Uncommon Eloquence: Shane Jackman, Storyteller and Poet
Visit Shane Jackman’s website at www.shanejackman.com.
Editors’ Note: Shane Jackman has been making waves in the acoustic folk scene since his first appearances in front of discriminating crowds in New England. Sacrificing the comforts of family and home, Shane launched a five-year national touring schedule, completing upwards of 150 dates a year. Appearing with the likes of Peter Paul and Mary, Shawn Colvin, Pete Segar, Howard Jones, The Mavericks, Marty Stewart and Michael Martin Murphy, Shane won audiences over with his trademark sagebrush sound and engaging performance style. Shane’s first album, Rhythm of the Land, debuted in the Americana Top 40 on the Gavin Radio chart. It garnered praise and critical acclaim industry wide, from the trade magazines and newspapers, to the world’s top songwriters and entertainment stars. His second album, Looking West, released to similar praise. The album is full of tributes to Shane’s pioneer heritage. Shane’s latest release is entitled Equilibrium.
It’s a small crowd, probably not more than fifty, who have gathered in Provo, Utah to hear a small group of songwriters strum their guitars and tell their tales. Up on the stage are three performers, each seated on a stool and each with a guitar slung over his shoulder, carefully tuning his instrument. The one with the harmonica takes the mic and with a warm smile welcomes the audience.
Meet Shane Jackman. The accomplished songwriter plays host of the monthly gathering of Utah songwriters called Songwriters in the Round. He introduces his first song as “What I did on My Summer Vacation” and begins to strum an infectious melody.
And then we’d drive all night / Watch the raindrops scatter in the headlights / and you’d smile so bright / with your face lit up by the dash light / It was a paperback adventure / You were Annie Oakley and I was Jesse James / And I will love you like the rain
It’s hard not to like Jackman and his music in this kind of a setting. He is in his element. The intimate crowd, the friendly banter between the performers on stage and the honesty of the songwriting all have a quality that makes you feel like you’re really just sitting in a good friend’s living room, sharing feelings, stories and ideas.
ON THE ROAD
That kind of ease in front of an audience came to Jackman during his years on the road. But as he relates, it came at a price.
“Back in the early 90’s I decided that if I was going to make it as a songwriter, I needed to be on the East Coast. And so Linda and I sold our house, packed everything we owned into our VW bus and headed for the East with our little baby girl. I can’t imagine what our parents must have been thinking.
“We made it to Massachusetts, where I got a job tending polo ponies. We stayed in an apartment above the barn. I’d ride horses all day then sit in the hayloft and write songs, then head off to open-mic nights on weekends.
“I stumbled onto a degree of success, and started touring quite a bit. I was working with some great people.” (Shawn Colvin, Michael Martin Murphy, Pete Segar and Howard Jones to name a few). “They were good years, and I learned a lot, both about the music business and about myself.
“Life on the road can be exciting. But it’s not nearly as meaningful or poignant as people think. What’s meaningful is in the back yard. I’d be driving along somewhere and see a family sitting down to supper, and it would rip my heart out because that’s where I wanted to be.
“We left Massachusetts on a tour that lasted the better part of a year. While we were on the road, I continued to book more shows, and realized that we could keep booking from Utah or anywhere else. We ended that tour in Utah and stayed where we could be with family and friends.
“Soon afterwards, my daughter started school, making it difficult to tour as a family anymore. I spent a few more years touring the country alone in tours of 3 or so months at a time. After ‘Rhythm of the Land’ charted on Americana radio, the tours got intense. The pressure mounted to sell more records and more concerts tickets. I think I passed that pressure on to the home front over the phone. Linda was so patient with me.
“After a while, I began to look like some kind of clown to myself, running all over creation trying to be some kind of star. I’d look at some of the people around me, some of them getting quite good at the fame game, and all I could see were big red plastic noses and squeaky shoes. When the promotion of that album finished, I decided to set my boots on the porch, and try to shape my family life into some kind of normalcy.”
Back in Provo at the Songwriters in the Round concert, Jackman has turned the stage over to one of the other performers. He’s just finished another song from his latest album, called Equilibrium. The song reflects the theme of that whole album, rich with meaning about the bittersweet joys he’d experienced on the road, and the relief he felt at leaving it all behind.
Young man jumps on stage with his guitar cocked like a pistol / He fires anger like his 20 years have earned him wisdom / I don’t need to be assaulted with your pain / Cause the best of songs are always played beneath the porch light / And the best of love is in the middle of the day / And, look, my soul is not at war now, for a change.
