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Performing Songwriter Cover

The Folksinger's Multiple Choice Test

Originally published in Performing Songwriter Magazine
Issue #26, November 1997

Like any minority group, folksingers often take themselves too seriously. (Myself the notable exception, of course...) Below is my own small contribution toward a cure...

You were born with a talent for songwriting, for singing, for performing, and now you're thinking of taking the plunge. No more nine-to-five; the open road is calling, and you believe it's your destiny to go with it. Maybe you've had a label release, maybe you've just pressed your own "only available at live shows" CD, maybe you haven't gotten further than the local high school auditorium. But somewhere in your heart beats the soul of a troubadour, and you're ready to do battle with anyone who says you're not.

Or are you? Do you really have what it takes? Are you a "natural", or just some poor slob who fell in love with the romance of the road and can't hold down a day job? Do your relatives laugh at your dreams? Does your spouse get angry when you break into song during funerals? Do you wonder if it's really talent you have, or just a glib gift with words? In short, do you wake up in the middle of the night wondering whether you're really qualified to work in the high-expectation, low-reward world of performing songwriters?

Take this easy quiz and find out! It's multiple choice, so even the most dyslexic of singer/songwriters should be able to find a letter they can color in. Those of you in groups can Xerox this and pass it around. If you're used to co-writing with a lot of different people, you can merely assign a different colored pen to each of your co-test-takers.

This test has been designed to provide you with a framework for your future – a bulwark, if you will, against the frets and frails of daily life. At the end, you will add up your score, and find out once and for all if you are truly a Performing Songwriter... or just some heathen who should quickly fill out an application to the nearest McDonald's and hope for minimum wage, an easy marriage, and fun-filled vacations in Branson.

The Performing Songwriter Multiple-Aptitude Quiz

Instructions: If you have absolutely no respect for the printed word, tear these pages out; otherwise, lay this magazine on a yellow legal pad (narrow-ruled is best) with a pencil (preferably automatic with #2 lead, .05 mm) or a pen (Uniball Micro, Pilot V-ball are both acceptable) by your side. Select a spot where you can think clearly and will not be distracted by boomboxes or sunlight; a darkened bathroom is best. Gather everything you normally keep beside you when you write, with the exception of your instrument (smaller instruments such as mandolins are permitted) and your spouse (smaller spouses may be okay too).

Read through these instructions several times. Contemplate a letter of objection to the editor, pointing out that no politically correct provisions have been made for the blind, the stupid, or the humor-impaired. Read through them again, taking time to consult your Songwriter's Dictionary for explanations of the words "heathen", "humor", and "marriage".

When you have exhausted every other possibility and distraction, fill out the first few questions, skip to the middl,e and fill it out to the end, then spend the rest of your allotted time muttering "Second verses are always the hardest part". If possible, finish the test. Give it to someone else to grade and watch their face as they read your answers. Try to guess what your score is, and their reaction to it. Treat this moment exactly as you would playing a new song for a trusted friend – nothing they say short of "Oh God, you're so brilliant, words fail me" will satisfy.

Good luck!

