Well the flight from Chicago to Detroit went great. Any flight that lands wheels-down on the runway is a great flight. Now I’m across the street from the Ark at the Shalimar Indian restaurant. I’m feeling pretty blissed out about being able to travel through this March heatwave in the Midwest.
I’m seeing everyone smile on the city sidewalks. We are all pretty ecstatic about the weather. This is like vacation weather. It’s a little taste of spring inside late winter. Even if it snows again and we have to wait through the cold for the second spring this year, we’ll remember this time as a glimpse of the promise of summer. I am looking up at the budding trees and the beautiful glazed terra-cotta art deco architecture, and I feel like I belong because I get to play music tonight.
It is so cool to have a reason to be here. I have work to do here. I can encourage people to do their healing and reclaim their hearts from the pain of whatever they have been through. I can push for making the world a more alive and awake place.
Of course that’s an impossible goal, as it should be. Maybe the world won’t budge, but any good life purpose should be impossible. That makes for job security.
My latest favorite band is http://www.facebook.com/cuddlemagic. They are the best thing I have listened to in a long time. They are great classical players, quirky with wonderful harmonies. They feel like the Dirty Projectors, but closer to the source.
I am convinced that our hearts are made to heal. Instead of carrying around habitual suffering, our hearts can be cleaned of the hurt that we have lived through. Not only does this free us up to be more full of life, but the whole process can be enjoyable when we use artistic expression as our means of healing. My musical journey has been a simple practice that changes old pain into compassion and bliss.
For me, songwriting has been a discipline that I call cardio spelunking. It is a deep dark adventure to retrieve bright treasure, and it would be frightening if it weren’t for music being right there to hold the flashlight. Each time I feel a song coming on, I make the assumption that my heart is calling me to a place inside that has been waiting for me to come exploring. The rules of songwriting apply, but with a deeper purpose. I use my subtle musical discernment to follow the feeling down into the deeper layers where the clues to a bigger truth are found. When the intensity of the music interacts with whatever stored hurt I find, there is some kind of emotional alchemy that transforms painful memories into the finer elements of compassion and forgiveness.
As I harmonize words and melody, I keep trusting in what I feel, and gradually I craft a song that not only moves me, but actually moves me in the direction I want to go, because a song can transport me to a way of seeing this world - through the eyes of someone much wiser, someone further along. The feeling I get in a song sets my sights on what is possible, like being able to look down on a vista I haven’t even hiked to yet. When that happens, I have evidence that this higher perspective is attainable, and that gives me the determination to keep taking steps toward it.
When all this started, the bliss I felt in music was like an oasis in an otherwise barren landscape. Nothing felt as good as a good song did. I wanted more of that feeling. But when I tried to pump out more songs to quench my thirst, the well seemed to run dry - as if telling me that writing more songs wasn’t the point. So instead of making songs my goal, I asked music to teach me to navigate toward how I wanted the rest of my life to feel. These days I enjoy using the craft of songwriting like a hiker would use a compass. I know that it is not the destination, but it does line itself up with something bigger than the whole world, and I trust that alignment.
For me, it’s been songwriting. For you, it might be some other artistic expression that you love most. But when we study our deepest joy carefully, as if it were our heart’s treasure map, we discover that wherever we search, we are searched for. There, in the microcosm of our artistic discipline, we find the oracle of our heart, beaconing us toward our best future.
Such a simple question: what kind of music do you play? Well, um, can I tell you a story? OK.
Once upon a time in a faraway land there was a huge debate between all the possible political candidates so everyone could judge for themselves who was best to lead the country. Unfortunately, they judged the speakers the way they judge musicians. They grouped them into genres by the sound of their speech. The ones who had a slight Southern twang were put it in one category, and the ones who had a little New York edge to their phrases were put into another category, and the ones who had that midwestern plains sound were put in another category. If you asked somebody what was said or what the candidates stood for, the only answer you’d get was: Ah, he sounded like he was from Maine, or: Oh, that guy was from Oklahoma, as if that described the speech that was delivered. Were people really not hearing the meaning? Were they only hearing the sound? When you ask: “What kind of music is that?,” Isn’t the question more about what it does to your heart and mind? What about the ideas and emotional assumptions that were sung? How did it inspire your imagination or affect your sense of wonder? But maybe in our made-up little story about the political candidates, the truth is that most people aren’t looking beyond their desire to listen to someone who’s from the place that they call home. I always wanted music to move me, but maybe for most people, the purpose of music is not about how it moves your heart and mind but rather just its ability to make you feel comfortable sitting where you are.
