Dancing with Shadows or What wakes me up at 3am

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These posts I’ve been writing have been for the most part positive in nature. Partly because I’m a naturally positive guy, and partly because I think it’s important to stay positive-see the best in a situation and not the worst. And I’ve always found whining and complaining to be both counter productive and boring as hell to listen to. If you don’t like the way things are, change them. Don’t expect someone else to make the changes for you, or because you want them to; things change when YOU make them change.  (It would appear that my bias against laziness and ‘being stuck’ is showing.)  But my mantra has always been “Make a plan, work the plan, trust the plan. Refine the plan and then repeat. Over and over and over again.”  I used this process to set up a search firm in Dallas, TX in 1982, The Danbrook Group, that is still in business today, as well as establish my own search from that I successfully ran from 1984-1993. It’s a process that I used in 1989 when I taught myself chord theory and learned how to play and compose in alternate tunings, and the same process I used to establish my own record label while becoming a nationally touring independent musician.

But that doesn’t mean doubts don’t creep in. I know artists who are constantly insecure. They’re constantly questioning their talent and their worth as an artist.  I don’t struggle with that. As one of my heroes Chet Atkins said: “If you hear something you like, and you’re halfway like the public, chances are they’ll like it too.”  I’ve found this to be absolutely true. People have always enjoyed my music-especially since I started playing my own music-I’ve always reached people at a deep level with my guitar. What I struggle with is not whether or not my music has value or worth, what I’m struggling with is whether or not the pursuit of creating and performing the music has been worth it to me and my family.  I think of the hours and hours I spend closed off in my studio when I’m home coupled with all the time I’ve spent on the road the past 20+ years.  And as the world measures such things I have NOTHING to show for all the labor.  I have no 401K plan, I have no retirement, no pension, no savings; NADA. Any financial security I’ve had has come through me marrying well.  And my social security will be an absolute joke because my income is so low. I can’t help my daughters with college money, or help them at all financially when they’re going through rough times the way so many of my friends can.  While I can and do help out around our house with general expenses I am next to useless when an emergency like septic issues crop up and we’ve got an unexpected $750 plumbing bill on our hands. I can’t tell you how helpless and worthless moments like that make me feel. Continue reading

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Simple Pleasures

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The past month, as my 40th anniversary of playing guitar got closer, I spent a lot of time reflecting. This reflection has both brought up demons I didn’t know were there and exorcised some long-held demons as well.  I’ll deal with the new demons over time, but the biggest most important takeaway from all this reflection is my growing realization that my happiness and contentment are not brought on by major, life changing events. The happiness and contentment I’ve found is in the everyday living I do. It’s noticing the birds chirping out my window, or feeling a cool summer breeze as it wafts through the open window. Watching a movie with one of my daughters, or cooking a meal with friends.  It’s the small stuff. But for me these little moments happen most often when there’s a guitar in my hands.  I’ve told my closest friends this is, and I’ll make it public today, the day I got my first guitar was the FIRST day in my life I felt complete and whole EVER-the very first time.  That’s huge, and it’s still true for me today. I don’t NEED the guitar the way I used to NEED the guitar, but I still feel an instantaneous change come over me when I play a guitar. I have to admit that it is that feeling that has made it impossible to contemplate getting a ‘real’ job.  Part of it is physical; the guitar has always felt natural in my hands, and the other is the sound.  Ahh, the sound of a plucked string, especially the sound of a fine steel string guitar; that has always been sound of the music I hear in my head. It’s just such a powerful feeling to pick up a guitar, pluck some strings and have music the I hear in my head come out.  It’s still like magic to me. Still, after 40 years. Continue reading

