Popular music has always been product, but with the resurgence of televised talent shows that focus more on the glamor and pageantry than artist development, one would be forgiven for thinking that things are somehow more crass today than they were 50 years ago. There’s no such thing as an ‘overnight sensation’ in music – every artist that has ever made it has always put in significant time out of the spotlight honing their craft – but the opposite is certainly true: it’s relatively easy to judge the cultural tides the wrong way and drift out into the doldrums of irrelevance.
Sometimes, however, you get the opportunity to end your music career on your own terms. Enter Bill Withers, one of the most vital soul performers of the 1970s, who elected to avoid the spotlight shone on him by hits like ‘Lean On Me’ and ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and instead pursue a life outside the public eye. Check out this Rolling Stone profile of a man who has had no interested in being profiled for the last 30 years.
I miss making music almost every day. But I don’t miss what I knew I had to do if I wanted to continue in the music business and have it provide me with a comfortable living. I think often of how damaged my relationship with making music became as a result of turning something I loved into a source of income, and how that reverberates with me today as I try to remember what it was like to pick up an instrument and play simply for the pleasure of it, rather than trying to chase down a hook, write 32 solid bars of breakdown, or fit a song somehow into a 35-minute set. Music never left me when I stopped performing in public, but something did, and it has taken years to come to terms with what that means for me creatively.