Make Art, Not Perfection

I can’t say I’ve ever given a perfect performance. I often walk away thinking I could have done something differently. As an artist and musician, I need to be always improving. On stage, I make choices about the way I play and how I perform.

Perfection is not playing a song or piece through without any mistakes. In this age of pitch correction, it's important to remember slight imperfections or mistakes are often what make a piece of music so beautiful. It’s the human touch that connects us to music and each other.

Live music is about spontaneity. My mentor/piano teacher once told me every performance should be different. At first I didn’t understand, but he explained it could just be a moment or a look that changes. He insisted performers, musicians or other artists must never repeat themselves. This has become my mantra. I vow to never give the same performance. I want to be always growing, always changing.

I believe there is an “it” factor when it comes to music. Something intangible that can’t be articulated. Something otherworldly happens when we play/write/record music. Not everyone can do it, and we must not take this gift lightly. We must respect this power and honor the talent bestowed upon us.

As a piano student, I immersed myself in the study of classical music. More than any other genre, perfection is revered when performing classical music. Listening to an opera or a solo piano recital, mistakes are glaring and viewed as unforgivable. Critics gloat and tomatoes fly. In college, I would spend between two and eight hours in a practice room every day, desperate to perfect those impossible measures in a Beethoven concerto.

As musicians, we place unreasonable standards on ourselves that can be counterproductive. These standards cause insecurity, and we start to doubt ourselves and the choices we make on stage.

Letting go of the idea we need to be perfect is hard. Our culture loves to build people up, just to tear them down. Imagine 1,000 pairs of eyes following your every move. As you fall, 1,000 cell phones document the misstep, immortalizing your failure on YouTube for the entire world to see. The greater your popularity, the bigger the numbers and the farther the fall. It’s no wonder some performers have a debilitating case of stage fright.

Performing is scary, but also exhilarating and rewarding. That’s why musicians do it. We aren’t total masochists.

Musicians take what they do seriously, sometimes too seriously. Perfection doesn’t come from only sitting in a practice room and endlessly going over your part. I’ve grown the most as a performer when I let go and trust myself. Doing that is more difficult than learning the parts I need to play or sing. Practice lays the foundation. The walls, furniture and paint come from actually performing.

Whether I’m performing for five people or five thousand, I intend to give the best of myself for every performance. It may not be perfect, but perfection is so… well boring, right? I’d rather be honest and real.

So go practice your ass off, but don’t do it to be perfect. Do it to be the best you.

I’ll be performing at NYC Pride this year with my band, The Paisley Fields. If you’re in the NYC area, come to the Queer Music Festival at Rockbar on Thursday, June 25th.


Caitlyn Jenner Takes a Brave Step for the Transgender Community

A photo I took at Piotr Uklanski's "Fatal Attraction" exhibit at the Met Museum; "Untitled". 

Caitlyn Jenner made her transition very public this week raising awareness of the “T” in the LGBTQ community.  

So what is it like to be a transgender person? I don’t know. And unless you are a transgender person, neither do you.

We can never truly know what another person is going through. We can try to understand through compassionate conversations and listening with open hearts.

I was talking with a friend about dating. He told me a story from when he was in college in the South. He was pretty certain a guy at the gym was interested in him. They would exchange glances and engage in flirty behavior. But my friend was concerned this guy might be straight, so approaching him could evoke a range of reactions from rejection to physical violence.  He never asked the guy out and found out later the guy was gay. He said he still regrets not approaching him.

But unless you are gay, you have probably never had this concern. I can’t imagine a straight girl would ever get beat up for asking a gay guy out on a date. In reality, the gay guy would probably go on the date, and they’d both have fun.

Isn’t it sad our culture can be so homophobic gay men are afraid to simply approach someone for fear of violent repercussion? I imagine this fear is especially magnified for a transgender person. In 2014, a report stated 226 transgender people were murdered in the US and Europe. I’m guessing the number is much higher.

People in the gay community often joke around saying, “Hey girl!” or “She’s looking like a hot ass mess today,” when referring to another guy. I certainly do. While this is a lighthearted joke between friends, it can quickly turn malicious. Gender identity is not something people take lightly.

As boys we are told, “Be strong. Be tough. Be a man.” This implies anyone who is not strong and tough is not a man.

I have been mocked and ridiculed for labeling myself a man. Even though, I am a man. I’ve even had a female friend state, “You’re not a man.” As though she had the authority to assign my gender identity. The gender we identify with goes down to our core sense of self. To take that lightly shows little respect.

As gay men, we are often seen as less male than our straight counterparts. I’ll compare myself to a “stereotypical” straight man. Let’s go with Derek Jeter, the former Yankees shortstop. Am I less of a man than him? Sure, he’s a much better athlete than me. He’s stronger, but does that mean he is more of a man? If you think he’s more of a man, is it because he trains more? Maybe his biological makeup gives him a more masculine build? Or maybe, he’s not more of a man than me. Maybe we are just different men.

I think the same logic can be applied to anyone who identifies with a gender to which they were not born. They are just different types of men or women.

