Singing Naked: Honesty on Stage

My mom swears I was born singing. I’m pretty sure it was colic. Regardless, music has always been an important part of my life. My early “naps” consisted of cooing on a swing. To shut me up soothe me, my parents drove me around, making song-like noises. (Though my parents have nice voices, neither is demonstrative about it. So my dream of The Johnson 7 never quite happened.) And each summer as we drove “up north,” I’d start a made-up song with the rev of the car engine and, to my brother’s dismay, continue until we pulled into the cabin driveway 4.5 hours later. If nothing else, I’ve got lungs.

"Nap" time

“Nap” time

For years, I didn’t care whether I was good; I simply loved singing. Around adolescence, everything changed. I started feeling insecure about most everything—my lack of smarts, my “ugliness,” my general un-coolness and my inability to sing or write good songs. I have loads of theories as to why this was the case; I’ll skip those for now. What’s important for this post is when and why that changed.

I was living and working as a model in Paris and, though I didn’t realize it, was pretty sick with anorexia. Before arriving to the illustrious city, I’d sold my guitar. Gone were the days of performing in the folk-rock trio I was in during high school. With no plans of performing solo or teaching, why would I play? During a photo shoot in which I played a winged, leafy-haired nymph, I spotted a guitar in the room’s corner. Though I continued to move for the cameras for several more hours, my mind stayed fixed on that guitar. The more I fixated, the tighter my throat felt—the prelude to tears. What was wrong with me?

Then it hit me. I was longing for music. Longing to sing, to play with all of my heart, whether anyone heard, saw or enjoyed it. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that that inclination was my desire to reconnect with my authentic self—the one then squelched by disease.

After the shoot, I yanked my copper fairy nails off and grabbed that guitar, strummed a few chords and shed a few tears, not caring if the crew deemed me odd or crazy. (They spoke only French, so I’ve no clue.) During the following weeks, that guitar frequented my thoughts, which was remarkable, considering that 110% of my thoughts prior to that involved food, weight and calories. Even after I passed out by the Seine—the Does Dirt Have Calories? experience—and flew home to Minnesota for treatment, I thought of that guitar. So I bought one. And the day I had my biggest turning point, deciding for real that I’d no longer live my life by E.D.’s rules, I stood before a mirror and out came Mirror Song.

A few of the lyrics:

Who are you, looking back at me?
In the mirror I see, everything but me.
Who are you, in all your beauty?
You’re black and blue. The pictures tell your story.
It’s not fair that you cry yourself to sleep each night;
And it’s not right that you hide your body and your mind.
If I give you my light, will you see that you’re all right?
Just don’t give up, not tonight.

From then on my voice came out louder, literally and figuratively. Feelings I couldn’t recognize or express in words poured out easily through song. Music undoubtedly played a crucial role in my recovery.

I’ve written songs off and on since, and while I’m still somewhat timid about my music, I’ve come to believe that the little girl I was was right: It doesn’t matter if we’re “good” or if people like what we create—not if we feel it in our hearts.

Toward that end, I’m doing a couple of slightly nerve-wrecking things: performing at Los Globos next Tuesday as part of my book release party, and sharing a rough, live performance of one of my songs here with you today.

I wrote the following song, Solitude (or Mr. Ground), for the patch of grass I fell in in Paris, but it’s really about learning as we go and growing comfortable with ourselves. It’s far from perfect performance-wise, but it’s honest, and I felt, as per usual, a whole heck of a lot when I sang it.

Sharing our work leaves many artists feeling naked, and rightfully. Little makes one more vulnerable to criticism, and when we put our honesty and hearts into our work, it’s particularly personal. But you know what? It’s so worth it. It may not inspire Girl Boners (though we never know!). It can, however, give people’s hearts a lift. I feel that often when I experience others’ work—including many of yours. I’m going to remind myself of this on stage Tuesday night, and do my best to stay true to the stories. I think I owe that to my heart. ♥ If you’re in the LA area, I hope you’ll consider joining me.

Do you get nervous sharing your work? Have a creative outlet besides writing? Have you ever written a song for a dirt patch? 😉 I always love hearing your thoughts.

Leave a comment

65 Comments

  1. Loved the song, August, beautifully performed. Best of luck at your Tuesday gig and add this post to your greatest hits.
    Karen

    Reply
  2. Wow, August. *wipes eyes* There have only been a few singers that I’ve ever heard that I’ve felt like they reached out and touched my soul. I’m adding you to this short list. You’ve got this incredible vulnerability…reminds me of Jewel…thank you for sharing it with us. I’m stunned.

