Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Embrace Your Mistakes?

I have been discussing ideas about practice with various people, and thinking about it a great deal lately. Neil Young fans like to make jokes about embracing mistakes. It is something Neil just about preaches. We tell stories about how some of Neil's most famous records had artists that didn't know how to play the instrument Neil gave them to play. Of course, it works. And, of course, you will never hear what DIDN'T work, will you?? LOL

So, anyone who knows me or has watched me make music knows that I admittedly make a LOT of mistakes. Sporatic, stupid mistakes. Even with the chords and words right in front of me, and for a variety of reasons. Sigh. Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with practice and everything to do with how my brain just sometimes misses things.... things that I know in my sleep.... just gone. No Warning. If you play with me, you learn to deal, or you are unhappy. As Rick tells me, I keep him on his toes. :) (Of course, I will also admit, practice helps with that issue too... but mostly, practice to smooth it out.... because it doesn't stop)

But, I am not discussing in this article how to put on a show. The art of the show is something I am still learning about and studying. I am talking about the difference between REHEARSAL and PRACTICE, and why both are needed.

Now, I prefer rehearsal. I like being around other people, I like being able to socialize around making music. And... you know, it just SOUNDS better to play with others. It is great FUN!!! It is also when magic can be made, when your instruments and voices weave sound around in a way that pierces through to the bone. AH!!! Sometimes that can happen on stage too, and I am sure it does more often as you become more confident in your music and stage show. Rehearsal is for social bonding, trying out different approaches and seeing what can be done with them, making your arrangements, figuring out the things that make you sound SOLID, learning how to work with each other with just a look or nod. Rehearsal is NOT where you learn the chord progressions, melody or harmony. Learning the song ONLY happens in PRACTICE.

You learn the song in PRACTICE. Practice is what you do, in the 'woodshed', all alone. That is where you get the changes down. When you play that part you just can't quite nail so many times over that anyone within hearing distance is ready to shoot you. When you sweat to find the right key, figure out where to take your breathe so you can hold that note, write that guitar fill, develop your sound, put together your solo idea that takes that song straight to the heart, firmly and with meaning. Practice is where you learn the song so that when you get together with your band mates, you can refine the song and make your arrangement and make it sound special.

Practice is the work that you do so you have something to offer at rehearsal. Practice is why each song can sound different than the last one. Practice is what gives you your toolbox.

One my first, great lessons as a musician was given to me by my first adult teacher. When I told him of my love of music, but apparent inability to make it, he said, 'Can you hear songs playing in your head?' yep, all the time 'Then we need to teach you how to take what is in your head and put it into your hands.'.

In other words, he taught me to work, and it would come. And it has. Thank you, teacher.

The work is in practice. Then you bring it out and have FUN.

Practice and hard work will bring you where talent fears to tread....

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Catskill Farmers Market gig

Last night, after work, I rushed over the bridge to Catskill to sing at the last Catskill Farmers Market for 2017. Ok... I did not RUSH because the line to cross the bridge was literally a mile long... and moving SLOOOOOOW....

But I get there, and there is like five farmers and a couple crafts people and maybe five customers. I guess I am getting spoiled.... there was a time in my playing life where that would be just fine. But as I am looking around, I am primarily thinking, 'Is it even worth me setting up?'. You know, I have a strong sense of commitment... if I said I would do it, here I am... and I set up. A gentleman passing by said, oh, we are going to get some music? I tried hard not to sound as annoyed as I felt when said yes, I think so....

I was going solo. Rick decided he had something else he needed to do, and I am thinking about how smart he was to cancel as I strap on my guitar. When I play with someone else, it doesn't bother me that the venue is empty. I don't know why. But when I am going solo, I feel silly and exposed and embarrassed. But I came here to sing, and I open my mouth....

By the second song, I had a few people sitting at picnic tables, some eating dinner, but all listening to me. Smiling. Singing along. Rocking to the beat. And staying past finishing their dinner. More came. Some were families and the kids ran around as people sat and listened. I am not going to tell you that I grew a crowd.... but I will tell you that I sang for 90 minutes and kept the people who were there, THERE.

It is a beautiful setting, Dutchmans Landing. A piece of land that juts into the Hudson River, which is a mile wide there, so the river is all around the park. And this was sunset. And one of those beautiful early fall days when summer is still trying to hold on. And I sang... My amp is sounding great on the vocal channel, but the guitar sounds a thin as a plastic guitar (ok, it is composite... but still....). After a few songs, I discover the error and correct it, and I don't know about my audience, but I welcomed the better sound. And I sang. They were paying as much attention to the originals as the songs they knew. Couples with dogs. Women with kids. A few single men sitting on top of picnic tables. All listening. I could not have asked for a better 'listening room'!!!

After a while, I was getting surprised that no one was leaving, and wondering when I could stop! LOL. Then, I remembered, like someone making a comment in my mind--, 'Always leave them wanting more'.

So, I announced my last song, said something about being back next year and congrats on the last day of the market and started to pick up. People came over to me to put money in the bucket and talk to me about their enjoyment of this evening. That, of course, is the butter on the bread. Yeah, I enjoyed it too!

