Newsletter Archive

Firsts Come First

Good Learning:  Firsts Come First

I've just released my newest CD (more on that below) and as I think about the process I went through, I realized that I learned something about "firsts" and about the creative process.

I've often said that the musician's number one job is to keep growing, learning, and trying new things.  That's actually my approach to living, and it could apply to any occupation.

Danny Meyer, restaurateur of some of the best restaurants in New York, also believes in firsts. He'll often change the menu because a chef needs to learn a new skill.

Charlie Munger, business partner to the investor Warren Buffett, says that Buffett would be not be nearly as successful if he had stopped learning. He says that what Buffett has learned since he turned 65 is responsible for much of his success.

Many of my musical heroes continued to learn and change over the course of their careers.  Bob Dylan's a great example:  he keeps trying new things, sometimes puzzling his fans in the short-term, but producing work that's been recognized over time as enduring and influential.

There's a funny thing about learning, though:  if you're stretching and pushing yourself, you're taking a lot of risks.  It can feel overwhelming at times.  "I don't know how to do this!"  "I've never done this before!"   Anytime we are doing "good learning," we're probably doing a lot of things for the first time.

You haven't received this newsletter in a while, because I've been working on the aforementioned new CD.  It's called "Sunset Waltz," and this week I'm releasing it.  What I'm most excited about with this CD is how growthful it's been to create.  I tried a bunch of things for the first time.

Here's a few of the "firsts" that went into "Sunset Waltz":
  • First time writing songs of such a personal nature ("Whiskey Vacation," "Thick-Skinned Blues")
  • First time recording Phil Ochs songs ("That's the Way It's Gonna Be," "Changes")
  • First time setting a poem to music  ("Marching Still")
  • First time recording some more humorous songs  ("Existentialist Blues," "Thick-Skinned Blues")
  • First time recording a rearrangement of one of my own songs  ("Where Did You Go?")

Another big first:  For the first time, I produced the CD myself, which means I was the decision-maker of first and last resort on every detail.  I had some adventures, including traveling to several different states to record a hand-picked cast of musicians.  I'm very, very happy with how it sounds.

A last "first":  This CD was financed partly through the support of many friends and listeners.  My fans pitched in like a small town in a barn-raising.   Such generous participation in the project let me line up a top-notch recording studio, top-quality musicians, and even to have great photos and artwork on the CD.   It was amazing to make exactly the artistic choices I wanted to make on this project, without discarding the best possibilities for lack of funds.  Wow.

So, "Sunset Waltz" is a CD that opened the door to several "firsts" for me.  I'd like you to enjoy "Sunset Waltz" and even more I'd like you try some "firsts" in your life along with me. What "firsts" have you done recently - or are you contemplating? Write to me - I'd love to hear about your "firsts."


To buy "Sunset Waltz" at   (link will be operational in a couple days)

Mark Erelli explains "barn-raising" as it applied to his own CD:
Charlie Munger:
Bob Dylan's "Chronicles" provides a good window into his learning and musical development.  Buy the book:


Ears and Eyes:  What I'm Listening to and Reading:
    Rev. Blind Gary Davis, "Complete Recorded Works, 1935-1949."  
          (Album is out of print, but equivalents are here:) and
    "We Insist!  Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite," featuring Abbey Lincoln.  Buy the CD:
    John Allen Paulos, "Innumeracy:  Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences."   Buy the book:
    John P. MacKenzie, "Absolute Power:  How the Unitary Executive Theory is Undermining the Constitution."  Buy the book: