The 10 Minute Tune: Comedy, Criticism, and The trump effect

Every so often, I drag myself out of bed wayyyy too early in the morning to head down to the local NashFM station here in Nashville, TN to meet with some wonderful radio personalities in Ty, Kelly, & Chuck and have a laugh. The premise is: have the audience throw out some current topics, choose one of the suggested, and write a song about the trending news in 10 minutes. It's basically a lightning round of songwriting prowess. In my previous 10 minute tunes, I've hit topics such as: Kid Rock's potential senate race, the movie IT, and the winner of Miss America. It's a good mental exercise, it gives my current fans some more content to listen to that isn't a recording, and it brings name recognition to potentially new fans. By all rights and privileges, it's a wonderful thing to do, and worth the loss of sleep.

But this week the topic chosen was the disgruntled Twitter employee who, in a last ditch effort before leaving their job, deleted Donald Trump's twitter account. This is a last-day of employment hijink of some pretty epic proportions. I think we've all, in some deep fantasy in our minds, thought about quitting a job with a mic-drop of some repute. There's something so terribly human about it. Satisfying in some way. I thought it was great fodder for a silly tune. I knew it might be a touchy subject, but I decided to take it on anyway.

 

 

I did the tune, went home, and slept it off. I usually get a few comments, a few shares, and a few fans out of the deal. It's all fun and games. But this week was different. I woke up to comments like:

 

"Nice so-called "tune". I'm sure you lost a few listeners today."

"This is the worst 10 minute tune ever. Do us all a favor and not invite him back."

 

Listen, these are but two rough messages among an equal or greater number of positive messages, and could just as easily be laughed off, as life on the internet just is what it is sometimes. But here's what really got me: I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out what about this song was wrong. It was well crafted, it had some great call-back references to particularly funny Trump tweets. I feel like, of all of the actions of our current president, one of the things we can all laugh about is the seeming child-like, out of the box, silly things he is wont to say on social media. The amount of coverage his 140 characters get in actual legitimate media sources is egregious. The whole thing, to me, is absurd. 

But I guess I was wrong?

 

So here were a couple of someones trying to voice their opinion that my opinion of someone else's opinion was somehow not only unnecessary, but should maybe be disallowed. That anyone who may have become fans of my real, hard-earned, heartfelt, and true art should put it away because of a slight comedic criticism of a public figure, was a tough pill to swallow. It felt to me (for lack of a better term) laughable.

Art is meant to be a conversation starter. It is something to be commented on, derived, and ruminated over. Disagreement and dissent to an opinion is welcomed; encouraged even. But the desire to weaponize that distaste by taking away opportunities and/or evolving one's personal criticism of art's content into a personal affront about the nature of an artist or his/her craft, is what caught me awry in these particular comments. It wasn't just that they disagreed. But the assumption for them was that my opinion was invalid because it ran against their own, and for that:

My art was bad. 

I was bad.

I should be silenced.

 

The irony that divisive rhetoric on a social media platform was being used to defend a man who uses divisive rhetoric on social media platforms is not lost on me.

The point of the song was to high five a guy/girl for quitting his/her job in an epic way, and bringing 11 minutes of quote-unquote peace to a tumultuous time in our nation's history. It's meant to be funny.

Despite these guys' desire to be offended, laughing at one's self is a healthy, reasonable way to live. I'm sorry that it is an action our current president refuses to do. I'm sorry it's a thing some now refuse to do as a result. I realize he may be 'your guy'. Funny thing is, you probably feel like your guy isn't half as divisive as his predecessor. 

Obama made strides in protecting the most vulnerable of our population, and he pardoned the previous administration for potential war crimes in a seeming attempt at unity and solidarity, and tried to make Healthcare universally accessible in a recessive economy.

He also approved drone strikes, bailed out a crooked financial sector for its unethical practices, and failed to pass any kind of financial campaign reform further handing the political system over to monied interests. 

Even if he was 'someone else's guy', there are actions he took that are worthy of being criticized

The point is: in a free democracy, no one gets to escape criticism for making questionable judgment calls. Otherwise you're dancing the line between patriotism and idolatry.

Idolatry, especially of a fallible human being in a complicated modern political system, is not the best idea in the world.

 

And I seriously can't believe I need to defend a comedy song, written in 10 minutes at 6 in the morning, to a man I've never met, because he felt personally offended by it enough to personally attack me.

But please, let us continue to allow the leader of the free world to say whatever he'd like without recourse, because he is great, and right, and correct, and big, and important. No questions asked. Ad infinitum.

But that's the world that we live in now: when a social media platform is used to share divisive rhetoric because it's been normalized by a leader who uses social media to spread divisive rhetoric... etc. etc. etc.

Serenity now.

If only for 11 minutes.

#ItsHere

I'm *&$@$*ing exhausted.

Overwhelmed. Worn down. And immensely grateful.

Grateful to friends and family for their support, and words, and reposts, and party hosting, and texts of encouragement. Grateful to my loving wife for her insane amount of patience, work, and laying her future on the line for this. Grateful to strangers taking the bold step in reaching out to an artist they heard for the first time to tell them what it meant to do so. I just... I'm a wreck in every conceivable fashion. I don't deserve any of this. I'm humbled by it, but I don't deserve it. I think that might be the hardest part. I don't think you understand.

