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Feeling Fab!

An audio version of this essay is available on Substack here.

I was in Liverpool last week, where I spent a few days at Soundhouse studio recording final tracks for my latest masterpiece. Staying at the prestigious Ibis downtown (ahem), I traced the footsteps of the young Fab Four, down Dale Street to the docks, up serpentine alleys to timeless pubs, past the Cavern Club and over to Penny Lane, always in a grey drizzle. Two of us wearing raincoats. I prayed for divine intervention and welcomed all inspiration from the same streets that surely lit the creative flame of my favorite band and its artistic genius.

Recording an album is expensive. There are musicians, recording engineers, and a producer to pay; studio time to rent; guitars, keyboards, and software to buy; and travel to book. Some in my creative circle play for free or at a discount, and I so deeply appreciate that. But most are professionals and business is business, ... despite their great love for Bill Magill and his music. Loved working with you again my friend, here’s my invoice.

Creating great art can be an exhausting series of frustrations and exhilarations. Writing, painting, composing, or whatever the oeuvre; one’s obsession with getting it right is both time consuming and draining. And for it to be great, you must be obsessed. With music there are melodies to compose, lyrics to write, an orchestra of instruments to arrange and their scores to draft, tempos and time signatures and dynamics to consider, and negotiations on all of it with those supporting the project. I’m blessed to have a key collaborator in David Dower, a brilliant keyboardist and classically trained musician who challenges my choices and keeps me on track. He also transforms my journeyman piano parts into sublime works of virtuosity.

So this project was an ambitious endeavor. It took 2 years to complete, ... and that’s just the first 5 songs. (The B side is scheduled for later this year.) I may work slowly and get distracted, but I never stop working. To reach this point sacrifices were required, travel delayed, invitations declined, pennies pinched. If you commit to unreasonably audacious ambitions (and you should) this may sound familiar. I sold my much-loved 2007 Land Rover to support the budget, particularly for the final push in Liverpool. Damn, I loved that car.

Is all this the price of fame? Probably fewer than 1,000 people will give this release a listen, for now, and perhaps just a tenth of that. So why do it? This is the question.

Why do it?

Writing music is something I cannot not do. When my antennas are up the melodies invade, usually when I’m unusually happy or sad, hurt or in love. Some are banal bits of flotsam that get quickly discarded. Others are curious flirtations that get hummed into Music Memos for a relisten down the road. And a few are real gems. At least I think there’s enough diamond in that rough to sit at the piano or with my guitar and start tinkering in the moment.

I feel an obligation to get the gems heard. It’s as if the gods of song have selected me to be their channel of diffusion. That these creations didn’t come as much from me as through me. I’ve heard other songwriters express the same sentiment, talents far beyond my own including McCartney, Dylan, and Cohen. My bet is that artists of all types experience this creative possession. An inspired flourish of paint and the canvas comes alive; the mad push through a new chapter and an unexpected story angle suddenly emerges. It can be spooky, as in where the hell did that come from? It is also quite wondrous, this sense of helpless possession powered by things curiously mystical and otherworldly.

And now you

The obsessed are not all artists (thank god). Noah built a boat. Jobs reimagined personal electronics. I suspect that both experienced many a moment of doubt and pain (more lyrics from a little-known British band). I suspect as well that Jobs’ obsessive pursuit of the elegant-form-meets-function vanishing point was something he could not not do, profitability be damned. Noah, on the other hand, had little choice (or so I’ve read).

Is there a mad quest or grand ambition that you feel compelled to pursue, that you cannot not do? In younger years we have endless excuses to defer: other financial priorities like kids and home; other time commitments like family and work. One beauty of aging is the gradual easing of obligations to other priorities and clearance to focus on our own. I’ve talked about the merits of legacy-defining ambitions often in earlier postcards. Perhaps now is the time to write your own legacy. Not one that will be audited for profitability or even popularity, but simply the purest expression of beautiful you. 


PS: Lights Up on The Vivid Stage is in post production now and scheduled for a July release, initially through the Bill Magill website. Stay tuned for more information. It’s sounding great!

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