After giving up touring, Jackman settled with his family at their new home, back in Utah. It wasn’t long before he was introduced to Jeff Simpson, president of Excel Entertainment Group. Simpson offered Jackman a record deal.
“He offered me a musical home at Highway Records,” says Jackman. “It was starting to resemble balance: a label that didn’t expect 200 performances a year, the chance to continue to record and play with associates in the musical world who shared my values, who also had families. It has been a blessing.”
LOVE YOU LIKE THE RAIN
A beautiful woman with long dark hair is seated in the second row, and she smiles back at Jackman. It’s Linda, Jackman’s wife and the mother of their two children. They exchange glances throughout the evening, and it’s apparent that Linda has inspired many of Jackman’s songs.
As I hang up the phone I smile / ‘Cause I can hear you smiling too / There’s a calmness in your breathing / That says we’re both gonna be OK / But the sun and the smoke and the stars / And the Medina washing over me / Your sweet voice in my ear, so complete / Reminding me that my heart still beats
“I somehow convinced this knockout from Colorado to marry me in the fall of 1986,” Jackman says. “Linda is my greatest joy. We met in college in Southern Utah. She was the first girl I’d seen that could climb a rock, coil a rope, and turn all the eyes on a night out on the town.”
“I’ve been asked what some of the defining moments in my life are. I can think of many things in my life that have led me to the present moment and circumstance; events and people that I will always cherish and credit for the good in my life: my upbringing with parents who encouraged and taught me in things spiritual, social, and cultural; a mission experience that served to broaden my view; and especially meeting and marrying someone whose example I will spend a lifetime trying to emulate.”
THE BACK DOOR
Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has played a role in both Jackman’s personal and musical development. Although his music is rarely religious in nature, it is evident from his writing that spirituality and faith in God are a major part of his character.
Look at the sun / It’s falling down the western range / Into the lake it’s gonna roll / And up on the East Canyon road / There’s an army waiting to march on our homes / Where’s a believing soul to go?
“I hope that my faith permeates my songs and performances. I hope that through the whole of my work, it is evident. There have been such enormously gifted and talented people who’s talent and works are worthy of the most sacred and glorious subjects, but for me, for now, subtlety reigns. I am a fan of the back door.
“For the most part, my audience has not been made of members of the church; simply because of the geography my touring has covered. But somehow, people perceive things about being a member of the Church, about what we believe and how we live. It sparks questions and conversation.
“After a concert in Athens, Georgia a couple of years ago, a group of people came backstage to meet me. One man who seemed to be the designated spokesman of the group stepped forward. He explained that they were professors at a theological college nearby. He said that they had felt a strong spirit throughout the evening’s performance and wanted to know what faith I professed. When I answered, some of them smiled and nodded, others seemed surprised. We all shook hands and went off with warm feelings.
There’s something about Jackman’s ease with words that relaxes the entire audience back at the Songwriters in the Round concert. He is a craftsman when it comes to language, exploring abstract ideas and feelings in his songs, and yet using metaphors that are real and earthy.
With the world in commotion / We look to the ocean / We remember some rhythm / Like our bones know the beat of that drum
Shane says, “It seems that the day-to-day experience defines our character more than the landmark moments. It’s these experiences that shape the music I write. I try to see the beauty and poignancy of the seemingly mundane and simple, and paint it as honestly as I can. I want to communicate that it’s just fine to be ordinary people with common struggles. And when we achieve anything “great”, it happens in spite of us, not because of us…and there’s amazing beauty in that.
“Sometimes the words of some inspired person hit me like water in the desert. Or a song affects me so deeply that I can hardly contain myself. The ability to communicate emotion is magic. I believe it is one of the greatest gifts of God to man. I understand that our language is thick and lumpy compared to what I imagine the perfect language to be, but it is still immensely powerful. It will be my lifetime pursuit to learn to speak it.
“Then, when combined with music or pictures, it can say so much more than just the words. Story telling is the essence of art. Every song, painting, dance, poem, novel or film is a story. We don’t have to personally experience everything this world offers in order to enjoy it, or learn from it. Truly a miracle. To participate in a small part of that process is humbling and joyful.”
Shane Jackman will be performing cuts from his latest album, Equilibrium, in a concert in Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday, May 11. The concert will take place at the Marriott Center for Dance on the U of U campus, and begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance (call 1-800-566-6119) or $10 at the door.
Visit Shane Jackman’s website at www.shanejackmn.com.
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