Another lesson learned. Don't judge a book by its cover or a market by the sparseness of the venders.... lol!!!

Today, I sing with Mike and Brian for the Lighthouse Preservation Organization, out in the middle of the river. My favorite gig. Singing songs to a happy bunch of people standing on a rock in the middle of the Hudson River is just a wonderful way to spend a couple hours. I look forward to it.

Then on Sunday, I will head down to Rhinebeck, where I will participate in their 'Porchfest'. I know a lot of my fellow players, so even though I am solo, I should see a bunch of folks I know. The two gigs I had with Rick this weekend were both cancelled... the bedraces (look up YouTube videos to see what that is about) and a Blues Brunch (the restaurant has refrigeration problems), But we start playing together again at the Austerlitz Fall Festival on October 8.

I am surrounded by crows this morning as I write this on my screened porch. That is generally a sign that the muse is with me. I hope that is true today. I hope that music can use me and give people a good time (while I stay out of the way). That is what it is ALL about....

Monday, September 4, 2017

Playing a Private Party

What a fine day it was yesterday. Rick and I had two gigs... one at the Schenectady Farmers Market (RAIN!!) and one, a labor day party at someones residence.

My first house party for a total stranger. It never occurred to me to be worried about it until a friend said, will you please give me the phone number and address so if you don't reappear, we have something to tell the police.

Ok, well, in todays world, I guess that would be something to think about... but I would prefer not to think that way.

Nevertheless, I drove to the place a little earlier than I had to, to check it out. All the neighbors had long roads back into the woods, and I did get a little weirded out by that. But then, yes, here is the house, with tarps up in the back yard and lighting like a place that is planning to have a party in a little while. Whew!!! OK, they sure don't look like axe murderers!!!

We pull in, get our guitars and head to the back door. (At every new place I play, I always get my guitar out of the car and carry it with me to find where to set up. It acts like a calling card. I don't have to say, I am the musician. People take one look at you and point the way.....!) There is a gentleman there cooking and yep, he is the host. He directs us where to go and there is that absolutely, terribly, uncomfortable few minutes when all the guests are eyeing you while you set up. You try to be nice and answer questions, but you are really thinking about, Where did I put that cable now? Or... how did that A string get THAT far out of tune? Or...whatever.

Then, set up and ready to sing. We start our usual set list. We get a little interest in Folsom Prison, but, in short order, we have cleared the room.

Oh oh.... We made sure we were quiet, background music sort of thing, and of course, that is not the best for sound quality. People are filling plates of food and leaving the room... for where? I don't know. Finally, the hostess comes in and says, come outside with us, grab a plate and eat....we are having a blessing and a bagpipe player out back. So we do that. Everyone listens intently to the player and there is a moment of silence while Amazing Grace is played. Then he breaks the somberness with a joke song and everyone laughs and goes about having the party again.

We go into the living room and eat and chat with folks. Now people are warming up to us. A young lady comes over to ask us to back her up while she sings for everyone. Sure. We chat about that and get our plan and I hand her a mike. It is not too loud, and and we turn up, and she has a great voice and a good manner to her and she does a wonderful job on Me and Bobbie McGee. Yeah. We leave the volume up and continue to play for the next 90 minutes without a stop. Now, I can hear people saying, Oh, I love this song! There is often a smattering of clapping after songs. People stop what they are doing and grab someone for a little dance at the next one. Some smile and sing along. Lots of foot tapping. Even more smiles. What a good feeling!!!

As the party wound down, we are left with just the hosts and more time they have already paid for....So we played one last Neil Young song for the host, (who had given me permission to sing as many Neil songs as I wanted throughout the night), and packed up and went home, feeling really fine. Really fine.

Thinking about the evening, I realize that I love making music and making great sounds... but what i really LIVE for is the response I get from the audience. I can stay home and make beautiful sounds and feel real good. But what makes me rocket to the moon is ENTERTAINING an appreciative audience. Now, to do that well, I have to play songs that are meaningful to me so I can present them genuinely, so it is still true that my first responsibility is to play for ME-- what I like and feel good about. But then.... my next job is to make YOU feel good, and in doing that, *I* feel even better. Wow, what a perfect thing... and how grateful I am that I have the privilege to go into someone's home and make things a little more fun for them for a few hours. Wow.

Yes, this is something I really love to do. And I can't wait until the next time.....

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

750 Words

Every morning, I do a creative exercise called 750 words. It is the digital variation of Julia Cameron's 'Morning Pages'. Originally, I started the exercise because I was not happy and I thought the writing would be a sort of self-therapy.... which it is. It is a very interesting experiment, and if you have any interest, I highly recommend it. It is meant to be a sort of brain dump, where you put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper and don't stop until the 750 words or 3 pages are done. I can't do that. I have to refill the coffee, check the email, document something... But the writing is still helpful. It is helpful just to get stuff out, 'out loud', where they exist somewhere other than just your head. I guess that why so many used to (do they still?) recommend journal-ling.

So, how you do it is: Just write. Not well. No restrictions. Just write. It is both harder and easier than it sounds. Harder because even I run out of things to say, and easier because even that doesn't matter. Just write.

Just. Write.

Now, why is it a creative exercise if you are not trying to WRITE (as in, well)?

