Early in my performing life as a singer and songwriter I observed that in music, it was never too late to be nobody. All you had to do was stop promoting yourself and stop getting bookings for a few weeks and presto! You were forgotten.
In the 1970s I did a lot of solo work, mostly playing around the Puget Sound area but also down the I-5 corridor in Oregon and in coastal California. Did a lot of open mikes in Tacoma and Seattle and knew many of the folk musicians who were working at the time.
I guess I thought I was somebody, because one night at Al and Tony’s I introduced myself to a woman playing there, expecting her to know me. She did not.
I got mad and walked out. That was because I was young and dumb and insecure. Being a singer/songwriter was my identity then, my self-worth. Not being recognized hurt.
The experience taught me a much-needed lesson. I never again assumed that anyone knew who I was, and never displayed that kind of foolish arrogance. I am ashamed to remember my behavior.
There is some longevity in music in your home town, though. When Women, Women & Song was together in the 1980s, we had a loyal fan base on the island, and lots of people bought our cassette tapes. People our age remember us well, even now, thirty years later. Occasionally, some person who is now in their forties will come up to me and tell me how their mom used to play the trio’s music in the car all the time, and they often say that they liked it, which is good to hear, especially considering they were captive audiences.
One of the downsides of cassette tapes was that they were so easy to duplicate. If someone liked our music, they’d copy our tape and give it to their friends. We sold about 2000 copies of our first album, “I Won’t Wait to Be Happy,” but have no idea how many copies were made and passed around. When we played on the mainland people would come up to us and tell us that their therapist, for example, had given them a copy of our tape. We could only sigh and hope that the music did them good.
We sold about 1000 copies of our second album, “The Key of R,” and I suppose that had correspondingly fewer bootleg copies. When I took a theology class at Diocesan House in Seattle there was a student in one of my classes who had a bootleg copy of that album and loved it. I was flattered and discouraged at the same time.
One year at the Folklife Festival I looked out at the audience and was astonished to see dozens of women singing along with the songs. They knew the words better than we did. Had they bought our tapes at a previous concert on the mainland? Maybe.
What could we say? “Glad you like our music. Wish you’d paid for the album.”
Wish my parents hadn’t been so right when they told me I’d never make a living as a singer.
The last fifteen or twenty years I haven’t pursued the singing. Stuff happened. I have been busy. Singing in the church choir was about it.
But now – for the first time since my twenties, I am a single independent person. The goals I had for my life are all behind me now. When I made that vow “until death do us part,” I did not realize that after Rick died, I’d be living on for years. I never thought about that, so I had no goals or plans.
So now what?
These days I sing and play with a group, Listen in the Kitchen. With all due modesty, we are five fierce, funny, brilliant, wonderful women who sing and play instruments and laugh a lot. We’ll be appearing at the October First Friday at the Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union. Come and hear us. So far, we have only done occasional local gigs, and have no plans to tour or pursue more work.
Now I’m thinking of doing a little solo singer songwriter work again. This has been a long time coming. Yikes. Will anyone care? Will anyone listen?
But then I think, whether anyone likes my work or not is none of my business. I’m here to sing my songs, that’s my business, so what the heck and wahoo. I’ll start out and see how it goes.
One obstacle: I will have to overcome my reluctance to leave the house.
It’s always something.
May you all sing your songs, whatever form they take. Blessings.