Tuesday, August 29, 2006

My Hometown

An old European poet once said, "If everyone in the world simply took care of their own homes, you wouldn't have to worry about the world anymore." In the 1960s that phrase became a bumper sticker, "Think globally ... Act Locally."

I grew up in New York, a little town called Fishkill in Dutchess County. Pete Seeger lived nearby and I would go to his Stawberry Festival each summer and watch the folksingers play along the shores of the Hudson River. I liked that Pete had a national career but would be seen walking the sidewalks of his hometown, shopping at the Grand Union, attending his local Sloop meetings ... being part of a hometown with his family.

I don't live in New York anymore, obviously. I moved south into a land of mountains and music and garden tomatoes and coal mines. Aside from my family, the memories of my old home have been replaced by my new hometown. Now, I live in Lexington, Kentucky. It's a wonderful, friendly, beautiful, creative place full of good people, and families, and nice schools and a thriving artist community. There are not many places as wonderful as Lexington. Except, maybe,
your hometown. But I love Kentucky. It fits me. I have been able to play music, write books, make records, create something as adventerous as the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour and raise my children here. My hometown sits in a nice part of America, we are a short 6 hour drive to 32 million people. It sits at the foothills of the Appalachian moountains and the music, the art, the crafts and the spirit of that old way of life still lingers in the air.

But the past couple weeks have been hard for my friends in Lexington. There was a bomb scare that shut down several city blocks. A jet with 50 people, mostly from Lexington, crashed after taking off from the wrong runway. All but one perished. A friend of mine, Larry Turner, was on that plane. Two WoodSongs crew members, Dr. Bob and Mary DeMatinna, were at the airport and watched Larry's plane explode in a ball of fire as it crashed. A couple of days later, a mom and dad were arrested for killing their child and burning the body in the woods after claiming the child was kidnapped. Another mother got angry and drove her children into a lake. One of the kids died.

My hometown has been hit hard.

I mention all of this to show that every hometown is both wonderful and beautiful and yet still struggles like any another. Each hometown grapples to keep it's sidewalks clean and schools running and roads paved and workers working. I liked what Pete did, working on his national career but still paying attention to, and being an active part of, his own hometown. Each home town is made better by the involvement of those who chose to live there.

An artist can learn a lot from Pete by getting involved one way or another, through hard work or music, in their hometowns. Whether you sing at a homeless shelter or pick up trash along a creek bed ... it's part of the responsibility of a hometown, I suppose. After all, if you don't care about where you're from, why should
anyone care about where you are going.

'nuff said.
Lexington, Kentucky

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Artists & Krit-Icks

My Blog entry today is a slightly edited letter I sent to a wonderful actress who got creamed in a review by her local paper. It really hurt her and she didn't deserve it. The review was, at the very least, rude. I hate it when critics, who can't accomplish much other than spewing opinion, publicly redicule those who are at least trying. I think artists deserve better. If you don't like something, ignore it. But for Pete's sake, don't strangle someone's spirit in public:

A few years ago, a critic reviewed by album, Dreams of Fire. I recorded it with a 61 piece symphony and worked my butt off on it for almost a year. The album was getting rave reviews all over the country ... and then this reviewer got hold of it and gave Dreams of Fire a horrible, personal, scathing review in print right here in my own hometown.

It rattled me. For a minute. A couple years later, a friend of mine in Ireland released a cassette of his songs and sent them to his local paper. The critic burned, tarred and feathered my friend's little cassette release of his songs. The review was so bad his mother didn't leave her house for almost 2 weeks. After my friend called me, in tears, to tell me he was quitting his music, my heart broke for him. Because I knew exactly how he felt.

So I wrote my friend a song, called WoodSongs. a song of victory of an artist's will over critics, became the title of my next album, which was turned into a book, that I turned into a radio show, that became a national tour, podcast, and now a national TV series on PBS. So much for the critic.

I write all of this because I think all of you, whether amateur songwriter, living room couch performer or professional, are an incredibly talented, brilliant and beautiful in sprit. Remember, the critic creates nothing. The artist remains the source of inspiration ... even if it means getting off your bloodied knees all the time. Some words for all artists to consider:

"Fear not the voice of the critic, for no man ever erected a statue in honour of a critic"- Finnish Composer

"It is much easier to tare down than to build, it takes less talent to scoff than to create, it is the essense of laziness to be critical ... than to be correct" - Benjamin DeSreali

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

"Twenty years from now you will be more dissappointed by the things you DIDN'T do than by the ones you DID. So throw off your anchors. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore . . Dream . . . Discover." - Mark Twain

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit." - Albert Schweitzer