Rust Never Sleeps - Christine Kane

Seth Godin wrote a post two days ago that got several bloggers offering their dissenting opinions. It was a tiny post about listening to a CD of an old Neil Young concert. Seth noted how the audience whooped and hollered for the songs they already knew. And no matter how much strain or effort Neil put into performing his new songs, he couldn’t get the same reactions for the songs the audience didn’t know yet. Even the ones that would later become classics.

Seth then carried the Neil Young lesson over to the world of marketing and said, “It’s what you say, most of the time, not how you say it.”

This is what got people going.

Adam at Escape from the Belly of the Whale writes that he has always believed the opposite: that it’s not what you say but how you say it. (Though I’m not sure exactly what Adam has against Tom Waits, who rules all things songwriting, if not all things normal.)

Tim McTavish at Insure Me Agent Blog wrote a great response about the importance of innovation and the passion of your delivery.

The biggest lesson I get from the Neil Young concert is about taking chances, and being alive, and tossing your ideas out in the world. The problem is not so much in the “how you say it” or “what you say” stuff. The problem is the expectation that the response even should be hollering and whooping all the time. If you were always going for the sure thing and the woo-hoo’s, then you’d be the Beach Boys in any city on any night in July.

No one knows what was in Neil Young’s head as he performed that night. But every performer knows the temptation to try and get that screaming intensity on every song. Probably there’s a similar toxic pressure in the marketing world.

New Songs are Scary

Performing the familiar stuff is comfortable and easy. (And boring after a while.) I’ll admit I’m terrified to play new songs. I can feel my fingers shaking. And my voice hasn’t quite figured out what the hell it wants to do. And often, it’s true – the new songs don’t get the big response. (Unless they’re funny songs. Or unless you’re Amy Ray strumming the crap out of a little mandolin wailing out a high-drama solo song in the middle of an Indigo Girls concert.)

On my CD Rain & Mud & Wild & Green, there’s a song called The Customers. When I first wrote it, the audience reaction was the same every time I performed it. A pause. And then quiet clapping. After about five tries, I gave up. I figured it was a clunker. Then, when Ben Wisch and I were in the studio making that CD, he heard “The Customers” and insisted that I put in on the CD. We argued about it. “NOOOOOO!” I’d say. “Four out of five audiences found it BORING!” But he won out in the end.

I’m glad he did. It’s still not a big “woo-hoo!” kind of song. But many people have told me that that song has been an important one for them. In fact, one of the women at this past weekend’s retreat said that she remembers hearing that song for the first time while stuck in traffic on 95. She started crying, and at that moment she decided to quit her job and stop being unhappy. (Which she did. And she has.) I don’t claim credit for this. But it’s a form of applause. It just doesn’t happen at the moment of performance. (And in marketing terms, this person might be called a “sneezer.”)

If Neil Young had gone for the big applause every time, he’d probably be co-billed with the Beach Boys this July.

If I went for the big applause every time, I’d still be doing Neil Young covers in bars.

If you hadn’t “played your new songs,” where would you be now?

  • Walter Hawn

    Just so you know — Neil Young WAS co-billed with the Beach Boys one July in Denver. It was the beginning of the much awaited Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunion tour (1974?). He and Steve Stills reportedly got into a fracas backstage and that was the end of the reunion. Was a terrific concert, though. Jesse Colin Young opened, then the Beach Boys, and then CSN&Y.

  • The Nourisher

    The concept of internal barometer is a good one (thanks etbnc), especially if that barometer is determining how surrendered you are to the divine.

    There is a place where we all connect, no matter what because that place is who we all are – that place is the heart. Music is a great way to connect with the one-heart.

    How that music touches us and how we respond in the moment isn’t always gratifying in the moment to the musician. Surrendering to being a tool of the goddess is!

    And you will always touch the heart of others if yours is open, because it’s the one-heart. A very amazing human told me recently about the flowering of the human heart. My reflections of this conversation are in the same personal development carnival that I found this article.
    Love your work Christine.

  • Denise

    I really love the analogy here. Great post.

  • Senia

    Beautiful post. Thanks. Songs are powerful – when you expect and when you don’t expect them to be.