I use it to plan my day, remember gratitude, record memories, document happenings, b*t*c*. I wonder 'out loud' why I haven't written a song in a while. I speak sternly about not finding time, again, to practice the bass.

You can see, it has a lot of uses.

Just. Write.

(No, I did not write this or plan this while doing my 750 steps. I think I am wasting time INSTEAD of practicing bass.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Happy Summer!!! It is finally here, both officially and weather-wise. 

And Rick and Marilyn have SHOWS, lots of them, all summer. Every weekend! 

Without exaggeration, we will play at least one Farmers Market, local festival, and/or bar every single weekend that I am in town, so there are lots of opportunities to catch up with us somewhere.

AND we are still looking to play for YOU at your summer party or other event. Contact us here ------> , or on facebook, text or cellphone, and we can discuss how to make your event a lot of fun for everyone! Our fee depends on how many musicians (solo, duo or band), how much time you want us to play for, and if there are any special songs you want us to learn.... Contacting me does not cost a dime and you will likely be pleased!

Rick and Marilyn.... When the music calls, we WILL be there.....

Monday, May 29, 2017

It is a rainy Memorial Day. It was pretty decent all weekend- cool, overcast. Except for a party Saturday night, I haven't done much playing. I probably should have been out busking, but because of a hundred little things, I never figured out when, and so, never did it....

I recently went to a songwriting class. One of the suggestions of the teacher was to get a representative of the voice in your head that tells you that your songwriting stinks, that there are better uses of your time than working on your music, etc. You know the one. She called hers Ethel or something like that. She advised us to actively tell it to go scratch when that voice kicks in. When I got home, I decided that was too negative. I didn't like telling the voice in my head to be quiet. It seemed to me that was giving it more power than I want to hand over.

So I took my little felted dragon, sent to me by a lovely woman who lives across the big pond, as a positive spirit for my house. It has served in that function admirably.

I decided to give the dragon an upgrade in function, however, and address it as my muse. My muse now sits in Screendale, which is where most of my artistic ventures happen, at least in the warmer weather. He sits and watches me and encourages me to work. I feel the pull, but, unfortunately, not strong enough to get me working!! I still feel pulled in so many other ways, all of which more often get answered. Maybe i do need a symbol of my none-artistic voice to say NO to as well as the dragon, to say yes to when I get distracted by life.

And the worse thing is, I know that after you ignore the muse for just so long, it stops talking to you. It stops whispering that there is work to be done, a song waiting to be written, a melody waiting to come through. I haven't really written a song in a long time. I have taken songs and REWROTE them, but no, no writing. And I have planned to for MONTHS. I went to that songwriting weekend and came home all fired up. The fire is down to coals now. Needs a breath of air. Maybe today. I have to go meet a friend for brunch, then practice this afternoon with another friend and then??? Maybe write. Maybe practice the bass that I just bought and took a lesson on recently. Maybe work on some arranging. I think I have to say yes more often to the little green dragon who sits and smiles at me every time I am in Screendale.....

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


I just returned from Nashville. It was not at all what I expected. I saw live music twice... Once on Friday night at the Gaylord Opryland and once at the Tootsies in the Airport. I felt more bad for those folks than envious or interested. My understanding is that they play for tips. The venues do NOT pay unless you have a name and can draw. Even though people come to Nashville to be immersed in music, and they expect to see people all over playing and that is part of the reason people come to Nashville, the venues don't feel they need to pay the artists. I am sad and mad about that. I think that artists in general and musicians in particular, get taken advantage of all the time, to make money for the owner and crumbs for themselves. I wish I could say that they talk about big tips too, but they don't. A recent entire evening that was talked about socially, only brought in a total of $100 bucks, and that was for 4 bands, at least one of which is known in town. When I questioned it, I was told they were not playing those gigs for money, they played for love.

Yep, we talk that way here, too. But I also expect the venue is going to pay me SOMETHING for my gas to get to the venue, at least. After all, they are likely making money. OR, have a line on the food bill.... total, tip, musician tip, grand total. In both situations that I saw, the artist never mentioned the tip bucket at their feet.

What I really want to talk about, though, is the camaraderie among the musicians. I had thought that Nashville was a dog eat dog place. I am glad to see that at least among some long timers, the people who lived there because that is where they want to be and not just to 'make it', not only get along but help each other. I so thoroughly enjoyed discussing things like creative process, buying gig clothes, forming your 'brand', and seeing how others do it. Wow. I realized that I don't do that here. It has always felt like those are the things that you hid that you even think of, as if it is just not cool. It is cool to BE cool, but not cool to PLAN *HOW* to be cool. It was refreshing to be in a situation where figuring out and presenting you brand is expected as part of how you are going to get gigs and be seen... and something for conversation. A natural part of conversation, even. As if it is recognized that you ARE a performer, and part of your art IS the performance.... and part of the performance is how you dress, what you say, and how you present that to the audience. A role, so to speak. I think we all KNOW this, and maybe it is just me, but around here, it just isn't cool to RECOGNIZE it out loud.

