Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Outside

Does anyone else feel like an outsider? Maybe you're playing along, acting within the cultural guidelines of whatever group you may associate with, but you never truly feel like you belong. I don't think I've ever felt like I "fit in," if there is such a feeling. Sure, I play the game to earn peoples respect, to have them accept me, but I don't feel like they know me any better because of it.

We all crave acceptance, respect and honor. We crave attention for who we are and we want to be known. Someone once told me that every artists motivating force is the desire to be loved by everyone. I think that might be true of everyone, not just artists. We've all felt an inkling of it at some point, that acceptance, and because of that we crave it more. Maybe you've felt it at camp, on a sports team, in a peer group, at church, in a relationship or friendship. We need it, and yet I'm convinced none of us truly feel it the majority of the time. Something tells me even the most magnetic, attractive and talented people probably still feel lonely and isolated. I'll bet they feel like they don't really fit into their peer groups. I've read countless books about famous artists and musicians and actors who took great risks to succeed, to be loved, only to end up alone, isolated, on the outside.

But then again maybe not everyone is like me. Maybe some people feel like they fit their peer groups fine. Maybe they feel deeply known and accepted. Maybe I'm projecting my own issues on everyone else because I want to relate. My parents were never really the tender emotional type, but my Dad once told me something my mom said to him years ago. She had warned him to be careful with me, because I was different and "emotional." I remember feeling really embarrassed by that. All I'd ever wanted was to fit in, and here was my mom saying I was different. My mom also told me when I was six years old I swore to her that I knew what people were thinking. I thought I could read minds. If you're wondering, I don't think I still have that skill. So I don't know, maybe I am different and "emotional." Maybe because I was a middle sibling in a large family I will always feel overlooked. Maybe I'll always feel on the outside. I'm not crying about it, I actually love what my circumstances have gifted me with. Something tells me I'm not alone though.

In our culture there is a lot of posturing and dishonesty. The one thing I hate more than lying is small talk. It seems people resolve to talk about things they don't really care about in some defensive maneuver to hide their true selves. The truth about you is scary, I don't care who you are, and our spineless society is more worried about social graces than true and honest relationships (see blog post "Friends Are What You Like"). With so much posturing and pretension, its hard to keep up with your "friends." If you don't come equipped with enough meaningless BS to spew out, the competitive nature of the conversation might cause you to lose some favor among said "friends." If you don't know your current pop culture or scene culture trivia, you could lose out on some serious ground gaining on the small-talk race-track. Now this isn't to say that all small talk is bad. You don't go up to someone and tell them your deepest darkest secret right after they say, "How's it going?" Its the obsession with the meaningless topics and the competition of it all that drives me crazy. Small talk should be a tool to get to real talk.

All this to say that if I am correct and other people are constantly feeling on the "outside," that perhaps part of the reason is the incredible lack of the true sense of community in Western Culture. I'm as mad at myself for this as I am at anyone else.

One place I do "fit in" is my marriage. By the grace of God I have a great one. The two of us together (Kristie and I) is an incredible thing to be a part of, and I am constantly learning more fascinating things about her. If I tried to explain it would only sound mushy. We've been married coming up on five years, and we've been together almost ten. Five years ago I never thought it could get better. I didn't think I could ever love her more, I was content to continue to love her at that same level for the rest of my life. Incredibly, I feel like my love for her is a thousand planes deeper than that level, and I was head over heels then. We are constantly learning more and more about each other, and we can be brutally honest with each other and still laugh until our stomachs hurt. Maybe thats why I have this desire to be a part of a community that is more, because I have an example of a relationship that has set the bar so high. Or maybe she's just the only person who has ever really attempted to know me and love me for who I truly am. Either way, and we say this all the time, we feel like puzzle pieces that fit perfectly. Now if I could only fit that way in all the other areas of my life...

I think the feeling of being on the outside is a strong motivation for good artists, however, great artists do art for art sake, and they aren't motivated by anything other than their passion for their work. Take a band for instance, struggling to make ends meat, trying to make a mark and be known. They get their shot on a major label and release their debut. Still, the record is written on the floors at friends houses and in their broken down van on the road. The record is full of realism, honest emotion and raw power. It's fueled by the tension between what is and what will be. People love the album. The band has created a niche in the music scene, people pack out shows to see them and they feel they are finally speaking the language of the people. They finally "fit in" to something that is ultimately greater than themselves. Excitement and expectations build as fans are anxious for a second release. Could it be greater than the first? It never is. Why? Take away that tension, and the second record flops. It's forced, it sounds like their chasing that first record, but they never can catch it, because it was honest and raw and fresh and different.

The best bands make music for musics sake. Album after album they put forth an honest effort. Some are better than others, yes, but you still anxiously await the next release because you know there are going to be cuts on it that will make you swell with emotion, that will lift your spirits or cut you to your soul.

So my challenge has been to not let the feeling of being on the outside control what I create. Luckily, we've always had the tension there (we've never been widely accepted), but even more fortunate is the fact that I haven't really caved to it. I haven't set out to write pop radio "hits" (whatever those are), or to fit into whatever scene is hot right now. I'd like to think I write from the heart, with a weird twist from the head and a sloppy scribble from the hand. I'd like the think I don't write to posture or impress or to appease anyone else. Maybe that has hurt us commercially, I don't know.

