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.....