It likely really isn't cool to discuss it with 'outsiders', who you want to dazzle with your performance and not confuse with reality. Because part of the art of performance is being real and authentic and cool and GENUINE! ...and somehow, people suspect that if you have a plan, that disqualifies your authenticity. It does not. When you are on stage, you are PERFORMING, this is a piece of time that does not define you, but it does help your audience have a good time right NOW, which is the only thing that matters, right now.

Nashville made me think of things that I didn't expect. I am so glad that I went and had exactly the time that I had. My education into this world continues.....

Sunday, April 16, 2017

China Rose

Yesterday was a big day for me. I did not get adequate sleep the two nights before and walked, according to Samsung Gear, 27 THOUSAND steps that day. Yep. I am sure that I have walked more than that on days long past, but certainly not recently. I was tired....

And that was before I even got to my gig at the China Rose, to start at 9pm.... no, make that 9:30pm. Wow. Somewhere along the line I should have made better decisions. And then, to make it just a little worse, I discover that close family members of my partner- in- crime, Rick, have arrived to see what kind of music he is making as Rick and Marilyn. They have seen him work in Clouds (his rock band), and, judging by things I overheard, likely making his own, Pluto style music, as our friend Kevin calls it. But this is the first time they are seeing our duo. It is stress that I have to just stop thinking about.

I am pretty sure I can make this work, though. Almost always, as soon as I strap on the guitar, my mood picks up, my energy returns, my mind clears (or goes into that space that I have yet to define... but if you have seen me perform, there it is..... ). I did have a little nagging doubt when I was lugging my gear in, with a little upset stomach and getting dizzy whenever I leaned over....

But yes, tune it up, smile at Rick, play some chords, he plays along and before you know it, we are performing a song that will be on the record, 'Blue Love'. It sounded sweet. Several more songs, and I suddenly remembered that just a little while before, I was too tired to play. Huh. Just give me the guitar and the mic...

And I was soooo glad to be there. Ricks solos were RIGHT on the money (as per usual), and my voice was cooperating, for the most part, at least. An older man in the corner, who was obviously there to listen to the music, pulled his harp out of his pocket and played a sound as we finished a song. That bought him an invite to the stage for two songs, and that made me a new friend! There were a few times that the songs got many of the customers singing-- loudly!!!.... and I tried to encourage that. They were having so much fun, and it is SO much fun to have a part in giving others a good time. During the break, people stopped me to speak about the songs.... the selection, the sound we got, Ricks guitar.... And yes, it was a bar group, but most folks, most of the time, were listening (and singing) nevertheless.

As usual, I did not eat before singing (I think if you think about that just a little bit, you will certainly understand why), but both Rick and Judy enjoyed their pre-show meals, so I think I will have to go back and try the food out. It certainly did smell excellent!! And the atmosphere is cozy but welcoming and comfortable.

Overall, an excellent time, in a very pleasant space and an excellent audience!!!! I hope we are asked back!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Farmers Markets!!!

I have often said that I work the 'Farmers Market Circuit'.  At one time, just a few years ago, I could easily work every Saturday morning at a market within 30 minutes of my home. This year, not so easy... there are only so many markets, and there exist so *many* musicians, and now each market only allows you to work a day or two a season.
So, I am branching out!! I have gotten gigs now in Millerton, Schenectady and Sheffield, adding to the markets I play in Hudson, Hillsdale, and Kinderhook. But that still does not fill my schedule. I LIKE having my scheduled filled!!
I guess that what that really means is that I will be on the streets of Hudson, busking, far more often than I have had in recent years. AND there is NOTHING wrong with that!!
Looking forward to a summer of music making.... hope to see you around!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Leonard Cohen- Bird on the Wire

I saw a movie yesterday about a tour of Leonard Cohen's in 1972. The movie shows clips of interviews, songs, etc that happened during the tour. What I want to talk about is his philosophy of performance.
He said that sometime, he was unable to get into the song. I think the word he used was 'inhabit'. Like living inside of the song. I know that feeling, where you are singing a song and it feel like it is coming out of the depths of your soul. It is wonderful occurrence when it happens, because as a singer, you feel that you are expressing the soul of the song itself. It was his goal to get there every time. I think that is truly an admirable goal and likely why he is as revered an artist as he is. But that is also a scary place. It is a place where you, personally, are open to the world for the seeing. Vulnerable.
And when you see his performances, you can palpate his vulnerability. Time after time. It is mesmerizing, beautiful, stately.
He also said that he would sing even if he were not popular, and really criticized being popular. He states that the first way you know something is bad art is if it is popular, so he questions he own value. But he also says he is not a good singer, he knows that. But he would sing even if... he would sing for himself.
I have a magazine here that is about Leonard's songwriting. I will read it today. I will come back to this article, I am sure, and write some more. I think this man is one to truly study.
If you are an artist, or have any interest in Leonard's music, I highly recommend you see the movie. It will stay with me for a long, long time.....

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Songwriting musings

So, yeah, I have not been as productive creatively as I would like to be. I set aside time, which generally gets wasted on Facebook. I clear my calendar and stay in rather than go out and be with others. I sit here or pace and try to think of -- something. I look at my empty whiteboard. I sometimes write some words up there. Sometimes those words might even make it to my Drive file where I keep pieces of melody and words and phrases.

