Eric Peters is a great songwriter (check out his music here). He is also a bibliophile (check out his Bookmole online bookstore/book-finding service), a visual artist (here’s some of his artwork), a history buff, and an amateur ornithologist. He is also a world-class self-deprecator, to the chagrin of the many friends who love him and think he’s brilliant.
Welcome, Eric Peters, to Sad Stories Told for Laughs.
Thanks for the opportunity to humiliate myself.
Your reputation for humiliation precedes you.
Yeah, I’m good at going Eeyore….
One of my favorite Eric Peters stage moments was this fall during the release concert for Andrew Peterson’s Burning Edge of Dawn Record…
Uh oh…I know where this is going.
Andrew had been threatening to beat you up if you went Eeyore on him. And you were doing much better in that regard. You were getting almost exuberant: “I’m awesome,” you said, or words to that effect. “And this next song is awesome. It’s called ‘Field of Failure.'” I don’t know why, but it just struck me as hilarious.
I remember that stage moment. I think AP actually got up from his seat and kicked me. (Or was that in another city?)
There was at least simulated violence.
I should also say that I think “Field of Failure” is brilliant and beautiful. Like you.
I really love that song. And I feel very uncomfortable unloading it on unsuspecting folks.
But to return to an earlier point, do you think AP could actually beat you up?
I’m not sure anyone could beat me up if they made me angry. I’m a tiny male, but I’m scrappy, agile, and will defend myself like a wild animal.
My thoughts exactly. We’re all glad that you’re not easily angered.
Is there any occupation that creates more opportunities for public humiliation than that of singer-songwriter?
Comedian? There’s no guitar to hide behind when it all goes south.
I guess that’s right. I need to round up a comedian for this interview series. But for today, you’re all I’ve got.
Don Chaffer and Nick Flora have offered me $3000 to do a 30-minute stand-up routine.
They would make that money back easily. I know I’d pay for a ticket. This standup routine: what will it consist of?
Actually, the idea is for me to ACCOMPANY a comedian on stage. The idea being that I would be the one who explained the joke just told. A double-whammy of humor. Right?
That’s brilliant. Let’s try it…I’ll be the comedian.
So these two cannibals are eating a clown. One of them turns to the other one and says, “Does this taste funny to you?”
See, it’s like this, guys: the cannibals, who by definition eat other humans, whether for sustenance or ritual, are remarking in this scene that this particular person – one whose purpose in life is to act and BE funny – tastes “funny.” Because, you know, we say something tastes funny, and by that we mean, it’s not quite right. Almost as if it is rank or spoiled.
[drops mic. walks off stage]
You ruined that joke, man.
Then ruined it is.
So, to return to the topic at hand…public humiliation: what have you got?
How many do you want? Two? Three?
You start spilling them. I’ll tell you when to stop.
One: Macon, Georgia, some coffeehouse, circa 1999. Full room, no one listening (not to me, at least). Loud game of Scrabble being played on the table directly in front of the stage.
Two: Somewhere in South Carolina, “Christian” coffeehouse (remember when those were in vogue?), 1998. The owner required that I tell him my testimony before playing that night–sort of an interview. I guess he accepted my testimony of faith because he allowed me to play for his thoroughly UNpacked house of zero people; just him and a coffeehouse worker/volunteer. He felt sorry for me afterwards bc he gave me twenty dollars for a hotel room. Twenty dollars!
Yow! I think there are some hourly hotels where you can stay for twenty dollars. For a little while.
Three: Dallas, TX, megachurch city-wide Bible study, circa 2002/03. I played two songs at the Monday night service/event, then was to play in the atrium (yes, atrium) after the Bible study. How do I know it was a Monday night? Because behind me, while I sang my songs to a vast space of empty chairs and tables, they were piping in the Monday Night Football game on a large screen directly behind me. I have never forgiven the Oakland Raiders for that. That was pretty humiliating, but I think I got paid a hundred dollars that night.
All of these are early career moments when I would play anywhere for any amount.
One thing that has surprised me, however, in these “Sad Stories” interviews is how often the humiliations are still happening deep into one’s career. Buddy Greene was a professional musician before you were born, and yet he still had some pretty fresh stories to tell.
Yep, the sad stories keep being told, I suppose.
There’s also the time I played a YoungLife fundraising banquet and had brought a pal to accompany me on cello/upright bass. His last name is Yamaguchi. In the middle of my set, possibly during a song, a lady approaches the stage to ask if he was related to the Olympic ice skater, Kristi Yamaguchi. People do funny, dumb things.
I spoke of the “Fields of Failure” intro as one of my favorite Eric Peters moments…but another favorite moment was one I wasn’t there for. Andrew P was telling about your UK tour, and the fact that there were people there who were huge EP fans, who absolutely needed what you were bringing. Your friends call it Eeyore, but other people call it being real, and bringing hope to hard reality.
At Hutchmoot one year I met a woman who told more or less the same story–that your music got her through a really hard time in her life. I hope those kind of stories make you feel that the empty coffeehouses and the front-row Scrabble players are worth it.
I don’t know how folks perceive me, whether as a brooding, perpetually serious, unhappy person, or what. But humor is one of the main ways I cope with life. I have never been able to make that come through in my songs, though. I’m no Andy Gullahorn. (see how I just compared myself?)
I’ve always written the only way I know how: out of vulnerability, or at least my version of vulnerability. Frankly, I was shocked when I heard that my music had meant something terribly deep to a lady in far away England. I am both shocked and grateful when I hear these stories of connections being made, of my work being something like a light. These are the things that make me want to keep writing, to keep at it, to continue touring and playing the odd shows.
You’re doing good work, important work.
Thanks, amigo. Thank you for inviting me to relive the past. As a history major, I loved it.
Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we've ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.