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..hang it up for good?

Last summer at one of my shows, I met Nathan Leatherman, a 19-year old from Idaho who made an instant impression on me with, well, the fact that he was under 45 and at my gig, and the fact that he complained of the sound quality of mp3s. Through some email exchanges that followed, his tenacity and resourcefulness in working his way through (a pricey Long Island) college impressed and humbled me even more. Unlike pretty much everyone I grew up with, Nathan learned to work, long before he learned to drink beer. (In fact, I encouraged-slash-witnessed his first experience with one of the latter, in Nova Scotia where he happened to be fleetingly of legal age). I tend to be overwhelmed with administrative and promotional tasks, so I offered to add a bit to his patchwork of hourly income with some odd music biz jobs. Oh, and Nathan is studying film, so maybe he could handle a camera to document a gig or rehearsal or two? Couldn’t hurt to have some extra footage on hand. I had no idea that this whim of lending a helping hand to a young striver would leave me with some bargain price professional and artfully shot video that came just at the right time (see here http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/jenchapin). He shot more, and edited it beautifully, here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA0x0UiNLGc and here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFHGrZue4d8.

Now Nathan has offered to make a music video for a song from my upcoming album, to fulfill a final project for his film class. Yippee! I told him to take his pick of the songs. Today via email, Nathan revealed his choice – “Reckoning,” the title track, and asked if I might share additional insights as to its meaning.

The irony. Here is my song about feeling kinda old, tired, and with ambition dried up or at least dormant in the face of repeated, if sometimes contradictory, signs from the universe that my chosen path is not quite working. In clear terms: that my music career is never going to quite take flight. I am weeks away from 42, and I’m not a guitar hero like Bonnie Raitt, poised for a late discovery. I am rather a stubbornly not-quite-pop-enough songwriter whose talent and attractiveness were marketable enough for a time, but which are destined by the laws of gravity to diminish. I’ve started out with every advantage, network of support, and financial cushion, yet still the momentum toward building a solid audience eludes me. Yet I keep on going, because when it comes down to it I have a good life, and I like this work, however under-the-radar it continues to be.

I should mention that at the time of writing the song, I was nursing a young baby and had another young one to tend to, so I was physically tapped out. Still am sometimes.

In one of my first reviews, on my first tour, a snarky writer for the hip local free weekly in Cleveland suggested that my talent was middling and – the phrase still rings out – “here’s hoping she hangs it up for good.” The nastiness and hyperbole of the writing made it easy enough to dismiss, and I’ve never seriously pondered giving up music then or now, but, well – I quoted the line in my lyric.

Meanwhile, all the opposite clichés apply to Nathan – he is young and innocent – really! He is multi-talented, driven, athletic, has already proven his independence, and had adventured far from home to pursue new challenges and self-discoveries.

So here are some thoughts to share with Nathan as he starts with his school project. I sure am interested to see what he comes up with!

I’m weary in so many ways

too tired to keep on trying

too wired to settle down

my fight has gone and run away

too stubborn to let go

the reckoning

I know

will have to wait another day

these blues are comfortable

surrender’s not so new

my time is full enough

I’ve lots of work to do

half-opened envelopes

pile up between my ears

while unloved melodies

amplify my fears

that my song will not be sung

that my doing comes undone

the world looks different today

more contrast

black and white

no longer shades of grey

no final verdict on whether I stay

or hang it up for good

too stubborn to let go

the reckoning

I know

will have to wait another day

Please join me in the making of my new album, Reckoning http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/jenchapin

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“-” means “minus,” aka not-so-cool, kind of a drag, a disappointment, a setback, an obstacle to health, wealth or happiness. “+” means “plus,” aka kinda cool, enjoyable, a relief, positive, signifying