I wanted to share this amazing interview Terry Gross did recently with Bruce Springsteen in his studio. I was excited to see this pop up on my podcast feed. Terry Gross is a thoughtful interviewer, and Bruce Springsteen is a thoughtful artist, and this interview is amazing.
There were two moments which really struck a chord with respect to my struggles with storytelling. Now, the obvious solution to my woes is to actually work on my craft and learn how to do it, but work with me here for this post. Springsteen was discussing being a performer and songwriter, but they’re just as applicable here…
I created a particular stage persona out of my dad’s life, and perhaps I even built it to suit him to some degree. When I was looking for a voice to mix with my voice, I put on my father’s work clothes… and I went to work. Whether it was a result of wanting to emulate him so I felt closer, whether it was… I wanted it to be the reasonable voice of revenge for what I’d seen his life come to – it was all of these things. It was an unusual creation. Most people’s stage personas are created from the flotsam and jetsam of the internal geography, and they’re trying to create something that solves a series of very complex problems inside of them, or in their history.
Two things to note with the above quote… First, all performers have a stage persona. This is at the same time obvious and surprising. Sure, there are tons of people with their schtick on stage. But everyone is doing a schtick? I once attended a talk on personal branding where the takeaway was to communicate why you’re doing what you’re doing. As in, be honest. The idea of having a stage persona seems anthemic to that. Second, Springsteen’s stage persona is his personal expression of his personal demons, without him being initially aware of what he was doing. I wonder… what is my stage persona. Do I actually have one? Can I change it? Would trying on a different persona play as inauthentic?
This next quote is maybe 90% accurate, but 100% on-point in gist. Here, Springsteen was talking about how he was lauded initially as a modern-day Bob Dylan, yet his songs are far more transparent and open than Dylan’s.
I looked at myself and just said, you know, well… I could sing but I’m not the greatest singer in the world. I can play guitar, but I’m not the greatest guitar player in the world. What excites me about a lot of the artists I love? And I realized they created their own personal world that I could enter into through their music and through their songwriting…
Now this is a quote that I found obvious. I’ve been told before that I need to be open with my storytelling. I can keep the audience at arm’s length. Now, this all comes from my past. Being bullied as a child, as a young man, and even occasionally as an adult has left me holding my cards close to the vest at all times. If people are going to hurt me in what seems like an everyday, casual way, why in Hell would I let those same people see what I really care about and give them more fodder? But it’s obvious that artists have to leave themselves wide open; they need to put their cards on the table.
So yeah, it’s obvious that I need to work at my craft. But it’s also obvious I have to figure out how to put all my cards on the table.