My name is Adam Hill. I used to write songs and play guitar for The Sunday Best in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville has changed in the twenty years since I arrived. A-lot. I wrote a book called Old Timer’s Blues based on the Stringbean murder, that happened in 1973. That crime changed Nashville’s small town vibe and it’s sense of safety. My next book is set in Nashville during the flood, another touchstone in our cities story.
This week, I wanted to talk about a book I’m currently reading, to try and get back some joy in making art. It’s called, The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile. It’s not a mystery, though it deals with the mystery of how we think about ourselves. I’ve had sports injuries over the years and the remedy is work out. You go to the gym everyday and you work out. It wasn’t until recently that something made sense to me in regards to mental strength. You have to go to the gym everyday for that too. A co-worker of mine illustrated how they approach this. It clicked with me, you can approach the abstract of the mind with concrete actions. Life is hard. Middle age is harder. Somehow I have to start doing mental push ups to keep my wits about me.
My gut with any book called something like The Road Back to You is to scoff. “What is this, self esteem garbage?” Because I think self esteem is a racket. Esteem comes from how others view you. Self esteem makes you a crazy person. Part of me also thinks, you get the cards you're dealt. You don’t get to reshuffle the deck. Part of me thinks we are doomed, always doomed and failure and brokenness are the claw marks of man’s folly on the wall. The lucky get lucky. Most of my cynicism comes from working at being a successful songwriter for twenty years and having made no headway. “I’m at 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell!” My dream did not come true. My friend Rob and I were texting about how many hours we are in on our jobs and art last week. It’s an out of whack ratio.
Like James Murphy says, “Luck is always better than skill at things.” That rings so true to me. It not only being good or working hard. It’s doing the right thing at the right time too. I was in the grocery store the other day and some James Taylor was playing. Thoroughly wretched stuff. It hurts my sensibilities. But this is what most of Nashville sounds like. The pop people? No! The “Outlaws.” The “Alternative.” They sound like easy listening from the 1970’s. When I got home from the grocery store I looked at Instagram, because I’m a hard working writer. I follow a cat post site. Visual Easy Listening you know. There was a post of a cat in a precarious spot. I started scrolling through the comments. The followers had lost their minds. They were so stressed. So anxious. So terrified for the cat and offended, I mean OFFENDED that the poster had shared this. I play guitar like Chuck Berry falling down a staircase. Anxiety pushed through an amp. No one wants that. They want James Taylor. They want cat pictures without peril. Maybe I should too?
So why am I reading this book? We all got our stuff right? I want to try and figure out why even keep creating stuff? Right now I blog because it’s cheaper than making a record or a book. Maybe I’m negative. I think back to how I grew up.
“Don’t wear a hat. Your hair will fall out.”
“Don’t pop your knuckles, you’ll get arthritis.”
“Don’t plant flowers on Sunday. They will die.”
My Great Uncle Willard always said, “One foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel.” Or my friend, Steve says, “I’m waiting for the other shoe to fall and praying for a one legged man.” In my mind, I’m always one misstep from being jobless, homeless, and friendless. There is a reason we are broken. We are out of the garden. But I think I’ve got it twisted as the young and hip say.
Another part of me thinks, I’m 45. Hopefully, I have a long way to go. Hopefully I do. If I do, then I’ve got to shake out of this “world view” or whatever the phrase is. All the phrases drive me mad. Phrases make me cynical. Thus I am reading this book. It comes highly recommended from a group of super smart colleagues. But mostly, as Lyle Lovett said, “You have to try.”
An old friend from church wants to help her mom make a cookbook. I met with them to give them the lay of the land for making a cookbook. I do this pretty often. After 13 years in publishing I know the ins and outs, the beginnings and the ends of how to make a book. Although, I can’t seem to get my own book published or sell copies but I’ve been associated with books that have sold six figures worth of units.
It always goes like this, “Is your friend on Instagram or YouTube?”
“No, not at all.”
“Does your friend have a large built in platform that they have developed with a brand?”
“No, not at all.”
“Well then, you are going to need to self publish.”
“Do you have the cash for a photographer?”
”Are they naturally great at marketing?”
“Do you have the cash for a typographer?”
“Do you have the cash for three rounds of editing, from substantive to proofreading?”
And it’s always no to all these questions. My answers to these questions are always “No,” also if you care to know. Technology made it possible that anyone can buy the tools. So anyone can do it. You can buy Photoshop and InDesign, you can buy a camera, though your phone might take a better picture. So you can use Reedsy to typeset and Canva to make a cover and your phone to take a picture and Grammerly to edit it. You can self publish if you have disposable income. No merit, no skill, no one said it was good. All you need is cash and vanity. That’s the only gatekeeper. But you can't pay anyone to care. Well, I guess you can, but that's L.A. money.
So why even write? Why even create something?
Because we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
And because you have to try.