Keep On Keepin' On: The Story Behind the Song

I’ve never been one to struggle with perseverance. It’s my “drug of choice,” so to speak. I’m usually game for whatever is suggested and have always liked to win. I admit that. It’s just part of who I am. I’ve always been competitive and will try anything once. If it means I need to sacrifice some aspect of my well-being to do that, I’m usually ok with that too. For better or for worse. 

Being an artist has taught me a whole new level of determination. There is no “end game”. No winning, no measure of success, no goal to be achieved, no finish line to cross and certainty no guaranteed outcome despite my best efforts. It’s just me and my imagination. Hoping we get to keep going on together. 

The creative collaboration with my husband, singer-songwriter, Michael S. Ryan has proven both perfectly natural and delightfully demanding. I love a good deadline! And we’ve imposed a great many of those. We’re now on month number 3 and realizing how quickly the days slip by, particularly with the combined ambition of a Cape Breton singer and a Valley-raised painter. 

“Keep on Keepin’ On” (KOKO) just happened to be released at the ideal time in our lives to capture the theme of the lyrics. It’s about rising above and pushing through hardships. It’s about trying to “succeed” as an artist in a world where everyone (and literally their dog) has a social media account and publicist. It’s about persevering through pain, fatigue, heartbreak, heartache and all of the other wild details that this life has to offer. 

Mike invited 27 backup singers to round out the chorus in KOKO. It’s musically powerful, but also represents the partnership and support we share for one and other. The group vocals capture the love and encouragement from the myriad of friends we’re so lucky to have in our worlds. The range of vocalists includes professional singers to a shy-Sally like me, to Mike’s mother and Aunt. We noticed that even the most timid of participants left the experience with a huge smile on their face. It’s fun facing your fears! Overcoming something can be terribly rewarding. Perhaps this is why Mike and I both share this “addiction”. 

Friends singing songs together (Stefanie Smiley, Sara Mader, Kristen Herrington)

Friends singing songs together (Stefanie Smiley, Sara Mader, Kristen Herrington)

There have been some adversities in my life. Much like yours, I expect.  If you’ve read my previous blog about my ear, you’re familiar with the illness I have endured for almost a decade. In a nutshell, I have progressive hearing loss, 24/7 tinnitus, migraines, dizziness and fatigue. There have been several attempts at naming this condition. Most recently we’re exploring the possibility of “chronic fatigue syndrome” – a (genetic) disease my Grandmother had – that is separate from the hearing, but both conditions equally affect the other. I mention this here because just when my self-imposed deadline for the KOKO painting had creeped up, I found myself in the midst of one of my “flare ups”. The exhaustion you experience during these times is difficult to explain. I often compare it to the scene in the movie “The Princess Bride” when Wesley gets hooked up to a machine by “the bad guys” and they suck all of the life out of him. People have to drag him around and prop him up in chairs. I feel the way that I imagine Wesley does. 

I didn’t feel like painting on the day KOKO was made. I didn’t feel like doing anything, quite frankly. But it also felt like the perfect time to capture the mood and message behind the song. Typically I create a painting when my imagination is ready to play. This time was different. I created the painting under certain emotional and physical circumstances instead. In hindsight, it couldn’t have been a more perfect time to capture the energy of the song. I found myself working through my own emotions, hardships and creative passion to deliver this piece. I felt as though no matter what landed on the canvas, it would be “right”. 

“Keep On Keepin’ On”

“Keep On Keepin’ On”

I opted to use Mike’s single art as inspiration. A photograph that he took of a seemingly endless landscape. Capturing the vastness of the unknown and opportunity that awaits. Forcing us to have faith that just beyond the horizon, we would find that next thing we are looking for. Blind faith that, “you realize it don’t matter what you’ve done Everything worth happening is still about to come so I’ll Keep on”. 

Click here to listen: “Keep On Keepin’ On”