. And wait. See how long that is? Christ, it’s an eternity, especially at a social gathering. In fact, it’s so damn long that I have on more than one occasion hit Stop after the first chorus. Hell, by then people are usually chattering away, so what’s the point? I’ll mutter something like, “Well, you get the idea.” And I will be visibly pouty and a little mad.

But what if people do pay rapt attention from first note to last? Then how do I feel? Oddly, not much better. Early in the song I start to become aware of the silence in the room save for the music and how everyone is listening but maybe wishing they could say a word or two and not just ,“Wow, you’re even better than the Beatles!’, and so I TALK. Weird, I know, but I will start pointing out things I will fix, things I wish I hadn’t done, things I like. My hope is that by talking I send a a signal to everyone that it’s okay to talk, just so long as it’s about the song!

But here’s the thing — it’s a rule in Internet marketing and it works for the humble songwriter, too — you can convene but you can’t control. In other words, you can gather people into a group, but you can’t control what they’re going to do (at least not without guns, riot gear and tear gas). So when I gather people around a stereo to listen to a track, once they’re gathered, my role is done. Now it’s up to the music and crowd, and usually the crowd decides to talk. A lot. Loudly. And so I wish I were a photographer or painter. Unlike music, pictures don’t demand silence, on the contrary, people talking about the picture make the picture easier to see, as you start noticing what others notice. Also, a picture can be taken in fairly quickly, you can glance at it, turn to your friend a say something about his nose hair and then go back to looking at the picture again. After a few more glances at the art, you might actually start talking about it and that’s great. Unlike music, art and conversation go together as they can happen in parallel. Music, on the other hand, demands a sequential process, first listen then talk.

Or maybe my songs just suck and after a few seconds people have heard enough?