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.