    Also, I know what you mean about feeling you couldn’t recognize or express pouring out in your music. I often say I have no idea how I feel about something until I write it down. Keep singing, writing and playing…the world is a better place for it.

    Reply
    • I can’t tell you what your beautiful words mean, Shannon. Incredibly touching. Thank you! Thank goodness for creative expression, right?? We’re so dang lucky. 🙂

      Reply
  3. I was in in a rock band long ago and I played guitar. In the 5th grade…As you probably know, I graduated in art and switched to writing two years ago. I do feel naked sometimes when sending out my Christmas card or when I hit publish on my blog. I am getting more comfortable with my nudity as I get older, but I probably won’t sing and play guitar in front of anyone again. Although every so often, I play a really mean air guitar and rock out in my house!

    Go August! Love your song.

    Reply
    • Air guitar rocks! So do your gorgeous Christmas cards. 🙂 Maturity certainly does help with the nakedness… Thanks for the support, Susie!

      Reply
  4. “Sharing our work leaves many artists feeling naked, and rightfully.”

    Yup. Exactly that.

    It took me this long to publish a book for that reason. I don’t like to expose myself like that. In pretty much every way. I’ve always been self-conscious about everything – whether it be how I dressed and looked, to creative expression.

    I still shy away from putting myself out there.

    Lovely song, August – I really admire people that pursue what they love.

    Reply
  5. Might make (already kind of have made) listening to this part of a daily routine.

    The (relative) rawness is so great, but at the same time, if you could only bottle and sell that last note you sing, it would cure cancer, depression and male pattern baldness.

    Reply
  6. Beautiful song, August! I’m sorry I’m too far away to go to your performance. 😦 Good luck with it, my friend! *hugs*

    Reply
  7. Catherine Johnson

     /  March 7, 2013

    I need to get the speakers plugged back in, I’ll listen on my phone later. I wonder if we were in Paris at the same time, August. Probably not, I think I’m a lot older than you. So cool we must have walked the same beautiful streets. Good luck with your performance!

    Reply
    • I was in Paris in ’98/’99 and briefly a few years later… How awesome would it be to meet there one day? You could read your poetry while I strum my guitar in the background. 🙂 Thanks for the support!

      Reply
      • Catherine Johnson

         /  March 7, 2013

        I think I was there 95/96. I should have left a poem on a park bench for you lol. Yes that would be amazing. Not on a poet’s wage though 😉

  8. That was beautiful. You have an amazing voice. It is so brave to sing and give a reading all in one night! I can’t imagine. I hope you have a great time at your event. If LA wasn’t on the other side of the country, I would totally be there!

    Reply
  9. A creative outlet? When alone, I belt out Broadway show tunes in my car. Why in the car? Those who have heard my voice know. 🙂

    Reply
  10. I really enjoyed the song. Thanks for sharing.
    I don’t feel near as nervous now as I used to, but, yeah, it still gets to me.
    Scott

    Reply
  11. August, you are so dang talented girl! I’ve been having a melancholy morning, and your song hit the spot. Break a leg at the show! Wish I could go!!! Thanks for sharing your voice with us here, what a lovely way to start my morning!

    Reply
    • So happy to hear that it struck you at a useful time, Jess! Touched that you enjoyed it. 🙂 I hope you’re feeling sunnier, or do soon.

      Reply
  12. I’m a little jealous. I’ve always wished I could sing 🙂

    I’m comfortable blogging and I’m comfortable with selling magazine and newspaper articles, but I get hit with terror so strong I can barely breath at the thought of sharing my fiction. It’s much more personal for me than the other types of writing.

    Reply
    • I’m sure you have loads of skills I lack!
      And I know exactly what you mean about fiction feeling so much more personal. Singing my own songs is far more nerve-wrecking than singing others’, and feels a lot like sharing my diary out loud. 🙂

      Reply
  13. August, thank you for your soul-touching song! I especially love how finding that guitar was the spark that led to your healing. Music and our own beautiful, creative imaginings can carry us through to survive…over and over. I always wished I had musical talent to play an instrument. I play piano “barely” but singing was always what carried me through so many dark times. As a child I would roam the woods and climb the tallest part of the trees to sing my soul away. I sang in choirs thru school but not since…perhaps you’ve inspired me to find that love of singing again. 🙂

    Reply
    • Gorgeous imagery, Donna, you roaming the woods and singing your soul out. 🙂 I hope you do consider singing again, in some format. I bet it’ll be as medicinal now for you now as it was then.