But, overall, songs are a rare occurrence.

I read books and articles and interviews around songwriting and songwriters... yep, I feel inspired, but nothing gets produced.

Today, I think I had one of those ah HA moments.... How can I have anything to say that is important enough to say more than once (like, when I sing it...), if I am empty like that whiteboard? When I am sitting at home rather than out in the world, learning and seeing and gathering?

And how will I know that this story or this thought or this feeling or this moment should be a song? All day, things pass me by that could be written about. I remember having the experience of one line or phrase, which I knew could be a song, and I recorded it or wrote it down, and within a day, there, for better or worse, was a song. THAT was because I was practicing music and songs and thinking about music and songs ALL the time. SO, as soon as something interesting came my way, it made perfect sense to starting singing about it.

And you know.... I was happier when I was doing that all time.

It is spring tomorrow. Time to leave the winter down behind. (I already wrote about that, a couple years ago, LOL!!) Time to get out and about. Time to just sing because I like it, not to 'work'. FUN.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


I am waiting to fly out of Seattle. I have come here to say goodbye to my friend, Jim with my other friends and tribe.
Yes. Tribe. These are people who share the love of Neil Young music, guitar solos, good songs and all that goes with all of that. We are a cooperative group. We value being independent and able to care for yourself at the same time we take care of each other. Each of us 'Needs a crowd of people, but can't face them day to day'. We are all intense, passionate people with varied interests that we pursue with vigor, even as we age. When we look at the guy who inadvertently brought us together, we can see that he is like us. Or we are like him. Or we are all just a group of people who have a common way of looking at life and the world, one that has to do with movement and enjoyment and making a mark in the world. And all the Rusties do it a little differently, but we all do it with passion and interest and love. It seems to be part of our nature.
Jim was so cool. He was laid back but intense. He was kind but honest. He would help you out or tell you how to do it. He knew camping secrets that would make your life outside a little easier (or a LOT easier) if you knew them, too, and if you cared to learn, you could. He was free and easy with the sharing of music. He listened to many more folks than just Neil Young, and taught us about all those people. He was the essence of the Pacific Northwest with a Canadian sensibility. He was my friend.
Most of what I did with Jim was travel down the Pacific Coast, which you may know, is one of my best favorite things to do in life. He made a wonderful pork tenderloin that we would traditionally have early in the trip. Every night, a fire under the stars (or, as is more often the case in the PNW, the clouds). If it rained, he had the way about a tarp, it went up, quickly and accurately.
Jim was sort of the glue for us. He modeled the sort of behavior and love and caring that people should want to be like, and we all did.... it could be called 'the hippie dream' without the injurious substances.... Jim was in recovery and made it look good.
I have to be off now. I will remember this man for the rest of my life and look up to him still.....

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Winter Acoustic Music Weekend

Here it is. February. I am sitting outside in Screendale with a fire in the propane fireplace. The sun has set and I just returned from walking in Hudson. There were way more people in town than I thought there would be, but I guess that is because tomorrow is a holiday for many.

I had just came back from a weekend northeast of here, in Groton, Massachusetts. It was a camp put on by the folk radio station in Boston, WUMB, called Winter Acoustic Music Weekend. It is an amazing space. When I arrived, I could hardly hear the woman checking me in because of the joyous singing and playing happening in the same room. All these people, jamming, happy to be together again to live in peace and make music. Everyone on the same page here.

That is how these weekends go. No ego in evidence. No sense of 'this is better than that' when it comes to the various students. The people putting it on are very strict on that. Sort of like unconditional love.

Now, that doesn't ever mean that no one ever points out something you can do better. On the contrary, you are here to learn, and learn you will, if you give it even the slightest chance. One of the first things you learn is to help those behind you and give them a hand.... The next thing you learn is to honestly find something positive to say to your peers.  And then there is gratefulness. Gratefulness to the folks cooking your food, cleaning up behind you, teaching you music, organizing the weekend. As a matter of fact, I have to admit, this is the first time I have been with these folks when I have not wanted to yell after a while, somebody-- gossip! -- PLEASE!!! or whatever negative thing seems to need acknowledgment today. Perhaps my trying to banish negativity in my life is paying off, or maybe I am just settling in with these folks.

I know, no one believes it, but I really am naturally shy. I hide it real well, I think, but my first level of comfort is to sit in a corner and watch. And when I first started with these folks, that is exactly what I did. I forced myself to play in the student concerts, and I still did this weekend too, even after all these years. I would sit with a different group every meal. Yep, sounds like I am a social butterfly right? No. If I sat with different people each meal, no one would ever really get to know me. There was strategy that played fully into my shyness. As a matter of fact, I had told my local friend here before I left for the weekend, that, unlike with my Neil Young fan friends (Rusties), I have no 'best friends' at this camp. I had people that I know well and people that I know less well. But no real friends that I sit with and discuss life, mine or theirs. Just really really nice folks who make music!

Making music. As you know, if you know me at all, MUSIC is a religion to me. I use it as my spirituality. I use it to combat boredom, to make friends, as a social outlet. I use it to get me up or calm me down or celebrate a holiday. Music means a hell of a lot to me.

