“I didn’t want to be no, pop singer…”
I don’t think that I’d heard the song “Pop Singer” by John Mellencamp for more than twenty years. The rocker from Indiana has had dozens of hit songs, but this one hasn’t gotten the airtime that timeless songs like “Jack and Diane”, “Pink Houses” or “Paper in Fire” have received. Pop Singer peaked at #15 on the billboard charts in the United States.
“I didn’t want to write no, pop song…”
When that song was in heavy circulation back in 1989, it confused me because it was a pop song, he did write it, and it was very popular. So it seemed hypocritical and a mixed message to me, stating he didn’t want to do it but he was making money off of it. But I didn’t get that Mellencamp was singing about not wanting to do something to make the point.
“Never wanted to have my manager over for dinner..”
In 1989, I had a dream but not the talent or drive to be a rock star. I had the obligatory long hair, I had the v neck guitar and I lived for music. But deep down, I had no confidence that I could or would be any good in music. I did have many friends in New York that were playing live shows, some opening for semi-famous bands and going out on tour. I got a small, morsel sized sample of the industry, but I’d never thought about the messy inside of the business until I heard the line about the manager.
“Never wanted to hang out, after the show…”
It was when I heard this line, just a few days ago, that I stopped the music, stopped what I was doing and did a little research into the origins of this song. I’ve known that the lyrics were sarcastic, but I wasn’t old enough or mature enough to get it as a teenager. Back then, it was all about “after the show”. The parties, the girls and the madness. Was Mellencamp so drab that he really didn’t want to hang out after the show?
I began relating this to the world I’m in now. A world where so many are vying for attention to get noticed- the writers, podcasters, speakers, bloggers, etc. The parallels were uncomfortably common. I started to understand more where Mellencamp was coming from when he wrote the song.
He wrote this song because he was upset with the way his manager had created and shaped his image. He had many name changes during the early part of his career, including the cringe worthy Johnny Cougar. As Mellencamps career evolved, he took more liberty and control, making it about the music and not his image. So he avoided so many of the trivialities that others were coerced into doing, like the meet and greets, radio station concerts and the cheesy promotions that usually come with the gig.
“Just want to make it real- good, bad or indifferent…”
I honestly didn’t know that was a line of the song until this week as I did research. Since 1989, it was nothing more that a mumbly, incoherent line to me. Now, it’s my favorite line of the song. The more time goes on, the more that I appreciate his approach. I fight against so much of what is expected of me in this industry. I’ve heard countless times that If I don’t promote myself, nobody will know anything about me. But the people that I admire don’t focus on promotion, they focus on the quality of their work. It’s exactly what Mellencamp talked about. It wasn’t about the image- it was about the music.
I don’t care to self promote. I have no interest in doing what everyone tells me to do to be noticed more. I’m not doing videos of me being someone I’m not to get noticed. I don’t hire other people to write or create content. If my name is on it, I wrote it. Our focus has always been that the quality should drive the success.
If the quality itself doesn’t drive success, than the quality needs to be better. To me, it’s plain and simple. It’s ironic, because Mellencamp never wanted to be a pop singer. He never wanted to write pop songs. But because he was true to himself and his music, he had more than sixteen hit songs on the billboard charts.
Ignoring all of the gimmicks that he was pushed to do while keeping an intense focus on actual work is the marketing that set him apart. Focusing on the quality, and being authentically you, might be the best promotion that you can do.
I’m not going to try and pretend like everything is normal.
I know a lot of people are struggling right now. It feels as if the Covid-19 cloud is lifting oh so slightly, but the rain and mist from it keeps dampening so much around us. Some people vow to not watch the news. Others are obsessed by it. Some have had their entire businesses destroyed. Others are having an amazing year. Some are wondering if will retain current clients, some are investing in their growth, some are in fear and some are angry.
And some people are all of those at the same time.
Personally, I’ve had some amazing conversations about the madness that has occurred in the past two months. I’ve also had some lively disagreements. From the title of our business, Total Life Freedom, and the podcast by the same name, freedom is something that I hold as extremely valuable. Others have told me flat out that they will sacrifice freedom from safety. So, obviously, our values do not align.
So how do we navigate this powder keg of a situation?
I can tell you first hand how not to do it.
I’d like to think that I’m grown up enough to not get into social media arguments. I don’t think I’ve ever changed anyones mind like that, and I don’t think I’ve ever had my mind changed that way either. But just like slowing down while driving past a car wreck, I still can be guilty at times.
That happened this weekend. I started it, and I contributed to it. I posted an article that I believed was important to share. Would it ruffle some feathers? Most likely. Could it open some eyes? Quite possibly. I’d like to think before this craziness began, that I would not have thought to post it. In a perfect world, I’ll share the article, we’ll have lots of lively, healthy debates, we’ll respect each other, and we will all be better for it.
We do not live in a perfect world.
I pressed the button. And instead of moving on to do something that was important. I waited.
Was I looking for an argument? Looking back, it’s hard to argue against that thought. I was frustrated. The days have blended together. As much as I’d say to avoid the news, I hadn’t been doing it myself. It’s like a the ultimate thriller novel, with never ending twists and turns on the bottomless internet. It got the best of me.
I should have known what would happen next. The first few comments backed up what I had posted. But the detractors quickly followed. I don’t post many things that would be ‘controversial’, but when I do, it seems like the same names from my friends list are waiting to pounce. The good natured ribbing we give each other comes from years of debate. It’s never personal.
Until it is.
Once that line is crossed, it’s on display for your world to see. What started as a way to share a certain bit of information is now a battle between two (or more) hard-headed individuals. Do you stand your ground? Back down? Tell a joke to lighten the mood? I know I’ve hit that point when my heart starts racing as I see the someone is typing…flash on the screen.
The next thing I know, it’s gone too far. A semi-fun debate is now a heated battle of wills. And every one of my friends might be watching. It’s a wild west duel, with the threat of losing respect but not the physical harm.
At this point, I know there will be no winners. Nobody is changing minds. Some of my friends find my snappy little comebacks witty, yet others might find it disrespectful. If I said it in person, my in-the-moment nemesis might chuckle along. Online, is comes across way too serious.
I realize once again- but in a little more urgency- that this petty little battle is happening in front of people I respect, people I like, people who like me but still might disagree with me, and my pride and ego just may be digging the hole just a bit deeper. There is a saying that says when you find your self in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging.
It’s at this moment- whether I think I’m right or not- I realize that I’ve lost the battle. The initial intentions truly were good. But nothing good has come from this. I take a deep breath. My frustration turned to embarrassment. I ask myself why I even started it. Why did I respond like I did? Could I have approached it differently?
To end the tension, I took the post down the following day. I felt the relief immediately, even while feeling a sense that I ‘gave in’.
What was interesting, though, is that I sent a few private messages to my combatants. We went back and forth, made our points, listened respectfully to other points of view, and it was civil and fun. I even wound up having a few great phone conversations from it.
My friend Josh Brown said it to me a few weeks ago. “If 90% of these facebook conversations occurred face to face across a picnic table, the responses would be 180% different.”
So I came away with a bruised ego, a few damaged social media friendships and a big lesson relearned. There is going to be debate. There is going to be disagreement. I also won’t hide from possible criticism.
But I hope, once and for all, that I’ve learned to respond to comments online the way I would across from a picnic table.