Conversation with Jerry David DeCicca

In June of 2018, I had the pleasure of a conversation with my friend Jerry David DeCicca for North of the Internet (NOTI). We talked about whether we care what other people think, what musicians we'd like to play like who make music nothing like our own, and front porch music vs. concert hall music. Find it here, on North of the Internet, a fascinating website of connections, constellations, and design.

Image from North of the Internet (NOTI)

Image from North of the Internet (NOTI)

1 - Jerry David DeCicca: Do you care what other people think about your music?

Brian Harnetty: Yes. And no! There’s a tension between the two, and it has changed over the years. When I was a teenager, at the debilitating height of caring what other people think, I read physicist Richard Feynman’s book What Do You Care What Other People Think?. His insistence on listening to others yet thinking critically about what they say and being radically honest with himself was completely inspiring and much-needed. It became a motto for me. But I don’t always live up to this ideal: it comes and goes in waves.

In retrospect, I now see these waves directly corresponding to my own sense of self and self-worth. If there is a good confidence (not ego-filled, but realistic about your own abilities), then it doesn’t matter; you do your best and the rest is not important. And it’s not only confidence, but connection, too. The more connected I feel with others, the less I care. Also, I think there has to be something in anyone who insists on working creatively at the margins and knowing that it won’t ever be a big seller or popular that must not care, deep down, what other people think. You just have to make these things — music, art, words, whatever — and scratching that itch is all you can do and think about.

Now I often think, “Who is my audience? Who am I making this for or with?” instead of worrying about whether people like what I do or not. This might sound strange, but I’ve found it to be really helpful. It might be a single person, or a community. And if I can connect with this audience or have a meaningful exchange, then that is enough. I’m not trying to make something universal or popular, but anchored to the people I work with.

So, my caring has become more focused, and not about my own pride, but more about using the music as a means to reach out and build a relationship. For my last project, “Shawnee, Ohio,” I wrote the music for the residents of the town of Shawnee. When I played it for them, their reactions were thoughtful and sometimes mixed, but always with respect and a kind of tenderness. And then it all becomes so much more than seeking praise; it is instead building friendships and community.

What about you? Do you care what other people think about your music? I have a sense I already know your answer. For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve seemed to be a person who has quietly and confidently always known what you wanted, and caring what others thought never seemed to be all that important to you.

2 - JD: I think you have me confused for someone else — insert appropriate emoticon here. It’s true that, at least in terms of songwriting, I’m very much of the mindset that I want to see songs in the world that aren’t already there, so I should put them there. ...