David Arn: “You can lose all of your money but if you lose your courage you lose everything”

Once while seated on a bench at a mall an old man came up to me and said, “You can lose all of your money but if you lose your courage you lose everything”. He then walked away. It seemed comically-timed for my life at the moment but the strange wisdom of that scene frequently […]

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Once while seated on a bench at a mall an old man came up to me and said, “You can lose all of your money but if you lose your courage you lose everything”. He then walked away. It seemed comically-timed for my life at the moment but the strange wisdom of that scene frequently replays in my mind. I wish someone had told me more emphatically that very often you only need to sit back and the solution may walk up to you.

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing David Arn.

David Arn is a U.S. singer, songwriter based in Virginia who is best known for his lyrical style. He currently has three albums, “Postmodern Days” , “Walking in Dreamland” “Traveler Tales” and numerous singles.

Three of his music videos have been Film Festival award winners. His music is streamed worldwide and has been featured on NPR stations, BBC Radio, and heard on Delta Airlines commercial flights.

His current single, “Mother’s Day (The Mother’s Tale)” reached #1 on the iTunes folk charts in South Africa.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/31d8eff68a8654cd9a94fc08c9142e48

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Ohio into a working class family. When I was young we moved east, settling in northern NJ. My mother was an avid reader. I seem to recall many trips to the library. And there was always music. A grandfather played piano professionally. I took classical piano lessons until my teen years when I fell in love with rock and roll. You might say I abandoned etudes for rhythm and blues.

When you make that kind of geographical relocation you get “street smart”. Opportunities were disparate. During two summers I labored in a steel foundry in Newark, NJ. During one school year I was in a play with Christoper Durand.

The importance of these early influences came to the surface later. I am the person who was editor of the high school newspaper, in college, editor of the newspaper and literary magazine. In grad school I had fiction published in a prestigious magazine. And I played in bands on a quest to get girls to like me.

I now call Virginia my home.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Creating music is one of the most difficult things you can do. Most people do not realize the amount of time it takes to produce three-minutes of music. Composing and recording music, writing scripts and producing music videos string together my education, passions and experience. I am plucking grapes from many familiar vines.

A large part of my upbringing was that of service and helping others. What brings me joy is the ability to provide an outlet to others like Ava Hart, people who have a gift but may not have the wherewithal to emerge from the shadows. As long as I am financially able I want to give people with talent the opportunity for the limelight. I observed that in John Prine. On his last tour, a younger musician, Jason Wilber, performed with him. Several times Prine allowed him to solo. During the intermission, the music that was piped in was that of Jason Wilber. I am not putting myself in the category with John Prine but his touch of class is worth modeling after.

I have found that In the process of helping others, new doors open for myself.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The first radio show I ever did was at a small station in Connecticut. The first spot was from 6:00 -7:00 a.m. I was there,sweaty palms and dry throat, struggling to rattle on for an hour, often repeating myself. I was relieved when it was over. When calls were solicited from listeners it was embarrassing. Phones were silent. A short time later, the station manager called and said to make certain the transmitter had been turned on. It had not.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Before Sean Lennon was born, a good friend, Peter Kramer, had built a cradle for him that Yoko Ono’s secretary had ordered. Peter called me, wanting to know if I could deliver it to the Dakota. I drove non-stop from Virginia to Manhattan. I had a special code for the doorman to allow me through the gates. We loaded the cradle onto an elevator. It rode up and when the elevator door opened on a black door, I knocked as instructed. John Lennon opened the door.

When you entered you came into his kitchen. The one thing I remember most distinctly is that one entire wall was glass-front refrigerators, the kind you might see in a deli or bodega. They were filled with food. There was also a woman there preparing a meal.

I got to spend an hour. He was very good to me, kind of astonished that I had driven nearly five hours non-stop. Several times he asked me if I wanted something to eat. I was a little nervous but tried to cover it up.. He wanted to know about life in Virginia. At the end, he asked what he could do for me. I said something autographed might be nice. He brought out several copies of the single “Instant Karma”. I think he signed four copies that I gave to a band mate and family members. In my studio we have one he signed with a doodle for my wife.

What are the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am currently working on a project with the working title of “Alone in Seven Pieces”. It is an intimate acoustic project reflecting this upside down time. I have paired with Brooklyn filmmaker, William Murray, who is creating visual vignettes to accompany the songs. He and I have worked together before and two of our collaborations have won film festival awards. One of the new songs and videos is a Finalist in the New York Movie Awards for best music video and the song and video have not yet been released.

Why is it important to have diversity represented in film and television. How can that potentially affect our culture.?

We seem to be legitimately entering a period of long overdue change. It is about time that the world accelerate the move to an understanding that no one race,ethnicity, geographical region, religion, social status is better than another. Film, television and music are perhaps the best vehicles to facilitate that change. Exposure to Art helps scrub away the brainwash. It can foster respect, tolerance and understanding. It can help us recognize the worthwhileness of all beings.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Several people gave excellent advice when I was younger but I’ll admit I wasn’t always listening.

