The Music Of

Arlo Leach


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One of the most common themes in my lyrics, and the focus of my original manifesto (below), has been to encourage people to get in touch with their creative urges and to make artistic expression a part of their lives. However, I never expected everyone to pursue careers in music, and would much rather live in a society where artistic involvement is evenly distributed instead of focused on a small number of professionals -- a place where artistic expression is a natural and spontaneous result of freedom and a joy of living.

After all, when I consider the true artists of the world, the people that really stimulate my human spirit, it's rarely a professional. It's the child who draws chalk portraits on the sidewalk; the student who fills notebooks with cartoons; the farmer who welds eight foot tall dinosaurs out of scrap metal. Art clearly isn't work in these cases; quite the contrary, these activities are undertaken because they're fun, invigorating, or just seem like the thing to do.

Unfortunately, my own art has veered rather far from this mindset in the last few years. I've tried so hard to demonstrate that a creative lifestyle is still possible in our society that I made music into work -- not something pleasurable but something I had to do in order to live up to my own self-image. In letting my music drive me, rather than vice versa, I lost the very principles of individuality and personal freedom I'd been trying to promote.

But when I listen to music from before World War II, I'm mindful that most of those old recordings come not from professional musicians but from farmers, miners, and railroad workers. And therein lies the true message of my latest album, Music of my Ancestors. Clowning with the disguises of various fictional musicians, each with a distinctly non-professional background, gave me a chance to symbolically redefine my own approach to music. Unlike my previous projects, I was working within the constraints of a demanding day job, yet I was still able to make time for spontaneity and exploration. And I'm happy to report that never before has a project fallen together so effortlessly, and never before have I had so much fun making an album.

Finding a balance in life is always difficult. "Doing music and nothing else" (that's the title of a book about the music biz) would be wonderful, but it also feels good to make my way in the world, independent of any financial support, with the freedom to take my art in whatever direction I choose. In so doing, I hope I can set an example of a level of creative involvement that we all can strive for.

I was packing up after a show in Des Moines, Iowa one night when a guy walked over to ask me about my songs. His first question was, "Are they political?" What could I say to that? If you're looking for an anthem, none of my songs are going to jump out at you. But if you look a little deeper, well ... I'm certainly very opinionated, and I couldn't keep that out of my music!

So what do I stand for? What do I hope to promote with my music? I thought about it on the way home from that show, and this is approximately what I came up with. First and foremost, I want to encourage creativity, individualism, and self-expression from all people. Artists are usually too busy for consumerism and militarism (to name a couple of my most hated -isms), so I say the world needs more artists!

I also value personal freedom, regarding economic, aesthetic, and "family" values. If the world isn't full of artists, surely that's because many people are denied -- or fail to take advantage of -- these kinds of freedoms.

And what would I drown out with my music, if I could? Wars. Television. Traffic congestion. The clamor of ignorance. The silence of superficiality.

I'm rambling now, just like I ended up rambling when I was asked that question in Des Moines. But this is the one part of my Web site that I don't expect to make sense. Thanks for visiting, and if you want to do me one favor, write a little poem, draw a little picture -- put something new and beautiful into the world -- before the end of this day.