" It's the not know­ing that makes you want to know

Red - - Advice - By Joan Ar­ma­trad­ing

When I was 20, I was painfully shy. I’m pretty sure that I was born to write songs, but per­form­ing? That was dif­fi­cult for me. I walked on to the stage at 22 be­cause that was the only way to get peo­ple to know my songs. And my de­sire for peo­ple to hear them was much stronger than my de­sire to keep my­self hid­den. If I’d have known back then that, in time, I would get over my shy­ness and be able to talk to the au­di­ence, then it would have been eas­ier. But it’s a strange thing to say, ‘If I’d known then what I know now,’ be­cause, ac­tu­ally, it’s the not know­ing then that in­forms who you be­come.

There are times when you need to be in a cer­tain state to cre­ate some­thing, and that state might even be ner­vous­ness or shy­ness. You don’t want to pro­tect your­self from a feel­ing that could bring out some­thing re­ally good in you. That’s why I don’t think you should take away the not know­ing, be­cause some­times un­cer­tainty al­lows us to in­vent, to dis­cover and to be cu­ri­ous. It’s the not know­ing that makes you want to know.

I tend to ac­cept that what­ever hap­pens in my life is a part of be­ing and a part of grow­ing. There are ter­ri­ble things that peo­ple have ex­pe­ri­enced that have gone on to build their char­ac­ters – if they hadn’t gone through them, then they wouldn’t be who they are to­day.

The truth is that in many ways I know at 67 what I knew at 20: I’m pos­i­tive, not re­gret­ful, and I’ve never felt pres­sured into say­ing ‘yes’ to things that I’m un­com­fort­able with. Early on in my ca­reer peo­ple told me to change my name be­cause no one would re­mem­ber ‘Ar­ma­trad­ing’, but I never once en­ter­tained do­ing so. And there were times when peo­ple tried to dress me, but I told them, ‘I dress the way I dress.’ What­ever you feel com­fort­able or happy in – that’s what you should wear. That’s what I’ve al­ways worn.

Per­haps I’m able to say ‘no’ be­cause I’ve al­ways known my­self. How I am now is how I’ve al­ways been – I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t swear, and I never have done. Own­ing who I am isn’t a big deal to me be­cause I haven’t changed and I’ve never been in­ter­ested in be­ing fa­mous. I only re­ally ever wanted peo­ple to know my songs, not the woman who wrote them.

The song­writ­ing process to­day is just as in­tense now as it was at 20: I still try to write as if I’m the per­son I’m singing about and I still avoid us­ing ‘he’ or ‘she’ in my lyrics, be­cause I want ev­ery­body to re­late to what I’m say­ing. I’ve never wanted to write a song for a woman or for a man; I’ve al­ways wanted to write songs for peo­ple.

What I didn’t know at 20 was that I would con­tinue to fall in love with song­writ­ing more and more ev­ery year. As a writer, it’s nice to ob­serve how peo­ple are when they fall in love, be­cause not ev­ery­body falls in love in the same way. When we look up we all see the same sky, but I’m sure we see it in a dif­fer­ent way – and that’s in­ter­est­ing to me. Writ­ing songs is a mat­ter of ob­serv­ing peo­ple and be­ing able to write those lit­tle dif­fer­ences you can see be­tween them.

All I re­ally need to be happy is to be alive and to be who I know my­self to be. So I would say that one of the most im­por­tant things I’ve learnt is also some­thing I’ve al­ways known: to be op­ti­mistic. To re­ally laugh. As long as you’re alive, as long as you’re here, you should have some en­thu­si­asm for this life.

‘At first, per­form­ing was dif­fi­cult for me’

‘I’ve al­ways wanted to write songs for peo­ple’

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