When to Stop Trying Unsuccessfully to Sell a Song

A little over ten years ago we came across “Dispatches From a Guy Trying Unsuccessfully to Sell a Song In Nashville,” a new column for McSweeney’s by a guy in Indiana named Charlie Hopper, and it immediately made me question my implicit animosity toward modern mainstream country music. Or at least it made me think about the validity of some of those ideas about authenticity. And ever since then, over a total of 53 dispatches, Hopper has continued to explore the mechanics not just of the Nashville machine but also of art, dreams, responsibility, and ultimately coming to grips with the idea that life doesn’t typically work out as cleanly as a three-minute song.

Remember how excited we all got about Gary Benchley, Rock Star? Instead of our hero achieving indie rock glory within a year, imagine if Paul Ford had decided to stretch that story out over ten years with Benchley’s band never getting signed to Original Syn Records. It would’ve made a way more realistic story, and it wouldn’t have had to implode into cliches at the end. But Benchley was fiction.

Art has to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Life, on the other hand, tends to be a whole lot of middle.

Yesterday, McSweeney’s published Hopper’s final dispatch. It doesn’t really tie everything up neatly, but it’s a good ending. Maybe not the happy ending we’ve all been rooting for, but it’s good.

Maybe I’m going up. Maybe I’m making headway. Connections. Friends. An impression. Progress. Maybe I’m learning something. Or maybe this is a little time alone in which I will suddenly hit on an idea that nobody has said exactly that way before. Like a greeting card writer providing normal people the words they feel but can’t find, as Barbara Cloyd the songwriting coach tells us at her seminars.

Maybe I’m going down. Maybe I’m wasting time. Maybe I’m embarrassing myself and, later, when they realize how I misspent some of the valuable hours of their childhood, I’ll have been embarrassing my kids. I’m probably also squandering money and draining the possibly limited pool of tolerance my wife seems to have dammed up for me — money and tolerance that I will want later when it’s gone.

I’m going to miss Hopper’s column. I’m a middle-aged dad with a dayjob and an anachronistic interest in rock and roll that I mostly hide from my co-workers and from the other parents at my kid’s school. It feels ridiculous a lot of times to care about all these stupid bands as much as I do. But I do. And Charlie Hopper articulated the balancing act that folks like us struggle with as we attempt to act like reasonable adults.

Catch up on all of the Dispatches From a Guy Trying Unsuccessfully to Sell a Song In Nashville, and then follow Charlie Hopper on instagram where shares photos from around his neighborhood and writes about the records he’s listening to.

Leave a Reply