Originally published in Performing Songwriter Magazine
Issue #26, November 1997
Like any minority group, folksingers often take themselves too seriously. (Myself the notable exception, of course...) Below is my own small contribution toward a cure...
You were born with a talent for songwriting, for singing, for performing, and now you're thinking of taking the plunge. No more nine-to-five; the open road is calling, and you believe it's your destiny to go with it. Maybe you've had a label release, maybe you've just pressed your own "only available at live shows" CD, maybe you haven't gotten further than the local high school auditorium. But somewhere in your heart beats the soul of a troubadour, and you're ready to do battle with anyone who says you're not.
Or are you? Do you really have what it takes? Are you a "natural", or just some poor slob who fell in love with the romance of the road and can't hold down a day job? Do your relatives laugh at your dreams? Does your spouse get angry when you break into song during funerals? Do you wonder if it's really talent you have, or just a glib gift with words? In short, do you wake up in the middle of the night wondering whether you're really qualified to work in the high-expectation, low-reward world of performing songwriters?
Take this easy quiz and find out! It's multiple choice, so even the most dyslexic of singer/songwriters should be able to find a letter they can color in. Those of you in groups can Xerox this and pass it around. If you're used to co-writing with a lot of different people, you can merely assign a different colored pen to each of your co-test-takers.
This test has been designed to provide you with a framework for your future – a bulwark, if you will, against the frets and frails of daily life. At the end, you will add up your score, and find out once and for all if you are truly a Performing Songwriter... or just some heathen who should quickly fill out an application to the nearest McDonald's and hope for minimum wage, an easy marriage, and fun-filled vacations in Branson.
Instructions: If you have absolutely no respect for the printed word, tear these pages out; otherwise, lay this magazine on a yellow legal pad (narrow-ruled is best) with a pencil (preferably automatic with #2 lead, .05 mm) or a pen (Uniball Micro, Pilot V-ball are both acceptable) by your side. Select a spot where you can think clearly and will not be distracted by boomboxes or sunlight; a darkened bathroom is best. Gather everything you normally keep beside you when you write, with the exception of your instrument (smaller instruments such as mandolins are permitted) and your spouse (smaller spouses may be okay too).
Read through these instructions several times. Contemplate a letter of objection to the editor, pointing out that no politically correct provisions have been made for the blind, the stupid, or the humor-impaired. Read through them again, taking time to consult your Songwriter's Dictionary for explanations of the words "heathen", "humor", and "marriage".
When you have exhausted every other possibility and distraction, fill out the first few questions, skip to the middl,e and fill it out to the end, then spend the rest of your allotted time muttering "Second verses are always the hardest part". If possible, finish the test. Give it to someone else to grade and watch their face as they read your answers. Try to guess what your score is, and their reaction to it. Treat this moment exactly as you would playing a new song for a trusted friend – nothing they say short of "Oh God, you're so brilliant, words fail me" will satisfy.
Add up your responses for each letter.
Choose whichever letter got the most responses – this is your "major" or "sun sign", who you are today in the here-and-now.
Choose the letter that got the second-most responses – this is your "secondary" or "moon sign", indicating the possibility of change if you really work at it.
Ignore the other two letters, they're not part of your personality. I just put them in for fun.
If you have any "ties" (e.g. the number of responses is the same for two letters), please take the test again, but try to do it with a little more feeling this time. If your score remains the same, you should probably consider becoming a lawyer or an agent, since both those careers necessitate having a split personality.
Remember, nothing is written in stone. If you don't like the letters you wound up with, re-arrange your life! Intensive therapy, religious revelations, and falling in love all cause tremendous personality changes. Hit records can have a profound effect on character, as can severe flops. Remember – sometimes you must change behavior before you can change feelings.
You are compulsive, self-serving, self-seeking – in short, a complete narcissist Perhaps all artists are like this deep inside, but most are not so proud of it. I suspect that under your fluttering exterior beats the heart of a normal human being, who lives ensconced in a shell of barely-concealed fear, but I've seen no proof of that theory. You should not be a performer or even a songwriter. Instead you ought to try to marry well, or become a therapist specializing in EST-like cults built around your personality disorder(s). You may become a Very Famous Singer if you keep at it, but you and everyone around you will be miserable.
Suggested reading: Burke's Peerage, Machiavelli, Fern Michaels
Listening: Frank Sinatra, Zamfir's The Pan Flute
Magazines: Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous, People
Drink: white Beaujolois, esoteric Slavic champagnes
Secret vice: nodding off to John Coltrane
You are compulsive and irresponsible, with a great love of the outdoors. You find it hard to stay in one place very long, and are constantly seeking new horizons; whether that is to explore or to escape is something only you can answer. In the tradition of a medieval singer whose arrival at various castles and settlements meant the locals could finally catch up on the news, you circle the globe, bringing a bit of each place to the next. Because you're never anywhere long enough to really know it, you should be a performer who sings other peoples' songs and only throws your own in occasionally. Don't get married – you will only leave your spouse for the call of the open road. The performer's life, for you, is also a great way to avoid confrontation and paying your own bills. On the other hand, you're more in touch with the country than most of your contemporaries, and it shows in your work.
Suggested reading: Woody Guthrie's Bound for Glory, Peter Jenkin's A Walk Across America
Listening: Hank Williams, Jean Ritchie, Utah Phillips, Mance Lipscomb
Magazines: Track & Field, the Amtrak schedules
Drink: coffee, plain and thick
Secret vice: surfing the net anonymously
Consumed with your own navel, you manage to write long and tedious songs about it. More concerned with animal rights than human, you should not travel to third world countries, or areas of America where people don't have enough to eat and a pet is just another mouth to feed. You would make a good lay therapist, but are so obsessed with your own feelings and pain that your clientele would have to consist of people from your own socio-economic background, so you could relate. You should not marry anyone interested in outward growth, since yours is all inward. You will do well in public every ten years or so, when a new self-obsessed generation comes along to feed on your pain.
Suggested reading: Ayn Rand, Deepak Chopra, small books with easy-to-read sentences of wisdom someone who has none has collected by an assortment of writers you will never read.
Listening: Songs of the Hump-backed Whale, Deepak Chopra, Zen Master Rama (books on cassette)
Magazines: your current journals, your childhood diaries
Drink: occasional white wine (but only vintage), bottled water
Secret vice: drinking Mountain Dew
That's it. You are it. A combination of the best and worst traits exhibited by everyone above, you are vain but vulnerable, compulsive about your work but attentive to friends and lovers, as obsessive about your joy as you are about yourself. The world is your oyster, and you stand ready to consume it. You pay homage to those who've gone before you, while looking eagerly toward the future. You are brave, foolish, honorable to a fault, stumbling through life wearing your heart on your sleeve – eternally hopeful and optimistic about the human race, while quietly pessimistic about your own place in it. In short, you are everything we admire in others, and fear in ourselves.
Suggested reading: Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time, Pete Seeger's Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Alan Ginsberg's Howl & Other Collected Poems, all of Tennessee Williams' plays
Listening: Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, all of the above
Magazines: anything left laying around at a coffee shop or the dentist's office
Drink: The Balvenie, filtered water, beer
Secret vices: There are no secrets any more
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