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The Rejection Letter That Renewed My Sense Of Purpose

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Singer/songwriters Kenny Loggins, Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman recently formed the new band Blue Sky Riders, and were profiled by Huff/Post50 in February. They are finishing their first album and will be chronicling their experiences as a band in this blog.

There's a place in Nashville where every up-and-coming singer/songwriter wants to play. It's called The Bluebird Café. I play this room several times a year and have come to feel very at home there and enjoy hanging out with its cool staff.

The people who work there are true lovers of songs and a lot of them are talented songwriters in their own right. Amy Kurland, matron of all songwriters, started the café in 1982 and helped make this small, 100-seat room world famous for its intimate setting and high caliber of songwriters. Any night of the week, you can walk in off the street and hear the best of what Nashville has to offer. Wanting to keep in the true spirit of what made The Bluebird so special, Amy sold it to the Nashville Songwriters Association in 2008, who in turn promised to uphold the very things that cemented The Bluebird into Nashville culture as the ultimate listening room. And to this day, they have.

I love The Bluebird Café. I play shows there with the best songwriters in the world and being such a fan of great songs, I have the greatest seat in the house from that stage. But our initial meeting wasn't so grand. Let me explain.

Four times a year, aspiring songwriters come from all over the country to stand in a line that wraps all the way down the block to be able to sing one verse and chorus of a song for a panel of judges. If it goes well, you are asked to come back to play three songs on a Sunday night several months from that day. If not, it's back to the well and better luck next time. The results would come in a letter a few weeks later.

I moved to Nashville in 1992 and stood in that line, waiting for my shot at the famous Bluebird Café. They called me in and I sang my verse and chorus to which they responded, "Thank you; we'll be in touch." After that, I went to my 7am to 4pm job each morning and came home every day, anxiously checking my mailbox. Finally, I received my letter. I felt I had done well and fully expected the WE WANT YOU letter but instead, what I got was the REJECTION letter. And not only did it not say "we want to book you" but it said something to the effect of "you are not ready to play The Bluebird. Go to the library and study up on your craft; go to NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association). Go play all the other clubs you can and cut your teeth at those clubs before you come back to try to play The Bluebird."

I was devastated. I was making a living at the time as an accounts-payable clerk and just waiting for the opportunity to take Nashville by storm as a singer/songwriter. I figured The Bluebird was going to help me do just that. I figured wrong. Reading this letter took all the wind out of my sails and made my self-esteem plummet to zero. I figured if I wasn't good enough to play The Bluebird, then maybe I wasn't good enough to even BE in Nashville.

I sadly contemplated what I was supposed to do if being a singer/songwriter in this town wasn't in the cards. Then, one clear sunny day two weeks later, the revelation hit me: "No, you're SUPPOSED to be in Nashville pursuing music! Just because these three judges didn't think you were ready, doesn't mean you're not. That's just their opinion and that is all. What do YOU think, Georgia?" On that day, I decided they were wrong and knew I would just have to attack my music journey from another angle.

I felt a peace wash over me and a renewed sense of purpose. I had gone through two long torturous weeks of feeling like I don't belong here in this town when suddenly I got a call at home from The Bluebird Café.

"Hi, is this Georgia Middleman?"

"Yes..."

"What letter did you get from us?

"A rejection letter..."

"Oh, we're so sorry. We just found your audition sheet and we had accidentally put it in the wrong stack. We meant to book you. Are you free on November 13th?"

Wow. I went through all those emotions just to find out a mistake had been made. Sure, it might have been nice if the call had come a few weeks EARLIER, but I'll take it! There was something cool about getting the call once I had new-found confidence in myself and hadn't waited for them to give it to me. But what if it hadn't have been a mistake and they really DIDN'T think I was ready? A wise person once told me "It's best not to put too much stock in the negative press that comes your way. But by the same token, you can't take the high praise too seriously either." Poop. I would LOVE to just go by the praise part, but I know my friend is right. That's where the inner compass comes in and you try to learn to trust that more than any outside influence. Easy to say. Hard to do.

I guess anyone who puts their stuff out there had better be ready for feedback and fallout no matter what it is. Here we are, a brand new band and we're getting ready to put it all out there again. The three of us are writing songs together, working with the great Peter Asher and making a record the way we want to make it. And soon it will be ready for the whole world to hear. Yikes.

Self-esteem, you'd better start doing your push-ups!