In a conversation with Michael Barbaro for the New York Times’ podcast ‘The Daily’, journalist Wesley Morris says “You know, there’s always a moment whenever I’m watching or listening or reading anything — you’re waiting for this moment for something in you to change”. When I heard this, a year and a half ago, I was deep in the process of writing my album ‘Someone New’, and this sentence took a specific meaning for me. I was grappling with ideas surrounding (especially sudden) self-transformation and renewal and thinking about the ways I try to invite change into a sense of self experienced as fairly linear. Morris’ idea seemed to echo one of mine: the best case scenario in consuming a work of art is having it change your life, albeit in imperceptible ways.
That moment when something in you changes sometimes occurs when you encounter an idea that seems like the crystallization of a vague sentiment of your own: a key to unlock a thought in your mind you couldn’t quite access, having not put words on it or seen it in this particular light. And when you encounter an idea, say, in prose or poetry, spelled out black on white, it resonates deeply as though you had long been ripe to welcome it like one of your own. You’re available to let it change you.
That’s what happened for me when I read Rilke’s description of friendship in “Letters to a Young Poet”, or Mary Oliver’s classic poem about belonging, “Wild Geese”, or Gabrielle Roy’s depiction of the impact ephemeral encounters can leave on your imagination: they felt like ideas that changed me, giving a growth spurt to my conception of friendship, of belonging, or of the impact of ephemeral encounters. As Basho wrote nearly four hundred years ago, “the temple bell stops—but the sound keeps coming out of the flowers”.
I like to think my lyrics behold (sometimes in a wink, other times perhaps in more of an unsubtle gawk) the prose and poetry that changed me. Not only because I wouldn’t even want to try to say it better, but also because I am proud of the references that I hold close to my heart. I love having them in my songs. In this sense, I think no matter how experimented I become at songwriting, I will never stop quoting the ones who have preceded me and whose words I’ve loved, and whom I hope I don’t copy, but from whom I feel I inherit as a person and would love to inherit as a writer.
Finally, by working on this record, I was thrilled to confirm that writing also changes you. I’ve never read much by Foucault, but this isolated quote resonated when I stumbled on it a few months ago: “However boring, however erudite my books may be, I’ve always conceived of them as direct experiences aimed at pulling myself free from myself, at preventing me from being the same”.