David Simutis

May 17, 2021

3 min read

Jason Isbell: A Fan’s Notes

Jason Isbell’s songs and his Twitter are probably on equal footing, depending on your mood. He’s funny and self-effacing and also direct about doing the right thing, calling out hypocrisy, and advocating for the things he believes in.

Which got me reflecting on how I’ve actually picked up some Life ProTips from what he’s said and done. Because we can all learn from each other, we can all be role models. And maybe that’s the first thing I learned from him.

A couple next to me and my wife got engaged during “Cover Me Up,” at one of his shows at the Ryman Auditorium. That’s more of an observation than a tip, though it’s the only time I’ve seen people get engaged at a concert. Maybe that’s something more common outside of the kinds of shows I usually go to.

How to have a working relationship with your wife.

Jason plays guitar in his wife Amanda Shire’s band. Amanda plays fiddle in Jason’s. When he’s playing guitar in service of her songs and in her band, he has said he knows he is a hired gun, and respects that hierarchy. I’ve taken that approach when doing projects with my wife, whether helping her on social events in our neighborhood or building furniture or basic chores. If it’s more important to her than me, I’m working for her, I’m there for muscle, not brains. That was the first insight that I took from him. It made for a lot less stress in those times when all my wife wanted was help and support, not necessarily my opinion.

How to be a better friend.

When news broke that Ryan Adams was abusive towards women and used his position of power over them, he and Isbell in GQ that he didn’t know that all of those things were going on and because he didn’t, that meant he wasn’t a very good friend. He also said he was disappointed in himself for not realizing things were happening and it caused him to reevaluate his relationships with other male friends. It was the kind of statement that struck me because it wasn’t “that guy was a jerk,” it was “I failed him as a friend and I need to do better.”

This bit of wisdom is harder to put into practice. For me, I take it as an opportunity to be open and honest with my friends. The great pandemic brought this home as well, with at least a couple of my male friend saying “I love you,” to the rest of us as we signed off of Zoom calls.

Within the added context of toxic masculinity, it starts to make sense that there is not sense, or glory, in being tough or stubborn. Being open and honest and encouraging that in my friends is something I strive for.

How to be honest about your mental health.

He’s got a song called “Anxiety,” he tweets about therapy. There’s less and less of a stigma around mental health and that’s good for all of us. For me, it’s sometimes as simple as acknowledging what’s causing my own anxiousness. But there is some power in knowing someone who seems to have it together will publicly say that they don’t.

How to approach songwriting.

This is probably the least important thing I’ve learned from him, mainly because there are things that can be taught and things that are just intuitive. Like improv in jazz, you can prepare and practice, but when it comes time to do it, you are either ready or not. I’ve read that he tries to be honest in what he’s conveying and that he’s always listening for stories from people around him to incorporate.