It finally happened. I was reading American Songwriter Magazine's August, 2015 “British Issue." There was an article called "Greens and Blues, the Long Arm of Irish Music" by Rick Moore. It was a lengthy article with many subsections. In the subsection “Eire-inspired Americana Music” Moore starts out by talking about Steve Earle and "The Galway Girl" and then says:
"Numerous other Americana artists display an Irish influence in their writing and playing as well. Colorado’s Kevin Dooley, Georgia’s Spud Brothers, and Switchback, pioneers of fusing the genres for over 20 years while opening for such acts as Leon Russell and the late John Hartford, are just three acts who play Americana music with an Irish or Celtic flavor."
“Wow,” I said to Annie, Áine, and Ana, who babysits for us, “we just got referenced in a national magazine without our buying an ad, begging to be put in it, or knowing the author.” Áine looked at me and continued to eat her scrambled eggs. Annie said, “That’s great news,” and Ana, in her thick Portuguese accent said, “Ah, you have arrived.”
Ana’s comment got me to thinking. What does it mean to “arrive?” If this reference is my 15 minutes of fame, or at least the validation of over 40 years singing publicly, then I am in trouble.
"Arrive" is a funny word, because it means that something to some degree has been accomplished. In the music business, one doesn’t necessarily wish to arrive then, as one’s art is an on-going adventure. I always think of those old nostalgia bands, who are singing the hits they wrote half a century earlier.
"Arrive" can also mean validation. As an artist, I understand validation comes from different places. In the early days the best validation was that I was “on the right path” in saying yes to a career in music. Spiritually, I have received many signs over the years. One that stands out was back in the early 1990s, while working at a hospital and after a lot of prayers over whether Switchback was what I was supposed to be doing, Brian and I went to our Sunday evening gig at the Irish Times in Brookfield, Illinois. We would be crammed in a corner and with the whiskey flowing and good times rolling, it was a challenge to feel validated, much less listened to, by the patrons. However, this night there sat a full blood Yaqui Indian who watched Brian and me play. At first it was so incredibly out of place that I felt uncomfortable. He never said a word but watched us both play with the eyes of an artist. Finally, on break, he came over to us and complimented us on our music. “Here,” he said, and took an earring off and placed it in my hand. “This is meant for you,” he said and left. I looked at the earring. It was the image of an Indian warrior. That was a sign. That was certainly a validation. But it did not mean I had arrived.
Arrival for some means success. "Success" is a dangerous word because it has too many meanings to people. In this selfie, Kardashianed world, financial success and fame have become some sort of hybrid monster. It matters to matter with a lot of matter. Success for most journeymen musicians means making it another year, making music and putting food on the table. The independence of living a life touching souls is a great gift, but not necessarily success or arriving. Lloyd Maines, our producer and mentor, summed up success for music as being “respected by your peers, but able to walk into K-Mart without anyone knowing who you are.” I’ve always liked that description.
So where does that leave Switchback?
If the previous definitions are right, then I think the word and notion of “arrive” are a mirage, or at the very worst a curse of sorts. It is important to be relevant, to make the most fantastic music and to create community doing it. That is success. Being relevant and noticed is important for a musician, too. This article was great because we were noticed. Perhaps that might help us land a show or two. Or at least get a person to hear the music we have been creating for almost 30 years. Respect, creative relevance, critical acclaim, touching souls, yes. But I hope I never arrive.
~ Martin McCormack