Grant Collinsworth & the Animus of Song
by Ryan Johann Perry
A song can change your DNA, transposing thoughts, emotions and little black dots into soundwaves that breathe into your ears and out through your worldview, becoming a high school textbook scribbling, a hummed melody that soundtracks an epoch.
On October 3rd at the El Paso Playhouse, these DNA mutations were on display through local songwriters, watched over by a panel of judges and Grant Collinsworth, local listener, thinker, writer. His rules were simple, the night was to be alive with uniqueness and originality, as those were in fact the rules for the night. Songwriters had to live and die by their own songs.
The songs were a condensing of choices made over the songs lifespan. These choices were then critiqued by a panel of judges who had undoubtedly made some of these choices throughout their careers, and in their critique, showed the song writer possible worlds every choice had a potential for manifesting.
There throughout was Grant Collinsworth, who seemed to want to hear the music; as an idea, as an almanac, playing out as the live equivalent of a 7-inch. A side, static, B side. The El Paso Playhouse has two entrances to the theatre, and Grant paced back and forth between them like they were Hi-Fi speakers. It was him witnessing, watching and hearing, the newest and most familiar, sounds of music's latest adolescence.
“What I am trying to do here, is not the American Idol thing. These particular judges are masters at what they do, what the younger artists don't understand is they are getting 150 years of wizardry from these guys. They are the top of the heap and are giving solid advice to these musicians. It is hard, because as a songwriter these are your babies, and you are hearing “i don't like that diaper, those booties.” "
The judges were “no slouches.” KTEP's Monica Gomez, the host of State of The Arts and a writer herself. Gene Keller, a fifty year vet, who has played all over the world, and Ed Thomas, a relic of the sixties who toured London through coffeehouses.
“They are like the old oak tree,” Collinsworth said, “they are heavyweights in that realm. I stand in their shadows and I consider myself a decent songwriter. Tonight is a treat and these younger guys don't even know that yet.” What these judges are looking for is clear though. “It is all about the craft of songwriting,” Collinsworth said, “we don't care about their voice. Does this song stand on its own, does the song carry the substance?”
The night was todays musical adolescence playing for recognition, validity, support and an audience. It was today's songs playing in the direction of the eldest, seeing if it resonates, bounces back, or makes the generation gap a ninety-degree angle, bouncing lyrics and music into oblivion.
The culmination was a musical genome project, a scanning through the radio station of songs that were seared in the songwriters memory, the way a pop song is seared to ours when you place yourself within it, when you make it your own, when you compose it. It is the sharing of the birth, life, and death of a memory, in a way that the human consciousness could not otherwise comprehend.
Songwriting, for Grant is “Pain resolved.” This pain is ever changing, making songs necessary, making art necessary.
“The pain..." Grant said, "we are in a misinformation age and we have a lot of hostilities provoked. If we can get past that, learn the truth of the thing, see things from a clear perspective we can subside with pain. The way to do that through music is as an artist is be honest about what you are seeing and being honest about a solution. Look at the religious war, the political war. It is invoking a lot of emotional hostility. I think that is the pain that we are universally trying to reconcile. ”
The problem is that here we enter into the equation of honesty and pain, and how we can reconcile it. In today's climate, marketing is king, pop culture selling lifestyles infused with idealogies and meaningless platitudes. The trick is to make it resonate, to eliminate the “meaningless, pointless, expressions.”
“ This is speculative, but hear me out. The troubadours would travel around singing the news. Some would get hurt if they told bad news, maybe the listener would kill them if they told bad news. I am speculating, but maybe if they learned to present the news as ear candy. I am thinking, if I am gonna tell the news I am gonna think of a parameter that will get me out alive. That is pop music. This is marketing, you can't sell anything if you are selling downers. So everything is happy. Post WWII, songwriting became very popular because of the post traumatic stress of the War years. Songs were a cathartic escape. Again, pain resolved. The ability to see clearly is directly tied to how we see in the first place and there are mediums that we go through, mediums that exacerbate the pain. "
“Theres a lot of filters we are being burdened with. For example, I see someone post something on Facebook and I share it and say “what assholes they are” then someone asks if I saw the whole video, and I haven't. But it is the filter. This is the same in music. There is a mini war going on, and I could be wrong. Hip Hop is sold as being about the thug, and Christian music as being about love. The little war is that there is no such genre as Christian, Thug music. Those are themes that you apply to a genre. Hip Hop is a rhythm and beat genre, Christian is a more folk oriented genre. But we categorize them in such a way, and this categorization extends out to our day to day. They create a market niche for all of this.”
