The ZZ Top method for a Better Day

The method?

develop an attitude of gratitude

ZZ Top has it right in their song, “thank you.” It is easier to have a good day when you start out thankful. Gratitude dispels bitterness, and changes our heart’s focus to things that bring life rather than drain life. My wife and I have been working on this simply telling each other things we are thankful for in the morning when we get up.

What are you thankful for?

PS. I play tonight at the Java House in Iowa City at 7 pm with my good friend Ryan Sharp. Be there!

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I almost cut my hair

I almost cut my hair, but then I thought better of it, and had my wife do it.

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The thing about hair is it feels so much like part of who we are. Indeed, it grows out of our head, right above our eyes, the perceived center of our existence. Some feedback I’ve gotten on the summer cut is as follows

Whoa, that’s a big change!

Or

You have a nicely shaped head

Or

What happened to your hair??! Don’t let it happen again.

Or

You look like you could beat somebody up

Opinions are like noses, everybody has got one, but if I chose to define myself by those opinions, I’d be pretty fractured.

you are who you are
One thing I learned by going to my new haircut is that you are who you are. Your outward appearance changes, sure, people perceive you differently, definitely, all of which impacts the way you view yourself. However, in the end, nothing about you really changes. You are still you.

This is easy enough to say, but harder to internalize. I’m not gonna say that every time I look in the mirror I don’t feel a bit like Samuel L. Jackson, Derek Webb, or John Travolta in that one movie I can’t remember (but head shaved with a goatee). Yet shaving my head doesn’t actually make me more capable of cussing out snakes, using synths deftly, or disco dancing.

In music, you must be honest, else it can come out forced and awkward. Even when you play someone else’s song, match the intent, not the sound. Know what you are trying to say with it. In this video, Zoe Keating plays her cover of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, 2nd mvmt, in the way that only she can.

How to always be creative, always

I’ll be upfront here. This is something I am still working on. However, I have been making progress, so I’m talking to myself just as much as anyone else. I’ll be using songwriting since that is primarily what I do.

kill the fear
I’ve realized that the number one reason I stare at a blank page and write nothing is that I’m afraid. I’m afraid that what I’m writing won’t be any good, or I’ll hate it, or any number of other reasons. I have to remind myself that if I write nothing, nothing gets written.

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create a context
Another helpful piece for me lately is to create a context for the creativity. By simply asking myself,

What am I writing about?

I often become unstuck and make progress, if nothing else, on the background story behind the song.

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write
Even if the progress is one word, one thought, a note in the margins, write. This helps build a pattern of breaking out of the fear.

The song this week is an example of me intentionally following these steps. It is titled,
Gotta Get On Gettin Back Home

William Stonewall Monroe

PS: I have a shows coming up on May 31 and In June I will post more details soon!

Ten year olds change lives

The things you say matter.

In the movie, We Bought a Zoo, the character Benjamin Mee relates a life principle to his son.

All you need is 20 seconds of unstoppable courage

Later in the film, he tells his older brother, who was the one who originally taught him that principle, that he has built his whole life around that single, pre-adolescent piece of advice.

When I was a Pre-adolescent, I would walk around the house, singing anything, everything, and driving my brothers crazy. One minute I would be attempting a Don Giovanni Aria in the style of Pavarotti, the next I would be Garth Brooks, twanging out a chorus about unanswered prayers. I’d do all of this, imitating as best I could, exactly the original singer’s sound. But one day, my brother Robert said,

William, stop trying to sound like everyone else, just sing like you.

He was right. And since, I’ve built my entire thinking surrounding music, and in many ways life on just being William Stonewall Monroe. I still use this and remind myself of this advice.

So how do 10 year olds change lives? Without even knowing it, by being honest, clear, and genuinely caring, they say things that carry greater significance than they realize.

The song this week is Great Escape, by Phil Keaggy. There aren’t any words, but even without them, this song is an awesome example of communicating a theme without saying anything.

How to Maintain Confidence in the Midst of Fear

Last night, I opened up the stage for Willy Porter at the Mill in Iowa City. For the first time in our marriage, my wife saw me starting to get nervous. I was thankful for her presence, and my friend Jeff for supporting me and helping me relax before I started to play.

Plain and simple, there are many qualities of Mr. Porter’s music which far exceed mine, if I choose to look at it that way.. To be honest, I was looking at it that way for a while before the show, and sometimes after, and even a little bit now. I just had to keep reminding myself why I sing. Why I write. Why I perform. By defining my goal without comparisons to another artist, I can still believe that what I provide is valuable to myself and my audience. I write to speak, to express, to connect with myself, my listeners, and God. To reach that part of us, in all aspects of life, that is the hardest to say, whether that be joy, anger, relief, triumph or sorrow.

By focusing on my mission, comparisons fell away, and I could smile and work through the jitters, just happy for an opportunity to connect with an audience and with the hard to express part of myself.

All that being said, Willy and Carmen were amazing. They sounded great, but more importantly, they are great people, genuinely caring and interested in their family of fans.

William Stonewall Monroe