  • Lynn

    Hi Christine,

    Thanks for so many thoughtful posts. I once started a song called “Friends Say Whoo!” because sometimes the “whoo” is just a supportive thing…which is great of course. I find though that the ones I give spontaneously (and the ones I get) are elicited from a performance that goes beyond the border of comfort or safety…the performer lets go into the arms of the audience (which says whoo…ie, I’m here for you). Content has to be there too…a passionate performance of nuthin’ much to say can be dramatic but not moving. And yes, songs we know…it’s about us as much as the performer. That said, I’m a strong believer in the new song…so much so that I have a weekly gig writing and singing one for my local radio station. I think it’s already been said here…keeping new stuff flowing is a great way of keeping the art healthily risky, real, and humble. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Susie

    Great post. I really liked Lisa’s idea of how the songs (or what is being said) are received. I think a big part of it all is the intentions of what is being said and for all of your songs it’s clear that you are sincere (which should always be followed with a big “woohoo,” whether folks are standing and applauding or not; sincerity is always appreciated!). Some of your songs have meant more to me at times than other songs. For example, I’ll always enjoy “Everthing Green” but about 2 years ago “Right Outta Nowhere” was played repeatedly followed by “Getting off the Ground” (I could actually go on and on about all of the songs, because I’ve enjoyed so many of them at different times, but you get the point).

    What would I be doing if I hadn’t played any of my “new songs?” I’d probably be living a life full of questions and what if’s, which would not be a fun life to live at all.

    Good thoughts as you set up your new website (I know how it can be “flusterating” sometimes 🙂

  • Christine Kane

    Hi Colleen,

    First off, thanks for including me on your favorites! And you definitely don’t have to ask. Linking in blogs is high praise and always a pleasure. If you Google “link love” or “link bait,” you’ll see lots of blogs about why it’s a good thing. Also, your etiquette questions will all be answered. ( is the best place to start!) (thought-brick is a GREAT image, btw.)

  • Colleen

    Hi Christine,

    I happened across your blog sometime ago and have been enjoying it and reflecting on your thoughts almost daily ever since. Having said that, I’m definitely not that blog/internet savvy which is why I’m sending you this particular comment.

    Actually, I feel a bit like I’m interrupting a deep conversation with a totally unrelated question – but that’s just a thought-brick that I’m limiting myself with. 😉 So, here goes: I have just started a blog of my own on Google’s I would like to list my favourite sites and blogs. Okay, I already have listed them, but am prepared to remove them if it’s not good blog etiquette. You’re one of them.

    So, can I just include my favourite blogs or should I be asking everyone first? (She says, taking a step back, hoping the conversation will continue despite her interruption).

  • Christine Kane

    and I continue…

    Kelli, Sounds like you’re getting the knack of dealing with us crazy artist types! Good for you, and congratulations on the cool things you’re doing…

    Colin, Yes, I agree with you. And I think even beyond “honesty is its own reward” is that “Creativity is its own reward.” The writing of the song, the poem, the blog. That’s often the very best part. And you’re right..not everyone is gonna like you or agree with you. Just ask geoffrey himes of the Washington Post what he thinks of my songwriting! 🙂

    etbnc, thanks for the additional insights!

    Thanks Nicole!

    NancyCZ, Wow. Thanks for that poetry. What great thoughts! Not a rant at all!

    Ruth, next time i talk with ben, I’ll say Hi!

  • Christine Kane

    Okay, I’ve been getting ready to launch a whole new website, and in the process I got behind on comments. Allow me to finally answer everyone!

    Lisa, thanks for the great contributions. It sounds like you read the Artists Way at some point, and took the necessary leaps! Congratulations on all of your success…

    Stacey, Great story. thanks for that. sounds like a really fun night.

    ChickiePam, As always, I love your honesty and commitment to shift your perspective. I’m honored to be a part of what makes that shift happen! (and yea, I smiled at ‘christine’s cafe of life.’ hmmm. maybe i’ll open a funky little coffeehouse in asheville. that’s JUST what we need. more coffeehouses!)

    Caren, I remember you talking about that same issue at the retreat. And your friend is right! thanks for the note!

    AMDN (i’m abbreviating your name here), Beautiful poetic thoughts there. Very very true. I often think of the songwriters who will never know that they knocked me flat while I was driving through town listening to their art. thanks!

  • Ruth

    OK, this is too funny …. I have been reading your blog for a very long time (I love it), and then today I’m reading it, and up pops Ben Wisch’s name! I went to elementary school (and junior high, etc.) with Ben. He was outrageously talented even back then. Small world …. tell him Ruth from Myers and Ogontz says hi.

  • NancyCz

    Loved reading this post. If I hadn’t played my new songs I’d either still be in a REALLY bad relationship with a jerk OR I’d be sitting at home sulking about being in a really bad relationship with a jerk (as I did for six years).

    But no, I have a new song, and it’s my best friend. And it’s the soundtrack to my new life, where I own what I do, do what I love, dance when I want, sing in the shower, manage my own time, and smile all the damn time!