  1. When you sit down to write you always have the following nearby:
    1. a list of the current Billboard Top 40
    2. a piece of scrap paper and a writing utensil
    3. spring water, incense, and your faithful cat
    4. who sits down to write?
  2. When you play a new song for someone else you usually:
    1. expect them to tell you how wonderful it is
    2. watch them like a hawk while pretending to keep your eyes closed
    3. issue a series of disclaimers such as "I've never written anything in 5/8 before" or "I haven't really finished the 3rd verse, it's going to have a twist ending"
    4. expect them to tell you the truth, but politely
  3. If offered a major label deal you would:
    1. say that there are no major labels, only major talents
    2. walk away from it all – who needs that kind of tension?
    3. fall to your knees and thank God, the Buddha, and the A & R staff
    4. hope you can live up to the expectations
  4. When you were a child you spent your spare allowance on:
    1. Travel & Leisure, Vogue
    2. nothing – who got an allowance?
    3. donations to various animal rights groups
    4. cheap fountain pens that gave you the thrill of being a "real" writer
  5. You hoard the following:
    1. old invitations and laminates
    2. old lovers
    3. old flowers
    4. old song ideas
  6. Your spouse calls you on the road – the hot water heater broke, your dog threw up all over the new quilt, your kid wanted to see what would happen if he filled the toilet with paper and flushed. You:
    1. wonder why they're calling you, of all people
    2. wonder how they got the hotel number
    3. say "I feel your pain" and wish you could be there to help but of course it's impossible
    4. offer to return home immediately, then wait for them to talk you out of it
  7. When you enter a restaurant where music is playing you:
    1. check to see if any of your friends are on the tape
    2. ignore it as yet another example of the repressive totalitarialinism and corruption of the creative spirit endemic to our culture
    3. politely tell the manager you have no auditory closure and ask them to turn it off
    4. pull out your Leatherman tool and cut the speaker wires
  8. On the road you always carry:
    1. rubber gloves, Lysol spray, and your own pillow
    2. a snub-nosed .38, a Leatherman tool, and a case of Blue Ribbon
    3. photos of yourself as a child
    4. bug spray, a Swiss Army knife, and a bottle of single malt
  9. When you buy a newspaper the first thing you turn to is:
    1. the obituaries, just in case someone you know died
    2. the automobile ads, just in case there's a car you want
    3. the arts section, in case you're mentioned
    4. you don't buy newspapers; you get information on a "need-to-know" basis from friends
  10. You spend your days off on the road:
    1. laying in a tanning booth so you'll look healthy onstage
    2. booking gigs so you can stay on the road
    3. calling home to make sure it's still there
    4. walking around town talking to the locals
  11. Your idea of an acceptable hotel is:
    1. any room with matching carpet and drapes
    2. any friend who remembers you don't like sleeping with dogs
    3. any house available with an owner who dotes on you
    4. any car that's not moving
  12. Your idea of a really great hotel is:
    1. any room with a bidet
    2. any room someone else is paying for
    3. any plce with your own bedroom
    4. any van that's not moving
  13. Your spouse hates it when inspiration strikes because you:
    1. forget to bring the baby home from day care
    2. write on their arms when you run out of room on your own
    3. sit at a table full of company, staring into the distance and mumbling to yourself
    4. all of the above
  14. In your new rider you specify such backstage requirements as:
    1. mood lighting, Persian carpet, earth-tone décor
    2. can opener and working sink
    3. unscented candles, complete silence
    4. a Harley motorcycle available for your use from noon until loadout
  15. You believe the word "Nazi" originated with:
    1. the History Channel
    2. the people who run most folk festivals
    3. your last closing act, who wouldn't let you take a well-deserved encore
    4. those Europeans with the baggy uniforms and ugly president
  16. You don't really care about money, but when you make it you're going to:
    1. endow a large hospital wing with your name featured prominently on the side of the building
    2. bury it in large vats in the back yard
    3. quit all of this, because what you really want to do is direct
    4. start your own label and sign all your friends
  17. Your subscription to Performing Songwriter has lapsed. You:
    1. renew it, and buy a gift subscription for a friend
    2. beg the editor for a free subscription
    3. let it lapse – what have they done for you lately?
    4. offer to trade 10 copies of your new CD for a renewal
  18. To stay healthy on the road you:
    1. add up your fat grams and calories each night, and splurge on pretzels
    2. drink a lot, take drugs, and splurge occasionally on protein
    3. eat only vegetables and sometimes fish – although you no longer eat lobster because you've been told they're monogamous
    4. stay home
  19. Your idea of the perfect gig is:
    1. what's a gig?
    2. opening for the Rolling Stones
    3. closing for the Rolling Stones
    4. being a Rolling Stone
  20. It embarrasses you that you:
    1. are afraid to drive a rental car
    2. thought Terminator 2 was just about the best movie ever
    3. move your lips when you read
    4. aren't a better writer
  21. You break a guitar string mid-show and:
    1. throw down the instrument in disgust and storm off
    2. change the string while telling a long, funny story with the punch line "There are skid marks around the snake!"
    3. finish the show with only five strings, but play for sympathy by wincing each time you hit a big chord
    4. ask if anyone in the crowd has a spare guitar handy, and hope for the best
  22. You are lead act on a big bill, and a bit uncomfortable because you don't know any of the other performers. You:
    1. sit in your dressing room and fume that they haven't stopped by to introduce themselves
    2. wander around looking lost, figuring you'll meet up with them at the free food table
    3. cluster with the friends who accompanied you, laughing at their "in" jokes and ignoring the other performers – if you don't know them already, they're probably not worth your time and trouble anyhow
    4. go out of your way to meet and introduce yourself to everyone, understanding that they may not think it's polite to seek you out first
  23. A fan approaches you with hero-worship in their eyes; after a few minutes of talk, they ask if they can go back to your room with you or the night. You're lonely, homesick, and very attracted to them, and think to yourself:
    1. "I really don't want to run the risk of morning hair with a complete stranger"
    2. "I can always give them my home number in the morning, but 'accidentall'" reverse two digits of it; they'll never guess I did it on purpose"
    3. "Aha! I sense a captive audience, I can spend the evening relating the story of my life, yet again"
    4. "I wouldn't sleep with a fan on the road, it would be an abuse of power and privilege"
  24. You've had a song on hold by a Major Artist, and already told all your friends about it. The record is released and your song's not on it. You:
    1. write a scathing review of it for your Internet Blog
    2. plan revenge, perhaps something involving insects and honey
    3. tell all your friends what a louse that artist is
    4. mutter "Water seeks it's own level" and assume the song will find a better home somewhere else
  25. A club that promised you a free meal has not only charged for the food, but warns they will deduct $1.50 per soda and $3.50 per bar drink. You are furious, but since it wasn't in the contract, you have no recourse. So you:
    1. cry and stamp your feet a lot, then stiff the waitress on the tip
    2. shrug it off and just drink from the bathroom tap
    3. unplug all the ice machines on your way out, carefully closing the kitchen door behind you
    4. pull some Crazy Glue out of your tool kit and glue the kitchen refrigerator and faucets completely shut as you leave
  26. You fill out a pop quiz in your favorite music magazine, and find you're completely unsuited for your chosen career. You:
    1. seek out the writer on tour and threaten to sue
    2. use those pages for kindling and pretend you never did take the test
    3. shake your head and feel bad for any performer who'd need to justify themselves by writing silly articles in the first place
    4. assume everyone else is wrong as usual, and continue on your way

To Grade The Quiz You Should:

Add up your responses for each letter.