I’m not asking everyone to feel they constantly need to censor themselves. I am suggesting you choose your words thoughtfully and approach everyone with compassion. Words have the power to hurt and also the power to heal. When you speak, you have a choice to make.

Ultimately, we will never totally understand another person’s experience. But it’s vital for us as humans to try to listen and be accepting as we can. So ask yourself, what is your gender identity based on? My answer is simply, that I am a man. 

"Not Gonna Be Friends" is a song about love, heartbreak and defying masculine gender roles. Buy it here:


There’s No Place like Brooklyn

After a performance with friends at Branded Saloon in Brooklyn 

After a performance with friends at Branded Saloon in Brooklyn 

I’ve been living in Brooklyn for over 10 years. When Im out, people often ask me where Im from. The two most common responses I get are: "Iowa?!!” and “Why New York?!” 

I’ve had my ups and downs. There were moments where I wanted to say “screw it” and leave NYC. Its stressful, smelly, crowded and expensive. I did actually leave for a full year in 2009, when I took a sabbatical in Japan.

Living and working in NYC is not especially easy. People often move here with certain expectations, only to have reality bitch slap them in the face. I have to admit New York wasn’t what I expected. Working three jobs to support myself while chasing an elusive dream can be exhausting.

But today Im proud to say that I make a living playing music in NYC. I’ve worked hard to do that.

As a gay man, the culture of the place I choose to live is important. Coming from a small town in Iowa, it was not exactly fashionable to be gay. It was actually quite terrifying at times. The melting pot is one thing that attracted me to the city. I could be myself without fear of being exiled. It sounds dramatic, but anybody who grew up gay in a small town in the Midwest knows what Im talking about. There is a thriving gay community here, bigger and better than anywhere I’ve been.

As a musician, NYC is almost limitless in the opportunities available. Its more competitive than most places, but if you are willing to do the work, your efforts can pay off. As the saying goes “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

The Paisley Fields on stage at Union Hall earlier this year. Photo by Lorraine Ciccarelli 

The Paisley Fields on stage at Union Hall earlier this year. Photo by Lorraine Ciccarelli 

Some of my favorite performances were in Brooklyn at Pete’s Candy Store, Branded Saloon and Union Hall. A couple years ago, I felt something was missing from the music scene in NYC. So I created a songwriting series for queer songwriters called Unhinged. We developed a following and after a brief hiatus, I will be bringing it back later this summer.

Every day I find inspiration. Whether its talking with a friend on the street, visiting a museum or walking through Prospect Park. Much like my elusive dreams, its hard to articulate exactly what it is about Brooklyn that I love so much. Theres something magnetic about this city. Its unexpected and exciting. Brooklyn has just about everything you could want. Its taken awhile, but I finally feel like Im home.

Next month The Paisley Fields will be playing the Queer Music Festival in Manhattan. It’s one of many LGBTQ music events that happen in this great city and an official pride show. Come see us June 25th at Rockbar with a fresh new lineup and a great group of bands and performers!

The Top 4 Piano Players in Rock, in My Humble O


Elton John performing on New Year's Eve at The Barclay's Center in Brooklyn 

Elton John performing on New Year's Eve at The Barclay's Center in Brooklyn 

This week I am sharing some musicians that inspire me and have a profound impact on the way I create music. Some people may take issue with my use of the word best. Music is very subjective, but in my humble O, these are the best piano players rock music has to offer. I aspire to be in the company of these greats one day.

Elton John

Elton John is probably the most internationally well-known person on this list. He’s a prolific writer and knows how to shred on the piano. I saw him perform live at the Barclay’s Center on New Year’s Eve this year. I started to cry almost hysterically, when he opened the show with “Funeral for a Friend.” It was embarrassing, but his performance was extremely moving. The melodies he writes are unforgettable, and entirely his own. At my wedding, my friends and I performed one of his songs for my husband. His music is truly timeless. It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite song, but below are some of my faves of the moment. 

Listen to: Funeral for a friend, Daniel, Candle In The Wind, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, and Your Song.

Nina Simone

Considered more of a jazz player than a rock player, she is a musician and artist who defies genres. Her voice is one of a kind, and her playing is beyond impressive. She manages to be an effortless virtuoso. Her influence is far-reaching. There were a few good years where I listened almost exclusively to her music. It speaks to my soul.

Listen to: I Wish I knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, Sinnerman, The Other Woman, Pirate Jenny, and Don’t Let me be Misunderstood.

Tori Amos

When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV. I didn’t let that stop me. I devised a way to wire the TV in the basement to sneak some MTV. As I watched the contraband station, I caught a live performance of Tori Amos on MTV Unplugged. I was blown away. A couple years before, I had started piano lessons and played pretty well. I dreamt of being a rockstar, but everyone on TV played guitars. When I saw Tori killing it on the piano, I was inspired. I hadn’t seen or heard anything like her before. The song that blew me away was “Blood Roses,” a haunting number she played on the harpsichord. The performance gave me courage to follow my dream.

