What to Say to Your Musician Friends

Last week, I put out a new song called “Before the Boys,” and since then, I’ve been extremely flattered by the comments that friends of mine have made — from the friend who meant to text her husband about the emotional response she’d had to the song but texted me by accident to the friend who emailed me with a thoughtful and detailed appraisal of the song. Comments and compliments like these mean the world to me, and I imagine that other musicians feel the same way when friends, family, and even strangers reach out to say a kind word or two about music they’ve written and recorded.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to know what to say to a musician — or any artist for that matter — about a recent release, especially if you’re not a musician yourself. So here are a few ways to say “Nice song!” in a way that the musician in your life will really appreciate:

  • Hey! This song reminds me of… This is a great way to show your musically-inclined friend that you’ve not only listened to a new song but also thought about how it fits in with other kinds of music that you like. Also, you get bonus points if the point of reference is a song that your friend likes and admires. For example, a friend of mine recently wrote, “Reminds me a bit of Brian Wilson with that jangly staccato piano.” I took that as a huge compliment!
  • I love the line about… If you want to let your musician friend know that you really listened to the lyrics, mention your favorite line — or, better yet, favorite lines — of the song. Maybe there was a clever rhyme that you noticed, or maybe just an image that jumped out at you. Whatever the case, the songwriter in your life will really appreciate that something in the song made you take notice. For me, it was a friend who mentioned that he liked a line in my song about an X-chromosome!
  • I shared this song with… Again, if your goal is to let the songwriter or musician in your life know that you really appreciated a song, share it with someone! Back when I was in high school, the way to do this was to make a mixtape. Now it’s even easier. Just share a link to the song with someone who you think will appreciate it, and also let your friend know that you did so. I was extremely flattered when a friend of mine told me that she shared “Before the Boys” with her daughters!
  • I added your song to a playlist! Musicians and songwriters love to hear this because it means that you’ll be listening to their song again and again. If you want to add some context, let them know which playlist, and maybe even who else is on it. I was quite flattered when my mom mentioned that she was adding “Before the Boys” to her “Driving to the Cape May” playlist!

I’m sure there are plenty of other creative ways to show the musician or songwriter in your life appreciation for a song, but these are four of my favorites. If anyone has any other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments!

Album cover for "Before the Boys."

“Before the Boys”

I recorded a new song over Spring Break. It’s called “Before the Boys.” I recorded it at my sister-in-law’s cabin in Saugerties, NY, a stone’s throw away from Big Pink, the house where Bob Dylan and the Band recorded a couple of iconic albums. The song is about a free-spirited eleven-year-old girl who becomes self-conscious when someone pulls her aside and tells her to be more reserved and feminine because “boys are watching.” It’s told from the point-of-view of the eight-year-old boy who is crushed when the girl gives up her tomboy ways. It will be available on streaming services by the end of the month. In the meantime, here’s a link to the song on Bandcamp: https://marcschuster.bandcamp.com/releases

Aliens, Robots, and VR Idols

Full disclosure: I tried reading some of HP Lovecraft’s fiction when I was in grammar school — a collection of short stories that included “The Call of Cthulhu,” if I remember correctly — but I found it fairly alienating and also kind of depressing. Similarly, I never really got into Isaac Asimov (despite Will Smith’s best efforts), and though I vaguely recall reading and mostly enjoying William Gibson’s Neuromancer as a graduate student in the late 1990s, I failed to finish reading a subsequent Gibson novel, All Tomorrow’s Parties, because I didn’t know what was going on and didn’t especially care to find out.

None of this is to disparage any of the above writers. I’m told by several friends and colleagues — and now by John L. Steadman, author of Aliens, Robots, and Virtual Reality Idols in the Science Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov and William Gibson — that their works are classics not only within their genre but of literature in English more broadly. Likewise, the profusion of Cthulhu-themed bumper stickers and tee shirts among steampunk hipsters alone has, over the past decade or so, made me wonder whether I am, in fact, missing out on something. Fortunately for me and others of my ilk, Steadman’s book does an excellent job of summarizing much if not all of each author’s oeuvre in loving detail. Think of it as the Rough Guide to Lovecraft, Asimov and Gibson Countries.

While much of the volume is given over to valuable summary, Steadman’s larger purpose is to explore, in his words, “the interrelationship between alien and humankind.” This examination reveals the limits and limitations of what Steadman describes as “the belief that humankind is at the center of the cosmos — the most important element in the cosmos, in fact.” This critique of what might broadly be described as Humanism resonates with the Inhumanism or Antihumanism of figures like Robinson Jeffers, whose poetry does much to undermine the notions that humans are the center of existence, and it also calls to mind the Tralfamadorians of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, who look upon humanity with a mix of curiosity and bemusement.

One question that Steadman returns to repeatedly is that of motive: What do the aliens in the authors’ works want? Curiously, the question itself reveals the limits of humanity’s ability to conceive of and understand the fully alien insofar as asking what aliens want assumes that they do, in fact, want as humans do. Perhaps this explains Steadman’s conclusion that “our understanding of the alien is, at best, imperfect and minimal” and that “when the alien withdraws from the stage, as it does in the works of all three writers,” we are left with the disturbing vision of “humankind, short-lived and insignificant, alone in a vast, indifferent cosmos.”