Choose whichever letter got the most responses – this is your "major" or "sun sign", who you are today in the here-and-now.

Choose the letter that got the second-most responses – this is your "secondary" or "moon sign", indicating the possibility of change if you really work at it.

Ignore the other two letters, they're not part of your personality. I just put them in for fun.

If you have any "ties" (e.g. the number of responses is the same for two letters), please take the test again, but try to do it with a little more feeling this time. If your score remains the same, you should probably consider becoming a lawyer or an agent, since both those careers necessitate having a split personality.

Remember, nothing is written in stone. If you don't like the letters you wound up with, re-arrange your life! Intensive therapy, religious revelations, and falling in love all cause tremendous personality changes. Hit records can have a profound effect on character, as can severe flops. Remember – sometimes you must change behavior before you can change feelings.

A. The Aristocrat

You are compulsive, self-serving, self-seeking – in short, a complete narcissist Perhaps all artists are like this deep inside, but most are not so proud of it. I suspect that under your fluttering exterior beats the heart of a normal human being, who lives ensconced in a shell of barely-concealed fear, but I've seen no proof of that theory. You should not be a performer or even a songwriter. Instead you ought to try to marry well, or become a therapist specializing in EST-like cults built around your personality disorder(s). You may become a Very Famous Singer if you keep at it, but you and everyone around you will be miserable.

Suggested reading: Burke's Peerage, Machiavelli, Fern Michaels

Listening: Frank Sinatra, Zamfir's The Pan Flute

Magazines: Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous, People

Drink: white Beaujolois, esoteric Slavic champagnes

Secret vice: nodding off to John Coltrane

B. The Hobo

You are compulsive and irresponsible, with a great love of the outdoors. You find it hard to stay in one place very long, and are constantly seeking new horizons; whether that is to explore or to escape is something only you can answer. In the tradition of a medieval singer whose arrival at various castles and settlements meant the locals could finally catch up on the news, you circle the globe, bringing a bit of each place to the next. Because you're never anywhere long enough to really know it, you should be a performer who sings other peoples' songs and only throws your own in occasionally. Don't get married – you will only leave your spouse for the call of the open road. The performer's life, for you, is also a great way to avoid confrontation and paying your own bills. On the other hand, you're more in touch with the country than most of your contemporaries, and it shows in your work.

Suggested reading: Woody Guthrie's Bound for Glory, Peter Jenkin's A Walk Across America

Listening: Hank Williams, Jean Ritchie, Utah Phillips, Mance Lipscomb

Magazines: Track & Field, the Amtrak schedules

Drink: coffee, plain and thick

Secret vice: surfing the net anonymously

C. New Age

Consumed with your own navel, you manage to write long and tedious songs about it. More concerned with animal rights than human, you should not travel to third world countries, or areas of America where people don't have enough to eat and a pet is just another mouth to feed. You would make a good lay therapist, but are so obsessed with your own feelings and pain that your clientele would have to consist of people from your own socio-economic background, so you could relate. You should not marry anyone interested in outward growth, since yours is all inward. You will do well in public every ten years or so, when a new self-obsessed generation comes along to feed on your pain.

Suggested reading: Ayn Rand, Deepak Chopra, small books with easy-to-read sentences of wisdom someone who has none has collected by an assortment of writers you will never read.

Listening: Songs of the Hump-backed Whale, Deepak Chopra, Zen Master Rama (books on cassette)

Magazines: your current journals, your childhood diaries

Drink: occasional white wine (but only vintage), bottled water

Secret vice: drinking Mountain Dew

D. The Folksinger

That's it. You are it. A combination of the best and worst traits exhibited by everyone above, you are vain but vulnerable, compulsive about your work but attentive to friends and lovers, as obsessive about your joy as you are about yourself. The world is your oyster, and you stand ready to consume it. You pay homage to those who've gone before you, while looking eagerly toward the future. You are brave, foolish, honorable to a fault, stumbling through life wearing your heart on your sleeve – eternally hopeful and optimistic about the human race, while quietly pessimistic about your own place in it. In short, you are everything we admire in others, and fear in ourselves.

Suggested reading: Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time, Pete Seeger's Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Alan Ginsberg's Howl & Other Collected Poems, all of Tennessee Williams' plays

Listening: Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, all of the above

Magazines: anything left laying around at a coffee shop or the dentist's office

Drink: The Balvenie, filtered water, beer

Secret vices: There are no secrets any more

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