Making music, learning music and playing with others, calls me. It calls me often and strongly. I get depressed if I don't get enough, either making it or listening (yes, live is better, always better)

All my Rustie gatherings just don't come around often enough. And when Neil is not touring, there is not a REASON to gather. Quite a while ago, I would hold monthly Neil Young jams and rotate them around a few people here in the northeast. That pretty much died when our drummer and good friend moved to the west coast. I am not sure why, but that took the wild (a typo that I am going to leave. Of course, i meant to type wind) right out of our sails. Some Rusties still try to gather around making music, and it happens, but is not the big thing it once was. Many of those people only pick up their guitars when we gather, and those of us who make music regularly are way more into our own music or at least, the music that is getting the gigs. Neil Young tributes in a rural community is not going to get you gigs.

And the jam scene around me is pretty sparse. I guess most local musicians really are not into jamming. Not sure why, since it is something that I feel pretty strongly about. I don't really get why jamming is not high on everyone's list. Yes, it is fun to polish something and make it pretty. But it is AMAZING to jam and find yourself in the middle of magic that will never happen again.

But that doesn't happen much this weekend, to tell you the truth. We have song circles, but that is basically a listening thing, not jams (but of course, now I have a new idea for Screendale). There are also jams, usually with simple songs and 10-15 people on guitars. Sometimes, you can get to sit with a couple other players and fool around with some songs and that is where magic happens, but that is more often happening at the week long summer things.

This weekend, I was the last performer at the student concert- the closing act. Now, I didn't discuss it with anyone, but I know my responsibility. I need to come up with something that closes the evening. Makes it worth their while to stay until the bitter end....

I chose a rock song that I recently wrote, 'Over Coffee'. Sort of a woman telling her girlfriend about her lover blaming her for his affair. Yeah. Isn't that called gaslighting? Yes, it happened to me a long time ago, and I very much remember how it felt, although the details in the song are changed. I end the song pretty dramatically. Seemed like the best song in my repertoire of original songs (I do a lot of covers in the informal groups, but originals in my one chance on stage with these folks) to end a concert with.

I had written the ending after listening to teachers at this gathering last year talk about surprising your audience. It really is a hard song though (a fellow student told me today it 'punched me in the face'). Then, I could not remember... have I done this song for these people? If I did, I should not do it again, I need something FRESH to end the show with. I started to think of other songs, maybe end with a sing along that I wrote, a hard hitting political song, or an old cover? So many possibilities.

During dinner, one of the teachers told us sitting at the table, in response to me talking about changing my mind before getting up to play, 'Every time I have done that, I have BOMBED and been sorry I did it'. I should have listened.

No, I ended up realizing that Over Coffee could not have been heard by this group, and it would certainly be my best song to do for the student concert. I did it, and I really think it rocked. Judging by the response of the people listening, I think I accomplished my goal. I ended the night on a musical statement I could be proud of.

After the show, I went to a Song Circle. It was a large one, and all the people there were people I enjoy hearing. As the instructor who was leading said, there were so many styles represented in the room.

Of course, I kept changing my mind on the song I would sing a few dozen times, while waiting for my turn.  Then, it was getting close, but I had chosen a song I recently learned, but was really nailing most of the time I sang it. A cover song, but I thought it would be the best I could do.

There were two young woman in front of me who had NAILED a version of Sound of Silence for the student  concert. Their harmonies were just delicious!!! It was wonderful.

However, their originals as played in the song circle, were unique, catchy, arranged impeccably, sung beautifully, with wonderful turn of phrases and melodies and.... well, you name it BOTH of these girls have it.

My turn? No. Whew. Saved (i think) when the leaders turn to another person who I didn't know, but had also done a great song during the student concert. I did feel, however, that I could confidently follow her ... ok, that was before she did her jam song. She had the group singing and laughing and clapping.....

I had to look for a real winner on a moments notice. I remembered the song that I always pull out in this situation. EVERYONE loves Tequila.

Except these folks. We are not even allowed to drink in this place. They clapped at the finish. But remember, they ALWAYS support people. I am learning how they act to FUN and how they act to OK. Definitely, I had performed just OK.

Boy, talk about falling DOWN. Ouch.

Ego. It is always always always your enemy when it comes to music. There is always someone better than you. There is always someone coming up from behind. And NEITHER  of those facts have ANYTHING to do with you.


So, I learned a very important lesson (yep. again.). Neil said it. Don't listen to anybody. I always took that as being about following directions. But maybe it is not.

Maybe it is about YOUR **expectations** of yourself, verified through the feedback of others. BOY, I felt good when people reassured me that I did, I performed, I did what it was that I tried to do, as the end act to the concert. And--

WOW, when I got the polite clapping for one of my best -according to prior feedback- songs, that stung.

I mentioned that today to the instructor, who had told me that he always regretted changing his mind on a song selection at the last minute. He told me this time- don't worry about it. These people expect folk songs. Your song was fine.

This is a songwriting teacher. Does he know what power his words hold? He acts like a very flippant person, but I am sure that he knows.

You know. There are people ahead and people behind, and you shouldn't listen to others... but it still feels good when someone says something supportive.

