The Presumptuousness of the Singer-Songwriter

Anyone who has gotten up to sing an original song in front of a crowd walks a tightrope between the twin poles of humiliating rejection and triumphant embrace. Regardless of what she is singing about, the singer-songwriter trades in intimacy. She makes herself vulnerable, exposes herself by the very act of raising her voice to sing her own song in public. She begs our indulgence.

But what makes us grant that indulgence? To come across, she must disarm and woo not only the hostile or indifferent crowd, but the indulgent crowd as well.

A beautiful voice, a catchy melody, a clever turn of phrase, a charming persona, a passionate delivery can capture our attention and seduce us. To make us hang onto every word – the singer songwriter’s holy grail – she must have something to say.

But what to say? The confessional singer-songwriter writes from her own life. But it is certainly not her life experiences that make us want to listen. The political writer tells us what’s wrong with the world. But political opinions don’t make us want to listen. The theatrical or comic writer makes observations about character or life in general. But a set of observations isn’t enough.

What we really are listening for are original and universal truths. That’s all. So that when she raises her voice in front of the crowd, we know it’s not about her, it’s about us all.

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