being vulnerable. Is it an art?

As a songwriter - or any sort of artist - how do you come to terms with the personal exposÉ that can occur when you make a deeply meaningful piece of art? Is it more important to keep your art vague and universally human - or to strike a very personal chord with your own experience - and in that case is the most touching/striking/amazing art actually the most courageously personal and exploitative?

Yesterday I wrote one of the most personally revealing songs I have ever written. I am very proud of this piece - excited to share it with others. And yet - it worries me. This song exposes some of my ugly bits - some of the parts of me I don't like parading around to others - as well as some of my deepest beliefs and struggles. I didn't set out to write a song like this. I wasn't sitting around in my room thinking - how can I write an awesome, tortured pop classic. No! It just came to me - it came out of what I was feeling in that very moment. It wrote itself in about 10 minutes.

But now I'm scared. I'm a little worried to let the cat out of the bag - to put my heart even further on the line than it already is! I already feel as if I am exposing a piece of my heart when I perform, now I would be taking it to another level. And as I'm doing that - I am also exposing a bit of my family life - a bit about my relationships with my loved ones. It's not shocking or awful, but where do you stop as an artist? Are you supposed to edit your natural writing instincts in order to protect you and your family's privacy? I don't know. Now that I'm in this state of sharing - of letting it all loose - saying yes - etc. - it feels as if something is welling up inside me that I need to go with it. No matter what the cost.

***Somewhat off the topic - but I am remembering my CD release performance at The Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, MA in 2005. I had been performing in front of hundreds of people for years - and on stage since I was 4 - but I had NEVER been more nervous to play my songs in front of an audience of about 60 people. It was my first experience of complete stage fright - my hands were shaking, my breath was short - I felt as if I was on crack or coke or one of the crazy drugs I've never tried - I just could not stop shaking! It was the self exposition I believe that made it so much more scary. I was not playing a character - I was not singing someone elses well known and well loved ballad - I was singing 10 songs that I wrote from my heart in my own clothes and my own voice. It was the most naked I have ever felt on stage! But as the performance went on - it was fun. I started to feel loved and welcomed by the audience - we were sharing laughs and little jokes - and most amazingly - they were listening! They were virtually silent and smiling through every song. You rarely see that at a show these days. It was really something special. But I was so scarred from the vulnerability of the situation - that I retreated. I played one more solo show and then have not played my songs out solo since. It has been 4 years now! What the heck happened? And do I have the courage to get out there again?? End tangent. now. ***

I have always been inspired by personal songwriting - Joni Mitchell is the most important songwriter influence in my life. She always wrote directly from her personal experience. The thing about Joni is that she is an AMAZING poet. She was able to write about deeply personal moments, sorrow, pain, joy, and love in a universal artistic language - so that the listener believed that they were the ones singing the song - that they were the ones having that same experience at that very same time! With her album BLUE, joni actually set out to pull the veil away and show her humanness - her flaws - to her audience. She did not want the world to think of her as this perfectly adjusted beautiful Canadian blond who had all the handsome boys and was living large. She wanted them to see her - warts and all - and everyone loved her for it. But she always managed to expose her life in a subtle way. She wove stories about a character that could have been her or any other girl.

I'm quite sure I do not posses Joni's natural skill and genius type authority over language. I have always wrote as I spoke and my songwriting isn't much different. It is simple and direct with a hint of humor and heartache. That's all I got! There is no subtlety! No one has ever sat around and thought - I wonder what Fran is trying to say here???? I'm perplexed. If you have - PLEASE tell me! haha.

So the point is that MY version of this personal songwriting - is very out in the open. There is no clever poetry to hide behind. Is that ok? Should I just run with it? I guess I should just take my songs as they come and spit them out onto paper and thank God for visiting me with some creative inspiration. I just would never want to hurt/harm/embarrass/or shame anyone I loved because of the music I was making. That is not why I am doing this. I want to have a RIGHT livelihood - as the Buddhists call it - a career that harms no living being - not me or anyone else. I guess if I just hold that as my intention when I write and sing it will come to be. But I also believe that no one ever made amazing art or music without shaking it up a bit - or putting themselves on the line - or risking it all for their art. There is no glory in playing it safe - and there is no wild abandon or joy or crazy success in playing it safe either. Taking risks is what it is all about.

So anyway - be on the lookout for some new songs by me - maybe a bit more personal - maybe a bit more risky - but always shooting straight from my heart!


  1. Being vulnerable is never easy. I have been there many times when in front of people I was addressing. But I found it important to decide just how far I would go, choosing to reveal, but also to protect those I loved. This becomes even more important when the purpose is--at least in part--to entertain.

  2. I always think that the more specific and personal the work is, the more it connects with the audience. I love great storytellers like Joni and Dylan for that very reason. And you are the only one who can tell YOUR story.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts