Listen to this track by supernaturally gifted and underappreciated in his own time singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith. It’s “Believe It When I See It”, the third track as taken from his most recent album, Long Player Late Bloomer.
This album was produced by Bob Rock, a man with a track record for mainstream success, a fellow Canadian, and a key player in the drama that unfolds in Douglas Arrowsmith’s documentary Love Shines, which is in part about the making of the record. The film debuted here in Vancouver at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2010, and was more recently broadcast in the UK on BBC4 to a receptive audience there. But, the film is also set to debut in a few days, March 15 to be exact, at SXSW.
In addition to being about the making of the record, the film is also about Sexsmith; his talent, his impression on other musicians who admire him, and his own history as a musician. But, it’s also about Sexsmith’s seeming inability to reach a wider audience, and the resultant seeds of doubt that have plagued him as a result despite his incredibly consistent output as an artist.
This song seems to betray these feelings of doubt, with “believe it when I see it” being a sentiment that might easily be applied to Sexsmith’s goal of wider success.What comes out in the film is that his chances have very little, if anything, to do with his ability as a songwriter. Artists like Elvis Costello, Feist, Steve Earle, and Daniel Lanois all chime in about his unique and inspirational talent as a writer and deliverer of the kinds of songs that every songwriter wished they’d written.
The film outlines a portrait of an artist who is at war with himself, a performer who, at times, “doesn’t want anyone to look at me”, and a songwriter who feels unworthy of what admiration he gets for what he does best; write songs. As an artist, the tension between these two drives to write and perform songs, while also being plagued by shyness and doubt must be infuriating for him. In some ways, it’s an infuriating situation for us as fans watching the movie, too. This tension is what really lies at the heart of the drama, and it’s something that Arrowsmith has captured very well indeed.
Sexsmith’s struggle is our own. We want him to succeed.
What becomes increasingly apparent as the film goes along is that it’s only Ron Sexsmith who can really define what that success actually looks like. It’s Bob Rock who asks the pointed question of “what is it that you really want?” It’s an important question that is central to the human experience in general, of course. Ironically, it’s the human experience that Sexsmith has managed to effortlessly capture in his work over twelve incredible albums, and over two decades.
But, the fact may well be that the X-factor to mainstream success may be out of his hands. Warner Music Canada has embraced him, but Warner Music in the States can’t seem to put him in the box to sell him; not indie enough to be indie, but too indie for the mainstream.
Maybe this is the most infuriating part of all.
Yet perhaps all is not lost, with the film and the online buzz from legions of Sexsmith fans asking the same question: “why the hell isn’t this guy famous?”
Will the majors in the US, and the mainstream music-buying public open their ears and hearts to Ron Sexsmith? Perhaps he will only believe it when he sees it. But, maybe it’s more important that he come to terms with his own identity as an artist and resolve his struggles with being a shy person in a career that demands that he not be. Being at peace with oneself is as good a measurement of success as any.
But even with that in mind, I hope Long Player Late Bloomer goes triple platinum.
For those of you attending, make sure to catch Love Shines at SXSW on March 15, 6:15 PM.