And, rightfully so, he’s very talented.
But this post isn’t about him.
It’s about me. And my friend.
More to the point, it’s about you.
See, earlier this week, after weeks of her recommendations, my friend asked me “what do you think of Jonah Tolchin?”
And, in all honesty, I replied that I hadn’t got around to listening to him yet.
There was a moment. One of those moments. We looked at each other, her with some measure of shock and hurt in her eyes, and me feeling that prickle of discomfort that I’d somehow done something wrong. The moment held, and then we got back to doing what we do best, blending energies to make everything move forward for the better.
But, as ever, I’ve been mulling it over.
We live in a recommendation-saturated world.
To build your online profile, to become “known”, is to draw eyeballs to your website, or band page, or gigs, regardless of whether those people stick around, whether they listen, whether they read. We’re being inculcated to equate passing interest with abiding care.
[and, yes, I did just use the world inculcated]
They’re not the same thing.
Is it better to have 20 people at a gig who are giving their full attention, or 40 who are talking all the way through the songs?
After the gig, in the telling, it’s always the higher number that wins out – but in the moment, I’ll take the 20 who are listening than the fat geezer at the bar holding court with his band of wankers, lording it over everyone’s conversation…
But I digress…
Fact is, I hadn’t said I’d listen to Jonah, so hadn’t broken any commitment, nor do I ever commit to following a recommendation, unless I fully intend to follow through.
I wish people were that honest and clear-cut with me.
See, one of the hazards of the online world is that artists can get, if they’re that way inclined, near-immediate feedback on listens, sales, reads, eyeballs, visits and probably, with the right skills, the mental health of visitors.
Put it simply: I know how many people listen to my songs, how many people buy my books, how many people read this blog post. Immediately.
And I know that those numbers are FAR lower than the number of people who say they’ll listen to my songs, read my books or visit the blog.
I wrote about how that feels last summer, and I don’t intend to rehash that here.
But I will say that, I think people have a knee jerk when speaking with an artist, of expressing interest and excitement, some of which is driven by wanting to be “nice”
[and the very American leaning towards passive-aggressive superficiality]
but most of which, I truly believe, is in very, very good faith – i.e. people say “oh, I’d love to hear you” and they really mean it. But then something happens, life intrudes, whatever, and they never quite get around to it. No biggie, right?
But it is, because now, the artist can see that you haven’t followed through. And when that one becomes ten, becomes twenty, none of whom follow through – well, you can see how that begins to feel like an insult, right? It’s not just me. I know it’s not.
I’ve lived with this long enough now to have recognized the pattern. It goes like this:
Me: “Yes, that’s right… I have published a number of books.”
Them: “Really?! How exciting! What are they about?”
Me: “Contemporary fiction, stories….”
[for your sake, we’re hitting fast forward on the description, but just know it’s to the point and makes me feel awfully like I’m over-self-promoting]
Them: “I’ll definitely check them out!”
Me: “Cool, let me know what you think, OK?”
[weeks pass – I know they didn’t act – every day when I check the numbers – our paths cross]
Them: “Oh, I didn’t get around to it. I really do need to read your stuff!”
Me: “Great. Let me know what you think, OK?”
[weeks pass – no, scrub that, rinse and repeat the above for several cycles]
Eventually, I don’t even mention it. The deflation is mine. Completely and utterly mine.
Though sometimes, they do follow through. And they let me know what they think, like I asked. And guess what? Words like excellent, a story that tells itself, couldn’t put it down, difficult to tell if it’s fiction or reality the characters are so real. I feel elated and, as ever, blissfully thankful that I have art in my life and that people have cared enough to have shared in the journey.
And for a little while, that elation erases the bitter taste of so many broken promises. For a little while.
I said earlier, this isn’t a whine, but can I ask a favor – if you’re not a reader, please don’t tell a writer that you’ll read his books; if you don’t listen to anything but top-40 radio, please don’t tell a musician that you’ll spend some time at her website. It hurts more when you do that than just saying, “best of luck, I’m sure your stuff is really good, but sorry I won’t get chance to check it out”. Honest, it really does.
If you tell me you sing, or you write, or you have a website and I meet the news with a poker face, please know that it’s nothing personal.
And, please, if you are madly in love with an artist’s work, and can’t hold back from recommending them, don’t expect anyone to follow up on your recommendation. Recommend by all means, but if someone is honest enough to say that won’t follow up, or that they haven’t followed up, know that they’ve been honest from the outset and unwilling to lie to your face while reverting to their truth behind your back.
Thank you for reading. As ever, you have my love.
PS: by the way, you really should check out Jonah Tolchin – he’s very, very good. After all… he comes with the highest recommendation :o)