These are hard times for dreamers.
As Tom says in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, “nowadays the world is lit by lightning.” And it’s hard to be a moony-eyed dreamer when storms are raging, when bombs are falling, when it seems as if the entire world has gone mad.
But perhaps these are halcyon days for dreamers. Maybe these are the hard times we couldn’t get through without the dreamers, the optimists, the people who actually believe that things can — and will — be better.
If so, Darrell Scott might be one of our saviors. He is that perfect mix of dreamer and realist, someone who is acutely aware of the thunder over Iraq and the lightning in Darfur, of the growing restlessness of American citizens tired of war. But Scott also believes things can change. He believes music might even be one of the things to propel that change. And, most importantly, he isn’t going around preaching to others about how to make these changes; rather, he’s trying to teach himself through his music as well.
“I don’t want to just criticize the world and its events,” Scott says. “I also want to turn the light onto myself, and I think art does that. Music does that. This album is a pretty strong look at myself.”
The main theme of The Invisible Man (out June 27 on Full Light Records) is that of a dreamer living in a starkly realistic world. But it’s also about mortality, and love, and art.
“This album represents the artist’s ability to be invisible so he can observe without being seen,” Scott says over lunch in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “It’s me wondering what the worth of the artist is. I’m wondering what my art is worth. Where am I valuable? I’m valuable to my kids, that I know. But other than that, I don’t know. I’m not sure if I’m valuable as an artist or not.”
This is not the faux modesty we have grown so used to seeing when stars go up to accept things called Flameworthy Awards on CMT. This is the real deal. Scott exudes humility not only through his words, but in his eyes, in his hands, in the way he walks through the crowded restaurant near the Tennessee River, seeming to make himself as small as possible while he glides between the tables to our seats near the long windows looking out onto Market Street.
While he makes references to his “belly” in many interviews and is often called “burly” or “stocky” in articles (and looks as much in pictures), Scott seems much smaller in person because of his humility. At the table, he sits down gingerly, almost softly, unfolds the menu, and orders sweet tea in a quiet, polite voice, then puts a hand up to his face and leans forward, smiling.
Many fans and critics would beg to differ with Scott’s lack of conviction about being a valuable artist. Widely seen as one of the best songwriters in the industry, he was named ASCAP’S Songwriter of the Year in 2002 and has seen his songs recorded by more than 60 artists.
That commercial success has allowed him to make his own music without fear of it being turned into something that can be easily categorized. Scott is also a first-call session player who can play just about anything he picks up. “Usually I play whatever needs playing,” he says. “That’s how I learn an instrument.”
Scott has been playing music just about as long as he can remember. His family was always musical, he says; in fact, he believes music kept them intact.
Born in the Eastern Kentucky town of London to a pair of restless Appalachians, Darrell grew up in East Gary, Indiana, a steel town on Lake Michigan. “Like a lot of people from that area, they left and went north to find work,” he says of his parents. “They’d get homesick and go back home, then they’d go north again, looking for jobs.”
Eventually they found their way to California, where, when Scott was 8, his mother parted ways with the family. Scott was raised by a single father alongside four other brothers.
“My dad’s style of rearing a family was to keep us close-knit and moving. That’s how a single father was able to raise five sons without them getting into trouble,” Scott says. “Since we moved around so much, we didn’t have time to fall in with the wrong crowd; for connection, we looked within the family. And that music was our connection to one another.”