1). Once while seated on a bench at a mall an old man came up to me and said, “You can lose all of your money but if you lose your courage you lose everything”. He then walked away. It seemed comically-timed for my life at the moment but the strange wisdom of that scene frequently replays in my mind. I wish someone had told me more emphatically that very often you only need to sit back and the solution may walk up to you.

2) There are dozens of musical chords and textures. You don’t need to know each and every one. It’s important to find the thing you are best at and define yourself by that one thing. You cannot do it all. I feel I am best at lyrics and so that is what I emphasize. The name of of my publishing company has the tongue-in-cheek name, Lackluster Lyrics. I don’t put myself out there as a guitar player or a great singer.

3). I wish someone had said don’t skip to the end of the novel, read every page. I fear that I may have glossed over certain details due to a pressure to be expedient. There are blind spots and sometimes it becomes too late to go back for details.

4). It’s important to be careful of the advice you take but do accept some. A mentor is extremely important, someone who can help guide you at critical stages.

5). Everyone has a crack in their heart. Don’t assume you are the only one. That probably is similar to the idea of not going it alone but I experienced more success when I became aware of our common threads.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I am not pretending to have consistently followed these “tips” even though with a paid endorsement I might admit otherwise (laughs):

1). There is a line in my song “We’re Not Broken” that goes “Big money’s got it all sewn up, I try to do good all my days. If you need someone to love you, I’ll gladly count the ways”. Corporate greed, dishonesty, government manipulation can be crushing to a psyche in this digital age. I highly recommend human touch.

2). At the end of your work day, always leave something unfinished until tomorrow. Creativity will stay warm on a back burner and overnight your subconscious may solve issues free of charge.

3). Exercise, eat your veggies

4). Limit screen time

5). In my song “Thirteen Days” the line is, “You’re a gentle spirit out of time, paradox is at the finish line”. Don’t be overly ambitious. The journey is the reward. The destination will most likely turn out to be different than planned.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m not certain how that question found it’s way in here. I’m still at the lowest class of the caste system.

Let me answer in this way. I’ve done songs with “messages”. The most obvious are “Not Amused” which is about the political divide and “St. Paul’s Chimes” which addresses clergy abuse. They happen to be the only music videos of mine that were film festival award winners.

If I could inspire more awareness I would like it to be on the effect Autism Spectrum Disorder has on mothers and fathers. Until I began working with Ava Hart and wrote “Mother’s Day” I was oblivious to the denial, discord, isolation,anxiety, depression,the cost, behavioral problems. I recall eavesdropping on a blog from the UK where mothers told their stories. The one in particular that moved me was by a mother whose husband had abandoned her and her child.

Throw in a pandemic, the fact that teacher’s aides cannot go into homes of these families and you have a more stressful situation. Of the fourteen songs on my latest album “Traveler Tales”, the tale about a mother with an autistic child is the one to which I chose to call attention.

I would like to add one more thing I thought might never surface. I was producing an album for Ava. We had recorded six songs and engineers and musicians were raving about her. There was a spark. We established a website, we did an expensive photo shoot, we flew in a film maker from Canada to make a video. I discovered he himself had a child with severe autism.

On the day after we shot the video Ava said she could not go through with it. Everything was wrong — the music,the clothes,etc. I was devastated. But eventually I came to a place of understanding. She could not travel to perform. Even though her child is a mild case the demands upon her family were too severe. She would not be selfish.

I would like to direct a conversation toward those who, through fate, serve others. There is a benefit If we’re open to it. Understanding their lives might bring more meaning to our own.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I think about it a teacher always comes to mind. I’ve been fortunate to have had several good ones. The most influential was Nicholas Rinaldi. He was a fine poet, he published several well-reviewed novels ( I think Thomas Pynchon and Joseph Heller favorably reviewed one) but he never achieved celebrity. He had the inside track on the creative process, and gave of himself and his wisdom freely in a soft-spoken way. He believed in me. He was always concerned for my well being at times when I was not. He passed away this year from Covid and my haunting regret is that I was always too busy to thank him.

If you tag anyone in this article I would like it to be him.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I don’t know if anyone has expressed it specifically in this way but this has sustained me: “Show up everyday and do what you say you’re going to do” All else is either wishful thinking or conversation. The FAQ I receive is how do you write a song? Some well-intentioned creative people seek that answer all their life. I do not offer this as noble advice. For me it has always been about showing up everyday and doing the work. Inspiration is overrated.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to treat Bill Gates to brunch. He is the smartest guy in the room yet he does all the listening, he is an inspiration to millions yet he is a constant reader seeking to be inspired, he has most of the “moolah” yet early in his journey he knew how much was enough.

How can our readers follow you online?

Thanks for asking that question.


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