What I do know is that chances are I'm not alone. I'm not alone in feeling like I don't "fit in," because I know at least a couple people relate to our songs. At least a few people can understand and sing along as if the lyrics were meant for them. We can't all belong, but we can all not-belong together. We can share songs and sing along at the top of our lungs (that kind of rhymes). If that happens again on this new record, regardless of if we sell a million or a hundred copies, you can bet I'll be smiling.


  1. Great post. Small talk irks me. Listeners can get a feel for whether a song comes from the heart or whether it feels forced. That's why it's important to write lyrics and music that is from the heart. Thank you for doing that.

  2. As usual, a great post.

    Let me put this out there and try not to sound like I'm blowing smoke...

    I honestly don't think if something suddenly changed and you became "widely accepted" that anything would really change about you.

    You and Kristie are very grounded individuals.

    Be blessed, and continue to bless the rest of us.


  3. Great blog Matt. I have felt like this all my life. With the exception of the few close friends who I'm blessed to feel I "belong" with. So you're def not alone. I think it's a very universal feeling. Thanks for writing honestly about it.:)

  4. Amen, amen, amen, brother.

    I love you, haha. You speak to my soul.

    Ok, what I'm trying to say is I love how you refuse to sell out. You're authentic. I hate "pop" BS; it offends me. Since music is about the hearts and lives of people, when it becomes about money and image w/ typical chord progressions, crappy lyrics, and annoying synthying, it plays down one of the most meaningful things there is in this life.

    Sorry for the rant. I relate to your thoughts. I DO feel on the outside. And I love that we're not alone. The song "You're Not Alone" by Saosin just screams that message. We forget about God. We forget about each other. And though you have no idea who I am, we're all connected. Again, my apologies, but I applaud your authenticity and your passion.

  5. Matt, first off thank you! This blog did wonders for me! I have been a huge fan of your for a few years! I got estatic when you "at replied" me on twitter (NathanFunshine) even though it was just about p90x lol. On the back of my ipod it says "give me wings, give me peace" because that line is a big part of my life! But i didn't post this comment just to be a crazy fan, i actually posted it because this blog means alot! Thank you for truly telling me im not alone. The fact that you have confusing if you alone tells me that same confusion exists in more than just me, if that makes any sense. Everything you have said here, i can relate to. I had the same thing with my father not understanding my emotions, in fact i still struggle with it. But it really helps to know that someone's out there...i would really love to email you, but i realize thats probably not too likely to happen. but if you get the chance...NaRich2010@gmail.com i would love to hear from you! But overall regardless of the email or no email, continue to do when effects my life the most. Continue to write honest lyrics and sing with emotion and passion as you always do! I hope you take this for how i intend it, not a bunch of fan crap. None of us are alone.

  6. you kidding me, a "few people" can relate? :) i am so glad you understand the value of real music. i'm so glad you understand what needs to go into music to *make* it real. that's what gets every line to scream "do you know this song's for you?"... i- we- can feel the heart of the music going out to the hurt we feel inside...

    it's such a backward-seeming concept, but hardship and suffering really does make for a better outcome, mm? and in more than just music...

    i cannot express how excited i am to see the product of all these thoughts, matt. thank you for writing...


  7. JFYI, this weekend I did about 6 hours of driving roundtrip to see a friend, and a good chunk of that was spent singing at the top of my lungs various songs from "Albatross," "The Silver Cord," and "Seattle Sessions" (yes, I can rock out to acoustic). Your music touches people- maybe just people like me (I've always been "different" too, and I'm totally ok with that), but people just the same. Your music is fresh and different, and not ever the same boring pop a whole bunch of other bands play. "We can't all belong, but we can all not-belong together." <-- This describes my two best friends and me perfectly; we have almost nothing in common with each other, but we wouldn't trade each other for the world. I think it's our differences that make our friendship beautiful.

  8. Aparently you aren't as alone as you first thought, you have found your place in a wonderful marriage, with someone who is willing to get to know the real you, with all that entails. Some of us don't have that, our friends, our spouse and even our children don't have a clue, but we find our solace in music, a place we can be ourselves. Most of us don't make the music, we rely on others, like you, to do that for us. We need them to take us to a place where we feel we belong.

  9. Wow Matt! You sound so much like my husband and I. We're also "different" and were never accepted in our own small town. My husband always says that his greatest wish is to know and be known. When I was dating him I really had to get used to his frequent question, what do you think? because unlike everyone else he really did want to know what I thought, about everything,he wanted to know my hopes, my dreams, my fears, my honest opinon even if it was different from his own. I had never had the experience of being able to share those things with someone. My husband and I have always shared a passion for meaningful music, something that makes you feel! Finding someone like you that has lyrics that we can relate to expressed in such a powerful way is amazing. You and the rest of the guys do such a great job of making music for music sake. As cheesy as it sounds I find it very noble of you. Sometimes I feel like your song Who Needs Air was written just for me. And you can bet that me, my husband and our 19 month old son do and will continue to sing along at the top of our lungs. Thank you!