by Angela Noel
May 30, 2016
“Snow is falling, winter’s calling. I am far from home.” Matthew French sat in a coffee shop on New Year’s Day and the words of a song, his song, whispered inside his mind. Would he listen?
Inspired to pick up a guitar by a youth minister years ago, Matthew composed songs with a purpose. He wrote for church services or youth group sessions, but never for himself. Not exactly. Much like a thriller writer assigned by a local newspaper to cover a band concert, Matt had the skills but the form and content were predetermined. Which was fine, nothing wrong with that. But then, the Big Bad happened.
Why pain and loss can set us free is something of a mystery to me. “Suffering points up areas within ourselves where we have not yet grown,” said Father Anthony de Mello in his New York Conferences. Perhaps that’s why so many artists take dark paths. Believing, as Elizabeth Gilbert points out in her bestseller Big Magic, that without this kind of perpetual font of adversity to rail against, the creative ghost will depart from our lives forever. But when Matt’s marriage abruptly ended, something else happened.
This Atomic Thing
Matt sat at Spyhouse Coffee on that dawn of 2015 filled with what he called “this atomic thing” roiling within. He knew he needed to diffuse it with constructive things or else succumb to darker stuff. He went there to read, to sip, to think. When the words came to him, a song in the half-light of a winter’s day, he would not let them go. What he could not talk about, he found he could sing about. Crafting each song became a means to construct a new understanding of himself in his post-marriage world.
Some would compose for themselves alone, a type of self-therapy not meant to be shared. But Matt realized that his experience, though unique in his own life, was not so unlike that of others he knew. His story was also their story, our story. A human story. He wanted to share.
Each morning, he took the bus to his day job at Target HQ in Minneapolis. At 11 a.m., Matt and friends could be found, as often as not, at an early-bird lunch at the local Whole Foods. But always, his music was there, percolating. In between meetings, on the bus, in the evenings the melodies and lyrics found him. With the help of a close friend, Matt recorded his first six songs for his debut EP “Home.”
A few months ago, I attended Matthew’s EP release party at a local coffee shop. Friends filled the rustic space as Matt sang, “You might say there’s ups and downs. You climb a mountain then you fall back down. But I guess it takes some time to figure out, so I might fly away from this town.” Suddenly I had tears in my eyes. Was it the words? The connection between his life and mine? Or was it his iron vulnerability there on stage? I have learned that my body intuits what my mind is slow to grasp. Words fail, but the heart knows.
The Next Chapter
Recently, Matt asked me to write a short bio for him to use for an upcoming show at the Aster Café, a well-known local music venue. “Of course,” I said. “That’s a big deal! How’d that come about?”
“It’s kind of interesting, really.” He smiled enigmatically. “I wanted to tell this woman, a waitress, that I thought she was very beautiful. But I hesitated. Would she think I was hitting on her? That wasn’t my intention.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I did it anyway,” he replied.
Next thing he knew, a conversation happened. Right there, at the tables of the Aster Café where she was working and he was listening to another local singer/songwriter play they talked. She, as fate would have it, was also the venue’s booking agent. And that’s how magic happens. A seed of something, an inkling, a good intention rises from all of us. But, the difference is in what we do next.
It’s a risky thing to replace the mask we wear as armor against the world–the armor that says, “don’t do it,” “you might fail,” “you might get hurt,” “you might look stupid”–with our real selves.
Matt did, Matt does. So can I, so can you.
Your turn: When have you taken a risk? What was the result?