      Reply
  14. August, why am I not at all surprised to have one more thing in common with you? I, too, need music to ground me as much as to free me. (As for the family music thing…mine DID have that for a little while…of course divorce has a way of breaking up the band.) You have a lovely voice, and the song moved me to tears.
    While I didn’t have the eating disorder, music has seen me through some pretty significant rough patches in my life where I was unsure if I’d come out on the other side of things. In fact, it was quite fortuitous that I received a call from a minister friend of mine the day after I lost my job, telling me that the praise team at his church had changed their meeting day to a Wednesday. When I mentioned my recent circumstances, his immediate response was, “So you don’t have plans. Perfect! Nothing heals the heart more than making a joyful noise.” Of course I went.
    Music is what runs through my veins.Writing is what exposes my soul. Thankfully, they work hand in hand. Thank you for baring your soul for us. It is beautiful!

    Reply
    • I love that we share this in common, Kitt! I’ve found that many writers and work I click has some sort of root in music. I swear there’s a link!

      That minister was your guitar—a savvy one at that. 🙂 Thanks for the beautiful words!

      Reply
  15. Naked. Yep, that describes it exactly. I wish I could come to your party, August. I’m taking a rain check for sure. Someday! Would love to hear you sing in person. You sound lovely–heart lifting. 🙂

    Reply
  16. What a beautiful voice and honest song August. Didn’t the time go fast on Monday? Here I sat right next to you and I so wanted to talk to you about your music and Paris. I’ve had the privilege to visit that awesome city several times. I wish I could come on Tuesday, but at the moment I am driving around on bald tires. So I don’t think it would be wise to make that kind of trip. I really appreciated get together with you and hope we can do something like that again soon. I wish you all the best at your Bookl launch party! {{Hugs!}} 🙂

    Reply
  17. Oh, I loved the song. You can hear your passion in your voice.

    I love to play the piano but I’ve never tried to write any songs. Playing is therapeutic for me and quite often I find it difficult to play for others because it’s such a special feeling for me when I play. I do feel sort of naked when I let others see that talent. I can sing in front of people, but playing is a completely different feeling for me.

    I wish you much success on your book launch party and with your new singing gig. I wish I lived closer to come support you.

    Patricia Rickroce
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Reply
    • Thanks, Patricia! Isn’t it funny how one aspect of performance can seem easy, and others, nerve-wrecking? I’m so glad that you have piano playing as therapy. 🙂 I totally get that!

      Reply
  18. That was beautiful, August. I love to sing, unfortunately, I can’t carry a tune. So, I only do it at home and alone in the car. But that’s okay, music still touches my heart. And your song certainly did. Best wishes for Tuesday night. 🙂

    Reply
    • I bet you’re GREAT at karaoke, then! I love it when someone who lacks, say, pitch, gets up and sings anyway. It’s inspiring. 🙂 Thanks so much for the support, Rhonda.

      Reply
  19. I hope I get the words right, August, because your song is a testimony to where you were when you fell in that dirt, and the inspiration you’ve since become.

    “I am growing, I am thriving…”

    “Turn this loneliness into sweet solitude…

    I plan to listen to this song many times. There was so much honesty and healing imbedded in the words. And, your voice? OMG, I could listen to you sing forever.

    You have talent in so many areas; the one I most appreciate is your spirit when you share both your experiences and beautiful “you” with us.

    I know you’ll thrive (not just survive) at your book launch party. You earned it. Your book deserves it. Your voice and lyrics will bring it home. Oh. How. I. Wish. I. Could. Be. There.

    Reply
    • I’m so touched, Gloria (and yes, you got the words right!). Thanks for the wonderful support. We will share a stage someday—with lamp shades, boas and all!

      Reply
      • Laughing, August. When I listened to your song the first time, I thought, “Ruh-roh. The Amish Erotics so don’t fit on stage with this piece.”

        Perhaps (?) if we choreographed graceful ribbon-like moves with the boas?

        Um. Nope. You’re going to have roll out your rock for the Erotics.

      • LOL Fear not! You’ll pair beautifully with “Girl Boner Blues” and “Rock That Twat.” 😉

  20. August, you are such an amazing and talented person. I feel so honored to know you through our writers’ group. And I know you’ll knock them dead on Tuesday!

    There is a little plaque that rests on top of my piano (that I never play when anyone can hear me because I’m awful, but I love it!) The plaque says: “Music leads us to a window to heaven and lets us peek in.” I also love to sing (even though I can’t carry a tune very well) because I feel like song really expresses what’s in our hearts and souls.

    Your voice is heavenly, sweetie, and your heart and soul are beautiful!

    Reply
    • What a gorgeous quote, Kassandra! And fitting. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support. Very grateful to have met you, too!