There was a parallel between Grant's speculations and the judges critiques. Legends of local folk songwriting detailing the years between their ages of the songwriters on stage. It was watching opinions age, watching opinions die, watching what every interpretation of our future leads to, being baited by the fish of the older generation.
Watching how the twelve year old with the supportive father acted like nothing but a twelve year old with a supportive father. That he (the boy) is the boat overhead that will always be the boat overhead until it capsizes and becomes the fish that baits the next fisherman's line.
“I am excited about it,” said Brandon Bailey Johnson, the twelve year old songwriter, “I think all the bands are uniquely talented.” When I had first seen him perform at the Pizza Joint last year, he performed exclusively cover songs. Tonight, however, he was going to do originals. And his writing process is as grounded as anyone elses, “the songs are about stuff that happens to me, my song “My Journey”, is about my life."
I watched how the young folk singer, Josh Rivera, playing “too fast” in the minds of the elders, though his songs contained “undiscovered diamonds of meaning” in his lyrics. The dress, the costume is always right; the tune is the same, lyrics having not yet aged into plagiarism, into adulthood. There is a speed to youth that can make it unrecognizable to older generations, and watching the gravity of time alter perceptions of music is an interesting case study.
“Honestly I did not know what to expect," says Josh, “this is my first songwriting contest so I came here with an open heart and a open mind and just waiting to be surprised...There is a lot of diversity in the music being played today...But it is bittersweet, it is sweet because you are listening to an audience and getting information from people that might not be familiar with your music. At the same time, it would be nice to have specialized critique from those who know my type of music.”
This was synapse mixed tape of an El Paso night across generations: father, son, friends and daughters and it had the rise and fall of a breath. The first band I spoke with, the Cabarets, were the last band I saw, and despite it being a contest, I never learned who won. I could hear The Cabarets, slowing down into a funk on the one and three, showing the gait of an old man's rhythm hidden in a higher BPM. Their stage presence, not yet viced out on anything but music, rhythm and language, was pure explosive youth. The movement in the songs gestured toward an understanding of the pop structure, but they tipped their hat and went into a realm unfettered by influences outside of their own band, an insular ricocheting between the spaces and the notes of their song.
As far as the workshop vibe, Richard Hamlin, the drummer, told me “I'm a little indifferent on it. I feel, critiquing after a song, on things that the songwriter genuinely put in there...The bands go on with the sound they want, and in that sense it is subjective.”
The audience cheered continually, and slowly disappeared over the course of the night in tandem with their expectations, reasons for watching. The last audience member became the one who designed it all. I wonder if his expectation was what it might have been had the gun made a more melodic sound, or just as ephemeral.
Sadly, this project could only be done once this year, down from the previous twice a year. October 3rd was the only mixtape of the year, sometimes I wonder if this city had the ability to see anything but futures and progress if this would be the case. A farsightedness seems to be prevalent, leaving original voices marginalized while the city continues to try and shake off the skin of community, an inability to see culture as anything but a Walmart of product, appeal, and ideas.
“It is a labor of love, all of this is out of my pocket. I don't make any money but it does not matter. "
"One issue is the venue," Grant explained, "If the theater, the board is okay, we'll do it again here. One day I will try to escalate the whole thing. The process is as exciting as the end goal. I got nowhere else to be and the turnout is better every time. I am trying to raise awareness for the recording industry. One of my goals is to get on KTEP and play some local artists. It requires a professional integration with the media, artist venues and that is what I am trying to provoke.”
Maybe the ephemeral nature is what matters. That everything that lasts is some comet tail of these real moments. That these songs will change tomorrow, and the songwriters too, and see that the perfect radio sells reality as a mirror, when we should be looking past the filters we window ourselves within. I asked Grant Collinsworth who he thought he was when he first started writing, before he became Grant Collinsworth, as he sought “principles that you should stick with.”
He mentions the Carl Jung archetype of the Animus, our true self, that we use to communicate with the collective unconscious. It is the incarnation of meaning, and can be used as a guide toward spiritual profundity or towards the process of individuation, of becoming oneself. Collinsworth seems aware of this process as another type of songwriting, of expressing oneself and has the hinsight to see the choices and the outcomes in an interesting way.
“You know that animus that we adopt? Neil Young was that for me, he was my animus.”
The El Paso Songwriting Competition will return, next year, and we can once again watch the undulations, oscillations of the collective unconscious play out before us, live and unfettered and watch possible worlds inhabit themselves with song.