“There’s nothin’ in the world so sad as talking to a man who never knew his life was his for making”
–Ray LaMontagne, Old Before His Time
A few weeks ago I went to a Ray LaMontagne concert at The Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York. His soulful, authentic folk/rock style always moves me. This night was no different. At one point I found a tear running down my cheek. I couldn’t even tell you why. Something just struck a chord in me.
Interestingly, on this night the most moving part of the show wasn’t LaMontagne’s music. It was something he said between songs. He mentioned how amazed he was that people bought his music. He was saying this even though he had won the 2011 Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album and one song, Beg, Steal, and Borrow, had been nominated for Song of the Year.
Initially, the cynic in me thought – this is just a star feigning humility. But as he talked about the difficult process of getting his last album completed, I realized he was being genuine.
To get the album done he had eschewed the traditional production process, grabbed a bunch of musicians he really liked, gone to his house in New England, and churned the album out in two weeks. His producers didn’t like the music. They didn’t think it was marketable. They told him to go back to the drawing board. He pushed back and told them no. He told them that the album he gave them was the album he was putting out, end of story. Against their judgment, they capitulated. A year or so later came the Grammy win.
I found the story moving because it reminded me of how difficult the creative process is for everyone. It didn’t matter that LaMontagne had already sold over 1 million records in his career. Or that he was considered one of the top modern-day folk musicians. He wanted to create something different and people were pushing back on him hard. He had to fight to make the new music he wanted to make. And throughout he didn’t know how it was really going to land with his audience.
It reminded me that true creation is inherently groundless—regardless of who you are. It always takes guts.