      Reply
  21. Ahh that Pesky Guitar in the Corner, giving us that “come hither” look. You now that look – it puts that un-repressible urge to just pick it up—“Come on, you know you want to Play Me”

    lol IN fact my Strat is leaning against my office door in plain sight giving me that same sleazy come-on all week. I know it needs a change of strings, as I haven’t played that one (my favorite) in a couple years or more, but what is a little tetanus among guitar lovers. RIGHT?

    I can’t write, but I cam play, arrange, produce, and as You August obviously know, when you have that JONES to play, it almost, no, it DOES hurt when you don’t.

    Good luck Tuesday. And Yes it IS like being onstage naked, but all of us who have that gnawing inside to get back up there—WE LOVE IT.

    Remember – Playing on stage is Better than Sex. Because you can do it in public, it is a gratification like no other feeling, and you really can do it all night- or at least for few hours before your fingers bleed!

    That’s My take on it. (now where did I see my last and only guitar pick)

    BTW – a very nice tune you wrote, and your voice is an ear catcher—so I sure you will get many applause.

    Nuff Said.

    Reply
  22. This is a really beautiful song and you have bag loads of talent (not jealous at all ;)) Put it up on iTunes! Anyway, well done for putting yourself out there, it’s so brave and inspiring and good this will happen I know it. Good luck at the show!

    Reply
  23. Stunning and poignant post that deeply touched my heart and spirit. A wonderful reminder for all of us to channel that inner child that soared with a free spirit unaware of anything other than the feelings of happiness and peace…

    BEAUTIFUL song…good luck Tuesday night…I know you’ll do beautifully because your inner light shines so wonderfully bright…

    Thank you…for always sharing YOU!

    Reply
  24. Oh, August, this was so, so lovely. (Just like you, dearie!) My heart goes out to that gal at the photo shoot, and the gal in the mirror. I’m glad you took good care of them so that you’re whole once again. Enjoy your concert!

    Hugs,
    Kathy

    Reply
  25. Raani York

     /  March 9, 2013

    How beautiful, August. I wish I could be there for your gig!! You’re such a wonderful singer, artist, writer and of course person! I’m proud to be your friend!!
    Thank you for a great blog post once again!

    Reply
  26. Kourtney Heintz

     /  March 10, 2013

    I’m so glad you picked up the guitar again and never let it go. 🙂 Best of luck with your performances!!!

    I am doing a reading in April and already feel the moths in my stomach. I’m more worried about not doing my work justice because of nerves. But I’m hoping a lot of practice will help. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks, Kourtney! I know you’ll rock your reading.

      I’ve practiced my songs for people who intimidate me (which is most anyone up close, rather than from stage). Seems to have helped, or so I hope! Even practicing our nerves can take the edge off. 😉 Good luck!

      Reply
      • Kourtney Heintz

         /  March 14, 2013

        Thanks August! Good advice–maybe I’ll practice for my mom–she’s a tough critic even when she’s supporting me. 😉

  27. Aw man, you are so freaking talented! That’s such a beautiful song. I so wish I could be there on Tuesday! You’ll be amazing as always. Let your naked self shine through, it’s gorgeous inside and out.

    Reply
  28. I’m terrified of failure, so I am reluctant to share my work, but I’ll never give up.

    Reply
  29. Beautiful.

    Reply
  30. Reading about your HS insecurities is mind-blowing. “Around adolescence, everything changed. I started feeling insecure about most everything—my lack of smarts, my ‘ugliness,’ my general un-coolness and my inability to sing or write good songs.”

    Those of us who knew you then were in awe of your smarts, beauty, coolness, and ability to sing. Not sure who you were comparing yourself to in order to feel inadequate.

    Too bad it’s so hard in HS to ask friends for the feedback you really need. And so wonderful to see your dent in the universe taking shape.

    Reply
    • Lovely to hear from you, Charles. Thanks for the thoughtful note—-means a lot from you.

      It’s crazy how powerful self-perception can be, and how easily and severely it can be damaged… Thank goodness it’s changeable. I hope all’s wonderful in your world. 🙂

      Reply
  31. Raani York

     /  March 16, 2013

    I’ve tagged you. This is some kind of “Blog Tag” Award. If you go to http://raaniyork.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/tag-it/ you will find out quickly what it is. TAG – You’re it!!

    Reply
  32. This is really sweet to read. Very courageous of you to do.
    Naked: I feel the same while singing in front of others, or sharing something I’ve written. You are brave for knowing who your authentic self is. That moment you described of seeing the guitar really moved me. You were also very true to your self and did what you needed to do in that moment and did it without being apologetic. I mentioned this aspect of “nakedness on stage” in one of my posts. Many artists relate to this feeling.

    Reply
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