It’s not always a good idea for an artist to look backward. Things often look different in the cold light of the morning after, and much of what we try to say can rely heavily upon context. Plus if you’ve grown at all, it can be painful to look at your old work. Kind of like that haircut you had in high school or the tattoo you picked up in Daytona on Spring Break. But for me, revisiting these old songs has become something I never expected. It’s become a bit of a healing process.
As creatives, we’re made to give away what we have. But sometimes, especially when there’s a demand, we can be tempted to dig deeper and deeper within ourselves to satisfy that demand. At first, you give away your best stuff: the cream of your crop. This is the stuff we’re meant to give. This is the stuff we’re proud of. When that runs out, you give your good stuff, your OK stuff, and your not-so-good stuff. Finally, you can start digging into the container itself and actually start giving parts of yourself away. The problem is that if you give too much of yourself away, you wake up one morning to discover that you’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel one too many times and now there’s a leak. You look like yourself but there’s no substance left – you feel as though you’ve become a bit of a ghost.
I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t realize I was leaking until I tried to write a song. For weeks I came up from my office each day with almost nothing. When I showed my wife what I did have, she wanted to know why I’d written myself out of my songs: why didn’t I use the terms “I” and “me” anymore (and hadn’t for years actually). I realized the reason “I” wasn’t in my songs anymore was because I wasn’t in my songs. I had nothing to say. My well was a sandbox. I was dry as a bone. Real music comes from real life, and I didn’t have much of one anymore. I’d become consumed with keeping a machine running so that I could keep the budget flush. I became involved in a process that I’d seen a hundred times. The business that is created to support a vision begins to drive the vision itself. This is when things start to feel plastic and disingenuous. This is when things start to suck. This is when I check out.
I realized the only way I was going to be able to live with myself and keep doing what I loved was to start from scratch and piece things back together one by one. This would prove to be a slow, painful process. So in the meantime, I thought it would be a great idea to rerelease my album from 2005: “The Song Inside The Sounds of Breaking Down.”
We tracked most of this album in a 100-year-old wood shop and sold CDs out of my basement until 2008. After I signed with Integrity, the record label wanted to take the album off the market so it could be properly reintroduced to a larger audience (as they later did with “The Medicine,” which was also recorded and released independently). Due to a number reasons (all frankly too boring to talk about on this blog), the album was never rereleased. For 4 years, there has hardly been a day that I didn’t receive a MySpace message, Facebook post, Tweet, or email about this album. Now that I’m calling the shots again, I figured it would be a nice gesture to give all these people what they’ve been asking for for so long. (Plus we re-mixed it to make it sound the way we dreamed it could’ve sounded in 2005, and we added some extra stuff that I’ve wanted to put out for a while.)
The funny thing is, I thought I was rereleasing this album to give my new friends a chance to hear where our journey began (and kill some time while I figured out who I was again). But in the process, it also reminded me where and why I began. While I could still hear some of the immaturity in my writing from those days, there were moments that seemed to be perfectly relevant to where I am right now.
“Son of David, don’t pass me by…Cause I’m naked, I’m poor and I’m blind” – Closer
“You and I meet on the shores of the broken…You swallow the ocean and I swallow my pride” – Ashes and Flames
“This body is a hole…My flesh one shallow grave…I am six feet below myself…And at my best I still deserve to die…But I’ll be glorified in this ridiculous mess”- Setting Suns
“For the chance that I could know you now…I would bury my pride in the ground…Cause if I’m running then I don’t know how …I’m ever gonna get back home” – Make You Move
“All of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory…And I realize just how beautiful you are and how great your affections are for me” – How He Loves
I’ve sung that line so many times that I forgot I wrote it. ”How He Loves” was originally recorded on this album and it contains a 3rd verse that I don’t do live. The song never really fit on “The Medicine.” It was meant for this album. Most of these songs, like “How He Loves,” were written from a place of being seriously “broke down.” Wading through the ashes of yesterday but willing to move on. Knowing a little more about what lasts and what doesn’t. A little better at differentiating between what’s real and what’s smoke. A little beat up but a lot wiser.
I’m technically a better writer now, but these are exactly the kinds of songs my heart needs to sing today. I hope they do something for your heart too. I’m glad you finally get to hear them.
To purchase a copy of The Song Inside The Sounds of Breaking Down Deluxe Reissue :: Remixed and Remastered or for fall tour date information please visit John Mark’s website www.thejohnmark.com