I went to see Nick Lowe at the Country Music Hall of Fame last weekend. The show was part of the “Songwriter’s Session” series – which consists of a short interview followed by an acoustic performance. Nick was smart, funny, and very entertaining – a great show.
The first place I heard of Nick Lowe was when the song “Cruel to Be Kind,” off his second solo album Labour of Lust, hit the American charts in 1979. But at that time, musical geekdom had not over taken me – I was still pretty much just devoted to science fiction, comic books and old horror and comedy films. So even when a hit single would grab my attention I pretty much stuck with buying the single, and I didn’t pursue the artist any further. (The same thing would happen with the first Bruce Springsteen song that came to my attention, “Hungry Heart” the next year. There’s a long story that goes with this, but I’ll get to that one eventually.)
Young Nick - Pop Star (with a great jacket!)
Of course that would all change in the fall of 1981. My first semester of college was when I added full-fledged music geekdom to my portfolio of manias. From the moment I started college I was suddenly bombarded with all manner of rock’n’roll that I had missed out on growing up in Muhlenberg County with my head stuck deeply into sci-fi paperbacks. During the period of September to December of 1981 I either had my first exposure to, or bought my first LPs by The Clash, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, R.E.M., Wreckless Eric, Warren Zevon and many others including, or course, Nick Lowe and Rockpile.
Even though Lowe’s first two solo albums, Jesus of Cool and Labour of Lust were acknowledged classics, the rest of the eighties saw him releasing a variety of albums that slid up and down the critical scale. As typical for artists who are the critic’s darlings for their first couple of records, Lowe’s albums from this period are really better than they were usually given credit for at the time. But despite the sometimes poor reviews, I remained a Nick Lowe fan all through the eighties, only losing track of him as the nineties dawned and my interest turned more to exploring older music.
Around 2001 I found Lowe again through his album, The Convincer. Although all the building blocks of Lowe’s music – the wit, the country and blues influences, the clever turn of a phrase – was there, Lowe had dramatically reinvented himself, dropping the intellectual court-jester of rock he had been and instead emerging as a deeply introspective and savy songwriter who still understood the basic absurdity of human life and love.
In his interview last weekend, he talked about going through the process of reinventing himself. How he had realized one day that his days as a “pop star” were gone, and that he was faced with the choice of fooling himself into thinking that he could recapture the past or to move on and find a new voice that could appeal to an audience of both young and old music fans that appreciated music beyond the “hot new thing.”
This self-awareness about his talents and the fickleness of his chosen career is something that has always impressed me about Lowe. It was right there on his first album, Jesus of Cool, in several of his songs, including “Marie Provost” – a pop ditty about the sad fate of the eponymous former silent movie screen star. But it’s one thing to be able to say our successes in life are fleeting, but quite another thing to grapple with the fact directly and know when it’s time to move on to the next chapter.
Old Nick - Songwriter Sage (with great hair!)
This is something I’ve thought a lot about this last year. After 12 years at one career, to suddenly have it all end and your future be uncertain can be a pretty heavy blow. But even after nine months I continue to be excited every day about what the future will bring me. I may still be in the period of sorting out the next chapter of life, but whatever it may be I’m looking forward to it, and in fact, really enjoying it. As I’ve said many times, “Other than the fact that I don’t have a steady paycheck right now, I’m happier and enjoying myself more than I have in years.”
Looking back there have been definite periods where the course of my life has changed -- when I was nine and discovered comic books, that first semester of college when I discovered my mania and passion for music and many other interests, and other times since then. But uncertainty about the future is not really bad thing. It’s when we can’t let go of the past – that’s the real destroyer – that unwillingness to turn the page. Because hanging on to the past is the act of trying to cling to something that no longer exists.
A couple of years ago I ran into an old friend from college that I hadn’t seen for 20 years. It didn’t take me long to realize that although he might be married, and have a daughter he was still pretty much the exact same person that I knew in college. He still read the same type of books, watched the same type of movies, played the same role-playing games and still thought about and looked at the world the exact same way he did when he was 21. While living in a state where nothing ever changes may offer security of a type, for me at least, it seems a terribly boring way to live, and furthermore how does one cope when the inevitable big change does come along?
For me, and Nick Lowe apparently, jumping in and struggling with that next big step and figuring out that next change of direction is the only choice. For winners or not, we’re all destined to eventually become the doggie’s dinner, but it’s the choices we make and the different paths we travel before we face that “hungry little dachshund” that make all the difference.