    Before this song, in the transition, I had the “I’m Single” song… very important for women… such a valuable, necessary time when you really learn who you are and how that person is NOT only the worth of her boyfriend. Americans place FAR too much emphasis on coupledom… I hate when people look down at women who choose to be single… either temporarily or permanently. Okay, I’ll stop ranting.

  • Nicole Hyde

    It takes courage to introduce the new or reacquaint others with the old. Confidence in either scenario seems key.

    Thanks for another great blog entry – I so enjoy reading your thoughts.

  • etbnc

    Coincidentally, I just watched the Rust Never Sleeps concert DVD a few days ago. So this post title certainly caught my eye as I surfed.

    That might make the title a What, I suppose, although I can imagine it as a How (To Write a Title). All depends upon how we look it at it.

    I was also reminded me of some things Jon Stewart said on Sit Down Comedy this week. When asked about getting started as a stand-up comic, Stewart mentioned the value of developing an “internal barometer … that didn’t include the audience.”

    Good stuff. Cheers

  • Colin

    Gotta go with you on this one, Christine…it’s neither all “how you say” nor “what you say.” Too many levels for one outlook to encompass all the various meanings folks are puttinig on this one. And I agree with you (if I’m reading you correctly) that there may be some unreasonable expectations floating about. Putting something out there that is “honest” does not mean that everyone who is also honest is going to like, or even appreciate, what a person has to say, sing or whatever. Honesty is untimatly it’s own reward, not an automatic draw. Thoughts?

    The Vicar

  • Kelli King

    Hello, All!
    Christine, newcomer to you and the blog and the music, but I LOVE IT.

    This month I started hosting an open mic. The first week it was especially “bumpy.” Our idea to mic everyone for a round and a songswap was too much to keep up. Unfortunately, one gentleman was very disappointed in the evening. I knew he was upset, but, at the time, I could do nothing about it. Definitely, no woo-hoos! But, the next day, I called him and apologized, explained what we’d do differently to accomodate him better, and asked him to give us another chance. Last week he came and had a terrific time. I’ve made a friend for life. What got him? My apology. It meant the world to him that I called and said I was sorry. As much as I desire woo-hoo moments, sometimes the uh-oh moments are good too. Opportunities come in all shapes and packages…

    SO HAPPY TO BE HERE, THANKS CHRISTINE! Your words and messages totally resonate with me. Kelli King, (aka, macgalver)

    (psst…once upon a time ago I attended the Kerrville songwriting school, and guess who was one of the instructors? Steve Seskin-he made a huge impression on me. Small world-there’s no chance he’d remember me. it was long, long ago. it’s neat to know he figures largely in your world though!)

  • AuthorMomDogNut

    Getting to have obvious impact is great–no doubt about it. But it’s impact of that one person in the car listening to your song, or the one person who is touched enough by my words to make change in his or her life that always knocks me flat. For me, it’s the difference of touching someone’s heart in a way that stays with them for a moment, or touching someone’s heart in a way that stays with them for a lifetime…

  • Caren

    OK – thanks, Pam, for getting me teary already today! Happening a lot since the retreat… my “dirt” has been comin’ up big time. Blessings for the ability to see the dirt clearly to clear it, and I give thanks to it for protecting what needed to be protected when it needed to be protected. My garden is loving the rain, too – the one that I planted at the retreat, inside my heart.

    This post reminds me of a conversation I had there – telling someone that sometimes when I get up and “tell my story” in the 12-step group I’m a member of, I don’t get the “woo-hoos” and excitement that others get. A friend told me that it’s because I look at things from a different perspective from others, and people needed to process what I was saying, not react to it immediately. That’s been confirmed by having people tell me something I said in a meeting changed their life, and in one case, saved it. If that’s not a woo-hoo, I don’t know what is. Just a quieter woo-hoo. I’ll just keep getting up and telling my story of moving from trying to kill myself with drugs to loving the life I have today, even if I still have dirt coming up and work to do. I’m glad to be here to see it.

    Oh, God – Christine’s Cafe of Life. Thank you, Pam, thank you, thank you.

