No. 70: pretty good success

“You’ve had pretty good success doing music. (You’ve been a professional: made a living doing it.)” So writes Dereck Sivers, founder of CD Baby. “You enjoyed it. You’d recommend it to others.” Hmmm. Let’s see. First, I think we ought to define “pretty good,” and “success” too. And let me interject here that I like Dereck, whom I’ve never met. That’s just the point—he always makes you feel like a personal friend. Even though scrolling through the names, you will find thousands of people selling their product on CD Baby. Likely you will find the names of friends and colleagues there. But if you’re like me you’ll be even more blown away by the sheer number of people you never heard of who are involved in this game. Pretty good is how you feel when you wake up after a night of drinking more alcohol than you should have and you feel like you might have got away with it. Maybe you’re happy you remembered to drink a tall glass of water and take an aspirin before you went to bed. Pretty good is not bad. But you wouldn’t want to say you feel great. The hammer might still be waiting. A pretty-good success falls a little short of unqualified greatness. In English we say “better than nothing.” In Spanish they say “Peor es nada, or worse is nothing. I guess it all depends on your perspective. “You enjoyed it.” Here again, the associations that come to mind with enjoyment do not exactly jibe with experience. I think of enjoyment as the feeling we get from some kind of hobby or leisure activity. To me it’s like you asked, have you enjoyed circumnavigating the globe alone in a small sailboat. To be sure, but there’s a lot more to it. Joy, yes: Fierce, transcendent joy—and terror and misery to boot. And all the beauty you can stand. “Would you recommend it to others?” Only to say, ignore it at your peril. In other words, music is a vocation, a gift. From god you might say. If you’ve got it, you ought to follow where it leads. To do anything less will never bring much happiness or satisfaction. If you have a gift it’s for you to pass along. How do we measure “success?” I must have asked myself a million times. I always come back to survival. If you’ve had a lasting career, won the respect of your peers, produced a body of work, have fans who buy and collect it, then I’d say you’re successful. If by success you mean that you’ve managed to live exclusively from your music, and never had to teach, or drive a truck, or work in a store, then I’d have to say good for you. But in my experience very few of us meet that criteria; of all the musicians and songwriters I’ve known over the years I could count on one hand those who’ve made it exclusively on their talent and luck. And, let’s face it, over and over there is a life-partner, a wife or significant other bringing home a paycheck in the times when art does not pay. When you look at the history, even geniuses such as Bach and Beethoven were teaching, working for the man. The idea of any kind of art paying for itself is a fairly recent phenomenon. Dereck has one more point, “You’re ready to spend more paid time helping other musicians be successful, now.” I don’t know about “paid time,” unless I’m missing something here. It seems the only payment we can expect from helping others can’t be measured in money. Looking back, there were teachers who helped me. There are still people out there helping me. It seems to me no matter how successful we are—however we may define the word—there’s always more to learn. We could all use a little help, and we ought to help others whenever we can. While I failed to win the Texas Music Academy “singer-songwriter of the year” award in Palestine, Texas back in May, I’d like to thank all the people who took the time and trouble to vote. For an expatriate living in Switzerland, the nomination itself came as a considerable honor, as did the invitation to perform at the show. Joined by Franci Files Jarrard on accordion, and her husband Stephen on Guitarron, I thought we played okay. We had a large theater crowd, and not a lot of monitor, so I wasn’t sure at the time. After a couple of people told me our part was one of the highlights of the show, I upgraded the experience to outstanding success. That’s not all. A package came in the mail a couple of days ago, from Steve Young in Nashville. Inside a copy of his latest CD, called Stories Round the Horseshoe Bend. (Starry Pyramid Records) Recorded live in 2006, I knew it was coming out, but it had slipped my mind. I have a song in this collection, “Useful Girl,” a song that came to me years ago by way of a Thomas McGuane novel, Nobody’s Angel. The story of a Cheyenne Indian girl buried with thimbles on her fingers, Claudia Appling, who goes by the name of Montana Rose, recorded it, as did Amy Gallatin, a bluegrass artist, and Susan Hedges, a singer from the U.K. A novelist by the name of Marcus Stevens wrote a book called Useful Girl. As someone suggested, it’s almost as if the spirit of this young woman still lives on. And now to cap it off, Steve Young has recorded it. Pretty good by any reckoning, I’m simply speechless. To have an artist of Steve’s stature record one of my songs humbles me beyond words. 21 June 2008 Richard J. Dobson Schmiedgasse 4 CH-8253 Diessenhofen Switzerland


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CURRICULUM VITAE KENNETH ALEXANDER MURRAY Date of Birth: Place of Birth: London, Ontario Citizenship: Marital Status: Married (3 children) Undergraduate Education: Bishop Ridley CollegeSt. Catharines, OntarioUniversity of Western Ontario, London, OntarioGraduate Bachelor of Arts (BA) Degrees/Certificates: Graduated MD, Dalhousie University Halifax, Nova ScotiaFellow Ameri

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