Much of my childhood is hazy in my memory because of its ever-shifting nature. The one thing that I can still recall with rather unhindered detail is finding my voice as an artist even when life itself was uncertain.
When my parents split, it was messy. The house foreclosed, my mom and I moved in with my grandparents four hours north, and my two older sisters stayed in Cincinnati with my dad. As my mom struggled to find a job and a sense of new permanence in Akron, my aunts and grandparents stepped up and helped with caretaking duties. I was eight or nine years old.
Listen to the song while reading the text.
My First Guitar
Fast forward a few years and I was at my aunt’s house in Virginia. My four-year-old cousin handed me a small guitar. I read the label…Baby Taylor. I was curious because it didn’t look like a toy, so I asked my aunt about it. She told me her stepdaughter lost interest and I was welcome to take it home if I would use it. My mom picked me up from the airport with a guitar in hand. I was eleven years old.
I’m convinced that when my mom asked her coworker at the local community college to give me lessons, he said yes only because he was too kind to say no. Gary taught me the basics of guitar and fingerstyle in his home at no charge. He realized after a few months that I was taken with the instrument. I would come back to lessons with exercises or songs nearly perfected and ready to learn the next thing. His confidence in me helped shape my own self-esteem. I was capable of anything with his undying support.
Conflict In Melody Gives Way To Beauty
I think what he and my mom didn’t understand was “the why” – why music meant what it did to me and why I was so determined to be better at it. Growing up in a home where conflict and feelings of dysphoria were the only certainties, music was dependable. I escaped to songs by The Indigo Girls, Jewel, Fiona Apple, and Sheryl Crow.
The first time I heard Tori Amos changed my life. I realized that conflict in melody gave way to beauty. Sometimes the absence of resolution was more gratifying than the alternative. The insight that gave with regards to my perception of the external world was invaluable. I owed it to music to learn how to deliver that kind of sensation to other people who were lost, sad, or confused so that they too could know conflict itself wasn’t wrong.
It wasn’t until Gary took my mom and me to see Willy Porter perform that I realized in order to do that, I needed to write songs. Watching Willy play the guitar was like being on drugs. All of my senses were heightened. I was completely overstimulated trying to make sense of what I was seeing and hearing. But it was his lyrics that really drove his melodies home. How could he capture a mood so perfectly? How could he paint such a vivid picture with words in addition to the complexities of his melodies?
After the show, Willy signed a CD for me. I told him I wanted to be like him. Gary added that I was an excellent guitar student, to which Willy replied,
“That’s great, keep with it. But remember that if you actually want to do what I do, you need to write songs. Start by writing something simple. You can do it.”
If You Saw Me Now
That night, I penned a terrible song about moving to California. Nevertheless, it was a song, and I was determined to write better ones. Six months later, I was performing my originals regularly at coffee shops and bars. I was twelve years old.
I ran into Willy again at The Black Potatoe Independent Music Festival in New Jersey, 2013. And I was playing the side stage directly before Willy Porter was playing the main stage. I asked to see him backstage and he agreed. I showed him a picture of us at his merch booth that first night I saw him perform.
“You don’t remember me, but I was just learning to play guitar when you told me I needed to start writing songs. So I did. I just recorded my first full-length record this year and started touring. And now I’m playing on the other stage today, just before your set. I honestly don’t know if I’d be here without your thoughtful advice,”
to which he hugged me and responded with tears in his eyes,
“It’s easy to forget why I do what I do, but you just reminded me. The universe has a plan, and we’re both here for the same reason. I’m so happy to know you.”
I was 22 years old.
Now I’m 28 years old and my path is always changing, but music is a staple. If I can inspire one person in the same way Tori, Gary, and Willy inspired me, then I’ve done my job.
At the end of the day, I think that’s the point of life itself– to serve others to the best of our abilities. Some of us are artists. Some of us are teachers. And some of us are parents. Every one of us has a purpose and it’s not always finite. Embracing change and conflict in my life has helped pave a wonderful path before me and I’m grateful for the opportunity to show others there is beauty in the unknown.
Gretchen Pleuss, Category: Artist, Singles: Rainy Days, Sheepish, If You Saw Me Now, Everybody’s Pretty, Top Tracks: Everybody’s Pretty, Sheepish, If You Saw Me Now, Rainy Days, Biography: Gretchen Pleuss is a Folk singer-songwriter from Ohio whose soft vocals and evocative songwriting ability have positioned her as one of the finest emerging acts in her genre., Monthly Listeners: 200, Where People Listen: Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Akron, Wadsworth