What a morning. After the rains last night the garden is lush. I had mystical dreams again about hiking out of the woods and exploring a vast castle. I guess the history of philosophy would be completely different if it weren’t for the fact that we dream. To step into a different world at night gives us an awareness that our subjective reality is just that. And staying up late playing music added to my dreams.
We went to see Civil Wars last night and it was a beautiful surprise. Wow, their world sure has changed lately, and their reaction to all the whirlwind is endearing. The music is compelling and their chemistry makes it way more than the sum of the parts. Our friend Amy Speace and her sideman Tom are staying with us, and they opened the show last night. Then we sang songs in the living room after we got back with Amy’s sideman Tom Jutz whose kind heart and magic touch with music are both beautiful. He was so kind that he even lent his artist hands to help me and Nate stack firewood yesterday afternoon. Now next year’s warm hearth is in a nice long high stack. We can heat our house just with wood if we need to because the layout of the house makes it so that the warm air goes everywhere. But it wasn’t always that way. When we bought this house Nance saw what it needed: the wall between the kitchen and the living room had to go. It was what the house had always wanted, but it had to wait twenty years for someone to see it and bring it out. And that’s the feeling I got from the music of Civil Wars.
Each of them had tried being a solo artist, but they had to wait to find the arrangement that would bring out their best. It’s fun to celebrate that. I think it is more than just an archetypal yearning for romance. I like to think that the best of what we can become as humans awaits us in the combination of our skills and strengths as we combine of all our differences. Sure, it’s one thing to become a multi-celled creature and crawl out of the slime, but when humans finally realize that cooperation as an organizing principle is divine, we can finally celebrate standing up and crawling out of the ideological slime.
No, I don’t think about this stuff all the time, but as I said, when the garden is lush after the rain and we have both our guest room and the Airstream filled with sleeping travelers, and the music went late and the dreams were epic explorations of lost castles, it makes for quite a morning.
We have had so many warm days in a row. If I were an apple grower, I would be worried. But I love the reminder that spring is coming. I want to un-winterize the Airstream, though I know it is still a little early. But what great motorcycling it has been the last week. I rode downtown last night to a poetry event honoring a friend and poet who died ten years ago. It was a fine reminder of what lasts. I have my pro tools tutor coming over soon to help me with my list of questions. I can only go a few months before my list gets too long.
I have a new song that could go so many different directions musically, I want to brush up on my programing skills with virtual instruments in order to check out some of the possibilities of how this song could sound Speaking of recording, there’s a new studio in town that had an open house and I caught myself wanting to go check it out. This is foolish I know. It is like going to the Tesla dealership (which we did when we were in LA). Kinda fun, but I don’t pretend to be a customer. But I will probably go check out this studio because I have some sort of nostalgia for times when people actually bought music and recordings had budgets. I love the intensity and focus of doing a recording project in a beautiful, great-sounding studio, but at this point it is not cost effective for me. It sure feels fun to remember my ride on the whirlwind though. I got one of the last rides as the industry was closing down. It was like getting the last chair up the ski hill before the lift closes for the day. It’s kinda sweet and sad and beautiful. So I am feeling a whole constellation of emotions each time I tour a studio that is so new and beautiful that it rents for way more than I could afford I am glad they still exist, though. Maybe their time is almost up.
The studios in Asheville that are the most beautiful are the pet projects of people who have already made all the money they need in software or whatever. The control rooms almost have a museum vibe. You walk through as if it were a re-creation of a New England village full of people in costume who remind us of the way the early settlers lived. Except these studios are a tribute to a time only a few decades ago, a time when lots of studios were busy making a living. The ones that are left feel a little Huxleyan. They have all the cool old gear that they bought from all the dying studios in New York and LA, and they arrange it so it adds its emotional authority, but it doesn’t necessarily sound better. And everyone knows that most people will listen to the final mix after it has been dumbed down to MP3 anyway, so there is always a futility in the air that is never talked about. So as I write this, I ask myself why I would ever want to go visit another studio! Who cares how things used to be? That time is over. I can make great sounding tracks in my own studio. I have the best sounding mics and preamps I have ever heard, and the best sounding guitar I have ever played, and the room sounds cozy and real: no parallel walls and a controllable brightness. The birds are always in the background when I record in summer, but that is nothing to be ashamed of. But what I should be doing is not mourning the loss of the industry, but living the most inspiring life I can, and singing the best songs my heart can write.
So enough nostalgia! I’m gonna go get to work on the song I wrote yesterday and try some different rhythms and grooves. Then maybe a motorcycle ride up the mountain in the late afternoon when it gets warm.