Listen to: Blood Roses, Cornflake Girl, Professional Widow, A Sorta Fairy Tale, and Jackie’s Strength.

Jerry Lee Lewis

There’s no denying Jerry Lee Lewis knows his way around a set of ivories. He is, without a doubt, one of the founding musicians of rock and roll. As a country musician, his later music really resonates with me. His version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me & Bobby McGee” might not be as well-known as Janis Joplin’s, but it’s no less incredible. Nobody plays like Jerry Lee. When you hear him playing you immediately know who is behind the keys.

Listen to: Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On, Great Balls of Fire, and Me & Bobby McGee.

Honorable Mentions: Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, and Ben Folds.

I’ll be trying to channel some of these legendary artists next month, when I step into the studio with my band. We are recording four new songs to be released on our first studio EP, along with “Not Gonna Be Friends” later this summer. Download “Not Gonna Be Friends” now, ahead of the full release.

It’s Time to End the Gays vs. Christians Mentality

Book of Samuel 

Book of Samuel 

The Catholic Church is not known as being very accepting of its LGBTQ members. However, Pope Francis has slowly cracked those church doors open to accept all of God’s people.  

I grew up in the Catholic Church. I served as an altar boy. My first job playing music was as the church pianist and assistant music director. My faith and my sexuality are integral parts of me. 

From when I was baptized until I graduated high school, I went to church every Sunday. My parents are devout Catholics. We also attended every holy day mass, Wednesday evening Catechism and attended church while on vacation.

There seems to be a lot of talk about gays vs. Christians in our culture. With all this talk, you would think I heard this pretty regularly in church. Funny enough, I can remember only one time homosexuality was mentioned. A visiting priest who nobody liked suggested that homosexuality was a sin during his homily. That was it.

I never felt unwelcomed or unaccepted at church. It was quite the opposite. As the church pianist, the whole congregation knew me and treated me with respect. I’m sure some people there had a problem with gay people, but I never encountered that there. Most of the homophobia I faced happened in school or socially.

So where does this gay vs. Christians mentality come from? Some argue judging gay people is “loving the sinner, hating the sin.” That is bullshit. By announcing to the world you love gay people, but don’t love their “lifestyle choices” you are missing the point. It is not a “lifestyle choice” for me. This is the way I was born. You are also suggesting you are a better Christian because you were born straight. And you seem to be stating you are a better human being. So because I am gay, I am not a good Christian or human being? As you can imagine, that is incredibly hurtful to hear.

"She's No Angel" is a song I wrote and recorded with my band. It's about a homophobic girl I went to school with who claimed to be a good Christian. Download the song here:

"She's No Angel" is a song I wrote and recorded with my band. It's about a homophobic girl I went to school with who claimed to be a good Christian. Download the song here:

Some people point to excerpts from the Bible to validate their homophobia. In a previous post, I said gay marriage is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. I appear to be wrong. There is a gay love story in the book of Samuel. I’ve included some excerpts from the story of King David and Jonathan, but I encourage you to read the entire thing. I’ve taken these direct quotes from the book of Samuel, Chapters 18-20:

“Jonathan had become fond of David as if his life depended on him.”

“Jonathan entered into a bond with David because he loved him as himself.”

“And in his love for David, Jonathan renewed his oath to him, because he loved him as himself.”

“They kissed each other and wept aloud together. At length Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, in keeping with what we two have sworn by the name of the Lord: ‘The Lord shall be between you and me, and between your posterity and mine forever.’ ”

This story sounds to me like a couple of dudes loved each other and got married. I’m not trying to use the Bible as a weapon. I am quoting these verses to illustrate a point. There are many interpretations of the Bible. I interpret it to say that we should love one another, whether you are a man loving another man, a man loving a woman, or a woman loving a woman. There are many permutations of love, as this passage clearly shows us.

So we need to end the idea that it is gays vs. Christians. One of the cornerstones of the Christian faith is Jesus. One of Jesus’ main teachings was to love one another. When you treat people with love, you don’t judge them because they love someone of the same sex. If you do, you are the one who isn’t acting like a Christian. 

Expressing your opposition to marriage equality is upsetting to members of the LGBTQ community. If you believe it’s ok to hurt other people, then again it is you who is acting in opposition of Jesus’ teachings. If a core belief opposes the religion you claim to be affiliated with, you need to make a choice. Either you’re a Christian, or you’re anti-gay. You can’t have it both ways.

By making anti-gay comments, you are committing a sin. You are simultaneously breaking two of the 10 commandments: don’t judge and love your neighbor. 

The gay community needs to realize these people attacking us are not truly Christians. They may say they are, but talk is cheap.

We are not opposed to Christians. A true Christian loves and accepts us. Accepts, not tolerates. A true Christian would not judge us or say hurtful things.

These homophobes aren’t Christians. They’re just bigots, who are grasping at straws to try and justify their hatred.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the subject. Share your views in the comment section below, email me at jameswilsonmusic @ gmail . com (no spaces), or get the conversation going with family and friends.