Songs of the New West

by David Rogers

Perhaps nothing is more exhilarating to a quality of life than to live in an area both surrounded with scenic beauty and full of inspired, creative artists and musicians. I am lucky to have lived most of my adult life in Eugene and Ashland, Oregon. I grew up in California and the Midwest, and spent a part of my life hitch-hiking around. My songs represent that experience. Bigfoot is a metaphor for a lumbering but not especially socially adept being that ends up hitch-hiking down the road in one of my songs, heading for Alaska where the crowds don’t hem him in. People I have known have roles in some of my other songs. So have towns and places. In my 30 years as a seasoned performer, I still approach venues in a very unassuming way; my energy is open and just inquires, like an adult kid, “Can I play?” I avoid name-dropping because I don’t like to tie onto others in an artificial way. In one of my songs I make fun of the process of name-dropping, whether of “the teacher who taught you or the boss who bought you.” I want to be as independent as my songs are, but that doesn’t mean I want to live apart and adrift, let alone be anti-social. As I sing in my song “Encounters on the Western Slopes”, I’ll build bridges to the ones I love best and hang upon my hopes. I have been playing in coffeehouses, bars, schools, nursing homes, bookstores, nuthouses and jails now for 30 years, and try my best to cut through the stormy mundane with a repertoire of music and songs that both sears and caresses. I see our society sick from too much greed, inequality, jealousy, apathy, cruelty, fear and insecurity. The “New West” I am referring to is an increasingly crowded, inflated environment which has too often meant trading in old problems for worse new ones. As my friend Andrew wrote, we are getting nudged in with congested crowds that are like hatchery trout as opposed to native fish: greedy, voracious, hemmed-in beings with no instinct for living within the means of the environment or having any sense of protocol and balance with others in their stream. We need to create more things that address these issues. By “we” I mean any of us in the community who wish to share our talents in an inspired way. I remember when I ran across a group of performers who didn’t want to encourage any more talented folks to share their work on stage, because “there are too many people.” One person explained that they were serious artists looking for a ‘chance’ or a ‘following’ and complained that too many people wanted to perform but nobody wanted to listen. But the solution to that problem is not to have fewer good performers but to have better listeners. The entire notion that we need less inspiration in the many so that we can gratify the egos of a few is utterly wrong. ‘There are those who writhe in terror and hate at the strengths and the talents of others, imagining it’s all at their own expense, until one finally discovers: it’s not in the struggle to control the stage, it’s not in the fight over making it, it’s all in our lives and our love and our work, and all the rest is faking it.’ We all need to believe in ourselves. But it’s only O K to have a big ego if you have a big enough soul to accommodate it.

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