I think it’s not possible to be a songwriter without being a kind of instrument for other people.
In a way, when you’re making music you’re a conduit for what’s in the air, not just the culture and times you’re living in, but human spirit.
That was my experience early on. As a young boy, I was never invited to anyone’s party. I felt invisible. My social interactions were forced, unnatural performances. Strumming the guitar alone in my room was the most natural thing in the world to me.
In my teens I discovered the music I had been waiting my whole young life to hear. The singers I let in were not just my teachers, but confidantes I felt I would be able to talk to – after all, they were talking to me. My early songwriting was an attempt at dialog, a response to them.
I felt that the voices in the songs were my companions. I let them into my bedroom (and eventually my dorm room, and later my car) when no one else was around. I let them into my ears when I wasn’t listening to anybody else in the world.
It’s unusual, isn’t it, how we become so vulnerable with complete strangers. It’s natural to be reluctant to drop our emotional defenses for just anyone. Even with family and close friends, there are some things we just don’t share. But our favorite musicians, we let in. I really didn’t understand why until I began recording and performing my own songs.
Gradually, it became so clear: We trust the singers we love — to cheer us up, take us down, inspire and console us. The reason why we trust them is because they are vulnerable.
I am as easily torn and not easily mended as anybody else. By sharing my humanness through songs, I make myself vulnerable to the listener. The music reveals a type of strength, I think, which makes the listener feel I’m pretty good company to have around. I make her feel … safe.
Today when I write and sing something that’s really worth remembering and responding to, I’m remembering them, my strange companions. I’m releasing into the world again their quiet yet forceful musical spirits.
The kind of response I’m really after is for one of them, somehow, to drop me a line just to say, “Good song, Tony.” That’s what I really want. That, and to make you, the listener, feel it’s okay.