For a little over a year now, I’ve been doing music full time on my own. I work alone. I tour alone. I perform alone. (Sometimes when I’ve been in the car a long time, I even have conversations on my own, but that’s another story.) I don’t belong to a record label, so that means I do all my own booking and promotion. As a result, it’s common for people to refer to me as an independent singer/songwriter. I’ve even used that label to refer to myself from time to time. For some reason, the title “Independent Artist” inspires fans to believe that the artist does their thing freely without being subject to pressure from marketing executives, and that somehow, their art is more pristine and genuine, which isn’t necessarily the case. But even if that’s true, I think the title is misleading at best, and destructive to an artist’s place in the community at worst.
First of all, there’s no such thing as an independent human being. All of us have parents, all of us belong to some kind of community, and all of us depend on others to survive. As our society becomes more urbanized and specialized, we actually become more dependent upon others, even though we live under the growing illusion that somehow modern society has allowed us to become more independent.
For example, I don’t know a single person who grows their own food, at least not enough to survive on. We don’t build our own homes or educate our own children. Other people do that for us. (Ok, so some people build their own houses, but they rely on someone else to harvest the necessary materials for them. Some people choose to educate their own children, but they usually rely on someone else to provide them with the curriculum.) Anyways, my point in all of this is that it is a simple fact of human existence that we cannot survive alone.
Richard Wurmbrand wrote extensively about the 3 years he spent in solitary confinement under the communists in Romania. For three years, the only time he saw another human being was when he was dragged from his cell and beaten. He said that other inmates would regularly start screaming for no other reason than that this prolonged isolations began to rob them of their sanity. Given time, isolation begins to strip away our humanity. So, to consider yourself an independent anything is to delude yourself. We are not independent. We need others. We find health and wholeness in community.
This is the way it was intended from the beginning. Some of the first words spoken by God to a human being, according to the Scriptures, were when He looked at Adam and said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…” In fact, the Triune God, is the centerpiece of Christian theology, so that even God is both unity and community. We were never meant to exist independent of others. As God, Himself, has said, “It is not good…”.
The longer I do this the more keenly aware I become of my need for community. I am deeply dependent on others. I am dependent on churches to host concerts. I am dependent on people to come to those concerts and buy CD’s. I’m also deeply dependent on the people who go out of their way to encourage me. Sometimes, just like Moses, we need other people to come along and hold our arms up.
But it goes even further than that. We’re dependent on each other, this much is clear, but if we stop there, it can lead to nihilism and to a sense of entitlement. (I need you, so you have to help me.). The Scriptures are also clear that each of us have been given talents and abilities to be stewards of, and those abilities are not our own, they’re given for the edification of the community. In other words we are interdependent. We need and we are needed. This is far more than others simply being dependent on us. It means we are responsible to meet the needs of others, according to the talents, gifts, and abilities we’ve been given.
Now, none of this is profound by any means, but it’s a reality that’s been helpful for me to come to terms with. For one, it deepens my sense of gratitude toward someone who supports me in this role, whether they come to a show, or make a hefty donation toward my next album, or simply offer an encouraging word because I depend on them. But, it also strengthens me and gives me courage to continue in this sometimes difficult ministry, because our interdependence means that my art is more than just a luxury, it’s a necessity. If I have been given the ability to meet a need, then there must also be a corresponding need I’m responsible to meet. So I can’t just quit when my needs aren’t being met, because my gifts are not my own. Rather, I have a responsibility to others. Not only am I in need, but I am needed. And sometimes, our greatest need, is to be needed.
Keith Kitchen – Interdependent Singer/Songwriter