  • ChickiePam

    Hi ya’ll,
    I woke up grumpy this morning. It’s raining and my daughter was being her beautiful self…and badgering me to use my plastic to get her a Club Penguin account so she can go online, chat with her friends and play games. I just hate those things where they require you to have a regular monthly charge and they don’t let me pay monthly, but just debit my card. And I don’t like starting my day with her poking me with a finger, asking me to get out of my nice warm cozy bed on a rainy day and get on the computer! So I was grumpy. The first thing that happened was a client called about her appointment this morning and ended the call with how grateful she and her daughter are to have me in their lives (I massage both mother and daughter, 15). It’s difficult to beat gratitude! I’m grateful that I no longer wake up *every* day grumpy like I used to. I’m grateful that I can come to your site and read good stuff, even if I don’t plan to engage in the discussion of the moment. I still feel better seeing what great people are in the world…who meet up at Christine’s cafe of life. And I absolutely feel grateful for my life that I enjoy so much, and my job that fills my soul with joy, and my daughter who is just a little bit like her mother (although not usually so early in the morning!) and many other things. Thanks to you all for helping me to complete the shift into a much better place. My garden that I planted this week is loving the rain!

  • Stacey

    I heard Michael Franti at the Orange Peel Wednesday – SO AMAZING! – and many of the songs he played were from his recent Yell Fire album. I am most familiar with Everyone Deserves Music. I was still jumping (Franti: “Asheville, I want to see you jump!”) and dancing and WOO-HOOing with every song. He is just so passionate, and engaging, and inspiring at every turn – even before the concert he played in the back alley to raise money for the End Occupation in Iraq billboard behind the Orange Peel – and raised $750 in 15 minutes. Passion and a heart-felt message grounded in compassion gets me *every* time.

  • lisa

    Christine, i was (virtually)introduced to you, your music and your blog by a new pal (who, btw, participated in the retreat you led last weekend). i’m SO grateful! i’m across the state from you and thrilled to have a place to visit (your blog) to reconnect to not only the magic of the Asheville, but to the VITAL magic of woo-hoo thread weavers.
    that’s The Point to me. one of the main reasons we’re on this planet is to weave and notice the woo-hoo (and boo-hoo, even) threads that connect us – that help us move a few steps forward. YES! THANKS to you, Meg, lee, Seth and all who have and will continue to connect here. you’ve all helped me step into this friday with much Hope. woo- hoo!

    where would i be if i didn’t “sing my new songs”? i’d be stuck out in the middle of my lake without a paddle. altho my “new songs” aren’t really SONGS, they’re paper art. they’re finding a way to connect with another person in a way that honors us both. yes, Christine, my new songs are the Risks i take. they’re my means of moving from where i am to where i’m going to be next.

    is “how it’s said” more important that “what’s said”? may i choose “C”? – pointing toward part of Meg’s message and say i think it’s “what’s heard” – it’s whatever connects us – as humans, as Customers, as marketers, etc. since (and here’s The REAL POINT) we can’t control “what’s heard”, may we ALL continue to weave those woo-hoo (and even boo-hoo) new song threads.
    i’m weaving and sending you all ALL that is good.

  • Christine Kane

    Thanks Seth!

  • seth godin

    This is a brilliant post

    what I would have said if I could have.

  • Christine Kane

    Thanks Meg! Great thoughts. I’ve had those same kind of nights watching a few performers on the stage, and yes, it’s amazing. Thanks for the woo-hoo!

  • Meg

    I can understand the desire for big applause with each song/idea/endeavour. That said, I enjoy your music, including “The Customers”, and my other favorite songers/songwriters for the quality of their contribution and the impact their work has on me. I haven’t sen you perform live (yet). One of my favorite performances ever was three female singer-songwriters performing at a small concert hall in NYC, just them, three stools and 2 guitars on stage. They didn’t usually perform together, this was a few gig run. They rotated the guitars and who sang lead, with the other 2 singing harmony. It was the most authentic, artistic thing I had ever seen and heard. There they were, “out there.” No band, no fancy sound engineering to assist. It touched me. It remains with me. When I hear them now, on the radio or on my cd’s, I go back to that place.

    Maybe that is what the whoo hoo is about. It’s not in response necessarily to the method of delivery, but about reception. After songs settle with us for a while, they have meaning for us. We let them smmer in our minds, see how they stir memories or moods, maybe mark a time or place or era. With some songs, it happens faster than with others, but it happens, good or bad.

    If as an artist, you take the time ot share your work with me and I get something from it, whether it is a laugh, a lesson, a hook for reflection or a trigger for a memory, the least I owe you is a whoo hoo.

    re: The Customers — WHOO HOO & thanks. I’m not ready to quit my job yet, but I am teaching my employer how to treat me…

  • Christine Kane

    hi lee, i think you might be responding to one of the “related posts” here…”how to live a life of quiet desperation.” no matter. you’re right. you do indeed!

  • lee

    30. Let rejection, a bad review, or a rude comment stop you from following your heart.

    Although as a performer you have a product you sell (your music ), you still have to find that happy place where your product and your own personal needs intersect.