Does the teacher who looked at a song of mine before I left, heard it and said in many many ways that the song was worthy of being heard, know what kind of impression he had on me? Yeah, I do think he does.

SO. As I was leaving today, I ran into several people who I did not spend much time with, but whose music made a mark on me. I remembered the gifts those two teachers gave me, as well as all the gifts of comments made after closing the concert.... and I spent a little time thanking each of them for what I liked about their song, or their time with me, or their just BEING.  I hope I lightened up their experience if maybe they were a little too much on the side of regrets.

I think I am beginning to understand the positivity in this group.... their trying so hard to be an oasis in an increasingly hard world.

And, I guess that IS the MAIN lesson.....

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

No fear, No envy, No meanness

I guess that most artists come to a point in their journey where they look around and wonder how what they do fits into the world. Up until recently, I just kept moving forward in the things I was taught to do. This blog chronicles much of that journey. For example, I was taught that not sharing your music is selfish, that music is a cooperative gig. Sometimes, that cooperation is between you and the people you are with, jamming together. Sometimes, the cooperation is between you and the audience. And even sometimes the cooperation is between two parts of yourself, maybe when you are learning a new song or writing a new melody or reinterpreting an old song.

BUT, it is Cooperation.
Executing an arrangement.
Drawing in your audience to share that emotion and that human story.

As I have pondered my part of the music scene around me.... my history... I see that even before I had anything to offer besides willingness, I was leading song circles because I so greatly believed, and still do, that music is for everyone, and everyone can have a part. I think I have grown up a little past that now, as it is no longer satisfying to me to sit and listen to a person who can barely play their instrument week after week. Sometimes that impatience makes me feel a little guilty, but it is what it is.

I think that I am no longer satisfied with those open song circles because I also believe in work. I think that the study of music is important in my life, and if making music is important in your life, I hope that you see the benefit in working. The more you work, the more intimate music becomes to you. You start to understand as you study, for example, why that combo of notes produces that particular sensation in your body and you start to know when to use it to produce that sensation, trusting that the other players can meet you there, maybe understanding it a little differently and adding to it. And the better you are at executing the movements of the music, the better you will be at touching a piece of yourself, your fellow players and/or your audience. Part of the beauty of music (and all other art, actually) is that you can never learn it all, you are never THERE, you can always see ahead to something you just can't quite do .... yet.

Some people get very frustrated with that process, and only want to focus on and achieve a result. I remember getting so excited once, when I learned something new about music and said to my teacher, 'Do you think I can call myself a musician yet?'. I don't think he quite understood why that was so important to me, but it was. I wanted to wear the label of musician proudly. I wanted the label to mean that I had obtained a certain level of accomplishment. I now call myself a musician with pride and I don't question that I can use the label appropriately. My skill level is still far below some people you may easily think of, but I can stand in front of folks and give them pleasure with my sound. I am a musician.

So, what to do with my contributions now? It has been a couple years now since I gave up running the song circle. At first, it was ok. I had Screendale and the first year of party jams went really well. Over time, though, people stopped coming. I am not sure why, but I think that I had reached a point of frustration in the expectations some people had over what my Screendale parties should be and that spilled over into the parties themselves. I know what I want those gatherings to be.... I would like them to be a song circle for musicians who are skilled enough to participate, as well as have folks who are not musicians come for interesting conversation with live music in the background. I would like it to be sort of a speakeasy or maybe a 'salon'. I can and will continue to run these party jams here and I will continue to network with other musicians, to find people who can fit into the milieu and be comfortable. I am still working out ways to do that.

Wow, that sounds a little exclusionary. As the Screendale Jams have declined, however, I find myself trying to figure out why my new musical friends don't feel comfortable jamming. I think it has to do with the traditions I was musically raised in and my core ideas about music. In other words, how my expectations around music differ from theirs.

From the very beginning of my journey to musician, I was exposed to people who sat around in circles and played together. At first, it was classes. Then, I frequented Card Lake Open Mic and got exposed to Sammy Brown's instruction on how to perform. (I am still so grateful to him for so very many ideas.) I used those suggestions when I went to the Song Circle in Spencertown and worked on them the few times I went there. You know, I hardly knew how to play my instrument, but standing quietly and watching hands and getting to know keys and what chords to expect was a great instruction. I still have trouble remembering the chords so that the leader can solo over them, but even that is getting easier. It was that Song Circle that I modeled my own after. Those experiences really melded my opinions and desires towards this philosophy of jamming and sharing. Gathering with Rusties also solidified the ideas, since we would gather and sing together songs that everyone of us knew, which made it SO much easier to JAM.

But I stopped the song circle and Screendale was failing. I was, however, playing out a lot with my friend Rick Warren. He is such a good guitarist, with such a good reputation and the ability to follow me even to the wrong chords! And I love to play out.... watching people dance and sing and have fun. As time went on, I got a lot of attention, sometimes from people who I have looked up to in the local scene, and that means the world to me. However, for some reason that I could not name, I felt depressed about my music and it was worsening. I was wondering what is the use, and looking at all my new friends who are working together, but don't have a place for me to join in. I found myself pulling away because really, it just hurts too much to see my new friends all having fun making music but not with me, and my old friends moving on to other lives...

