The last collaborators
The song tells you how it wants to be finished, but only when you sing it. Inviting the audience into the collaboration--that is, singing it for them and trying to gauge their reaction, trying to find out if you've really communicated what you wish to communicate--should only be done in a context of respect. This particular song is an angry one, and I'll only bring it out if I've established an obvious trust with folks. I did this at old friends Lorraine and Bennet Hammond's home at Thanksgiving, and got some very good and informative feedback, which I intend to use somehow to make the song more effective. I didn't do it yesterday in performance in St. Cloud because we didn't have the critical mass in attendance to establish that trust, to allow each person in the audience the privacy of an un-moderated reaction. So much depends upon the moment, and the weather and the closing of the interstate kept a few folks home. In such situations, I have to let go of any hope of the audience serving me in this fashion, and concentrate on my serving them--reassuring them by a good, respectful and loving show that they made the right choice in coming out in the storm. Sing a new angry song might convey to some an anger at the size of the house, when the thing I need to communicate at that point is my gratitude at the opportunity of performing for them. These things at my shows are negotiated, which is why I do a better job when there's enough light in the house for me to see people's reactions, but not so much that they feel self-conscious about them.
I've said this to many a songwriting class, and it's appropriate to say it here: when I write a song, I am searching for something that I share with the audience. I am trying to articulate in song an experience or feeling that we share, and thereby serve the audience with something that helps them articulate their own experience or feeling. My shows aren't about being angry, but they are about being human, and anger is a part of that. My hope is that, putting an angry song in the context of a good show helps an audience put their own anger in the context of a good life. My hope is that, the better we artists do that job, the fewer people in this sometimes appalling pre-manufactured culture reach for guns. I'm an entertainer--but I hope to be a deeply entertaining entertainer, that is, an artist.