I had to do this.

If I'd never done this, I'd have never done anything. As it stands, all hyperbole aside, this was the record of my life. As my wife said so eloquently: 

 

This album is the culmination of the last 12 years of our journey. I couldn't be more proud of Kenny for channeling every struggle and question and heartbreak into beautiful, honest art. It is a terrifying venture to be vulnerable, yet he offers it unabashedly. This life is a beautiful gift and a complicated struggle and accepting both aspects to the journey is where peace can be found. I hope this album harkens to that. As Kenny shares his story with authenticity, I pray you hear your own within it and it gives you the comfort that we are all in this together, because we are. I am so excited this is out in the world and can't wait for your hearts to experience and be moved by the beauty within.
 

I know darn well that not everybody is gonna be on board with this record. You can't hope for perfection, but you can hope that people will interact with a piece of yourself and maybe see some of themselves in that. The idea that someone else out there is made up of the same stuff. It's a comforting thought, for sure. One that I know will connect with the people its meant to connect with.

All I've ever wanted to do was make music that helped people feel understood.

I figured it would serve to bring folks who thought, dreamed, and felt like me into the fold of my circle of friends, but something about my education in moving to Nashville made me feel like I was incapable of doing that without validation, or management, or some kind of deal. There was suddenly this other game afoot, and it was the only one that mattered. A game of self-referencing importance that either invited you to play in the sandbox, or laughed at you for being outside of it. Or even worse: completely ignored you precisely because you were outside of it.

So do you fight your way in? Build your own sandbox? Stomp in and try to ruin their party? What's your motivation for doing any of those? You need to dig deeper.

I read this this week. There's some truth here. Modernity is kinda screwing with our social prioritization mechanism. It's making us less human. By quantifying everything, we wind up serving numbers rather than content. Follows rather than respect. Amount of content over depth of character.

But everything that has the power to move, change, alter reality; every piece of truth that exists and is put out into the world can pervade time and space and machines and the mechanics of a business based on impressions. It can cut way deeper than that.

Art done right is that thing. It holds real power.

Some beautiful, kind, and well-meaning folks have been so good to me in praising my perseverance, my going against the grain, my refusal to give up on following my dream, etc. I am so, so, so thankful for those words, and that encouragement. But let's not sugar coat it. At some point, I was too far in to this thing to give up. You either plow all the way through, or count the last decade of your life as a loss. I just wasn't willing to do the second thing.

I didn't come this far to only come this far.

But I needed a new motivation. There were bigger reasons to get through this thing than to stroke my own fragile ego. This couldn't be for recognition. This couldn't be for validation. No, that pursuit ended a long time ago. If I'd done all of this for that, it would have been finished after the 20th time I'd been rejected in a publishers meeting, or the 50th time I played to an empty house. I kept asking myself, "Am I crazy?!?" "Am I the guy on the American Idol auditions they brought in as a joke for ratings?" I had to be talked off a metaphorical ledge so many times. To reevaluate, and pivot, and reinvent, and go back to the drawing board, and distill, and dig.

At some point, my frivolous first-world struggle to be seen and known, and heard in a superfluous pursuit to "matter" took on a whole new meaning for me.

I had to get out of the damn way.

I had to do this for all of the people who never get to even try to do this.

People who have unsupportive friends, families, spouses. People that have a mountain of debt, or family obligations, or maybe just lack the self-confidence to think that they can do anything other than what they've always done in a place they've always known. People that think they have it all figured out and find out that they don't. People who are seen as already having it all figured out and know deep down in their hearts that they don't. Honesty, vulnerability. I'm not trying to over-glorify or pull a martyr mentality out of this. There are artists who have been eating ramen and living in a van for decades to serve this music thing, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for those warriors. I won't even begin to pretend that I know a thing about their plight.

But I do have my own story. My own struggles. My own opus. 

"All the tear-soaked stories of pain, run together, start to sounding the same, but the shame is that it doesn't make any of 'em any less true."

I know my story may be 'unique', but the emotions and the struggles and the shared human experience isn't unique at all. If you distill anything down enough, you'll find the raw essence of truth buried in there somewhere. If there's nothing there when you dig, then it's probably not worth keeping around

This record is as much a celebration of what life CAN be than what it is. I'm pretty over reality television. I want to watch some "better than reality" television. I need something to strive for, to look up to, to want to model, to want to be. I need heroes. I need people better than me. I want to shine a light on those people. I want it to not just feel real, but to BE real. So to put this project that is so very real to me out into the world, to light a flare and scream into the ether not knowing what will come back is some scary shit. And there is no guarantee it's gonna work.

But that's where faith comes in.

If faith isn't present in your life, then you won't do the thing you're meant to do/be/become. Look, no one has the answers. At the end of all human knowledge there is a leap either towards or away from hope. The lead up is the same. The view into the abyss is the same. Your life and its experiences may very well end up the same, regardless of which outlook you choose. But I, for one, in the face of uncertainty will continue to choose hope.

I imagine if you're reading this, you feel the same way.