Then, the season stopped and I didn't even have gigs to go to, to share my music. I started to get envious and fearful and that produced a lot of negativity in me. I don't like that. Not at all.

My new friends don't like to jam. They like to practice. They like to come up with intricate harmonies and complicated guitar parts. They sound absolutely beautiful. I like that too... I like to listen to it and I love when I am involved in executing a planned arrangement and it sounds soooooo THERE. But I was not being asked to join. Once, I spoke to Rick about it, and he said he thought it was because I seem to be on my own path and committed to being a leader, not a follower. Wow. That made me feel a little better at first, but really, being a leader also implies that people are fitting in with me, not cooperating with me. I fell down a little further.

I have been giving this all a great deal of thought because I don't believe in depression. When I am having that helpless, hopeless feeling, I know in my head that that is not true, and eventually, I have to work to find a way to bring myself up out of it. I keep looking for the key until I find it, even though I would so much rather wallow in it and feel sorry for myself (yes, i know, that sounds so silly, doesn't it? but that is what depression does...). Also, when you are depressed, you have no energy or motivation to solve the problem. You have to just, out of strength of will, force yourself to look for an answer.

I THINK I have my answer, and it has to do with being a social person. I need a lot of alone time, and that is why I like living alone. I am a musician, and that means I have to sing the same songs many times, I have to play the same notes many times and when I am writing something, that happens even more as I try out words and melodies and discard and rewrite and.... well, I imagine that most people would really want to strangle me after a while to stop the noise... and if I have that kind of pressure around me, I would stop working... because I am a social person. Because I am a social person, I feel bad when I am left out of my friends projects, even when I know it is not my genre and I have little to contribute. Because I am a social person, I love to perform and see people enjoy my sounds. Because I am a social person, I love to jam with other people.

I started to get better when I started to understand that I need to socialize. On my goal list, I include supporting my friends gigs as well as going to 'regular' open mics and searching out new open mics (network, network, network). I also include seeing friends with nothing to do with music as well as attending shows of people I admire. Phew, I can still do all that, and it feels better than sitting by myself at home depressed, for sure. (Note, however, that it didn't feel good or right at first. At first it felt that I was confirming the fact that yes, I am alone, people do not want me in their music, and being depressed is really the way of life now... it was miserable)

REFRAMING and BE PRESENT are tools that we are taught about in all sorts of self help things. It works. Instead of sitting at a friends gig telling myself that they could have used me for that song, and I could have brought more energy to that section, or whatever... (comparing myself with others.... never a good idea), I just enjoy their MUSIC. And they enjoy having me there... i am giving them support and validation. I also learned (again) about being in the moment and how that helps one to suspend judgement. If you suspend judgement on the people playing in front of you, and suspend judgement on your own imagined performance (or actual past performance), and just be in the present and listening and enjoying what your friends are doing FOR you at this moment in their music, all of a sudden, the key to the ideas of 'No fear, No envy, No meanness' presents themselves.... Be in the moment, without judgement and without expectations. Yes. There it is.

I still wish that these folks would try feeling more comfortable with jamming. Of course, it is a selfish wish, since I enjoy it so much and I love to have others join with me. There is beauty in Jamming. When a group of people with musical knowledge get together around a song and add something from their instruments and something with their voices, there is magic. Now, I understand why that is sometimes not satisfying to some people. A LOT of it is not sounding like it could. Bad notes and misjudgments abound. But if the musicians have put in the time to understand their instrument, magic can happen and usually does. There will be times, often only seconds long, when it is perfect. That would not have happened without risk. And there are times when the whole song is magic... those are the moments I simply love. They happen without planning and they can not ever be repeated, and that is actually part of the pleasure. And, if you work with basically the same people for a while, each time that tune is repeated over the months of gathering, it develops and changes and all of it is ok. That is what I get out of the busking experience also.... we do the same songs each time in a jamming format, which gives all the musicians present the freedom to explore something a little different... the chance for a little magic AND we don't get bored!!! The idea that we are all human and humans are flawed is a key concept in this art form I call Jamming. And I realize that I am very much more attracted to this form of making music than performing a perfectly rehearsed script :)

And it is an art form. Neil Young has taken that idea to its peak... the idea of keeping the music alive not by doing the same score each time, but by purposefully, in front of an audience, experimenting with an idea that suddenly comes up. He asks his band to follow him more by feeling than by thinking... something that a lot of people don't care for in his music, but i simply love. I also love it when the musicians I am working can Jam. I love the creativity that goes on at a moments notice.

Pete Seeger also does that, but in a different way. He is more tied to the words and the SONG as the main theme. He worked with ways to draw an audience in with sing alongs, teaching the songs as they are played out. He did it so very well. Songs must be picked that are conducive to the technique, and it takes some skill at getting it going, but he was a master at it. It is a skill I am learning. It is one more tool to use to bring people into the music.

Yes, I think that is a key concept to this whole long piece.... bringing people INTO the music. My goal. I will continue to work with that idea. I think I may be back to the beginnings of my journey.....

("No fear, no envy, no meanness" is advice received by Bob Dylan, mentioned in his book, Chronicles)