Marijuana and Me: A musical romance

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I know this blog is going to be a bit controversial so let’s first get a few things straight.  This is NOT a political post. If you know me, you know that I am an outspoken advocate for the legalization and taxation on the sale and distribution of cannabis to adults 21 and over in the US.  I believe this with ALL my heart because history has definitively taught us that prohibition doesn’t work.  IT DOESN’T WORK. And I’m not in ANY WAY advocating your use of Cannabis, nor do I condone its use by minors. While the evidence is sketchy (another casualty of prohibition) it doesn’t seem prudent for an immature, under-age brain. And I have friends who have had dependency issues with weed, and I’m sympathetic to their plight, but there plight doesn’t affect my belief in the freedom for me and others to indulge in a private, responsible way. If it doesn’t work for you, or it makes you sick, don’t use it. We’ve got enough problems to deal with in this country as it is; making things illegal through prohibition is like throwing gasoline on a fire.  This blog is about my experience and use of this humble plant; one I’ve enjoyed responsibly for decades. However, for those of you who are prohibitionists, here are a few quotes from folks way smarter than me on the subject for you to ponder upon.

Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use…
― Jimmy Carter

“Prohibition… goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes… A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.
― Abraham Lincoln

The legalization of marijuana is not a dangerous experiment – the prohibition is the experiment, and it has failed dramatically, with millions of victims all around the world.”
― Sebastian Marincolo Continue reading

A Rose by Any Other Name: What’s in a name?

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At dinner this week while celebrating my father’s 88th birthday I was asked by one of his friends what I called my music. This person has a few of my CD’s, and loves them, but wanted to know what to call it so she could describe it to her friends and family.  It took me five minutes and hundreds of words to describe it, and I knew right then what my week’s blog post was going to be about.  Thanks Gay!

A little over two years ago I got a very interesting email from my friend and fellow instrumental guitarist Kinloch Nelson with the subject line “What’s in a name?”  It’s one of the best treatises I’ve ever read on the conundrum of what instrumental guitarists like me go through in what to call our music.  Think about it.  If someone says they’re going to a folk, jazz, blues, classical, rock, or punk concert we all have a pretty good idea what type of music we’re going to encounter. Bookers at venues know when one of these acts calls to book a gig what they’re booking.  And we know what genres we like and those we don’t, so we can support ‘our’ music and leave the rest to others. We know what bin to go to in a record store (yes they still exist), or what to look under at iTunes, Spotify, Rhapsody, or Pandora to listen or download our favorite music. For those of you who know my music, what would YOU call it. One word, no more, no less. What is it?  And you can’t be nice and say “Good” or “Great”, what GENRE is it? Okay, I’ll be nice and you can have two words. But no more. Continue reading

Why I write music

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Recently I’ve been playing lots of gigs at libraries in New England. They’re very interested in my 60 minute program that uses music, guitars, and lecture to discuss how the guitar has gone from parlors and homes to the largest concert stages on the planet as the world’s most popular instrument.  At the CD table after each show I’ve been surprised to hear people notice that I’ve composed most, if not all, of the evening’s music.  I keep forgetting that these folks are there for the information and to support their library not necessarily because they’re a fan of my music-most of my shows are ticketed events and the folks coming know who I am.  The folks that come to see me at the libraries think of me as a guitarist/lecturer while I’ve always thought of myself as a composer who plays the guitar, and that got me thinking about why I compose music.

For as long as I can remember I’ve heard music in my head; I hear it pretty much non-stop from the time I wake until the time I go to sleep.  It’s one of the reasons I rarely listen to music anymore as it’s akin to having two radios playing two different radio stations at the same time.   This is especially true when I’m in ‘writing’ mode and have one or more pieces of music in active composition mode.  When I was a kid I never told ANYONE I heard music in my head-I was a dumb kid but I wasn’t stupid enough to tell anyone I was hearing things that weren’t there.  And I honestly thought the music was stuff I’d subconsciously picked up over the years; I had no idea the music was ‘mine’. (Still not sure about that). Continue reading

Variety truly the spice of life

Lately I’ve been thinking about how important variety and change are to me as a person and artist.  I’ve always bored easily with the status quo, and not only embrace change, but I try to make change happen.  For those of you getting to know me, this is the first sign that a human being is eccentric. Most humans abhor change-just look what happens to Facebook when they change something. Most people freak out. I don’t.  I need my routine to vary, so it’s not all that routine. I’ve found that doing the same things over and over, in the exact same way turns my day into a factory-like setting, and while it’s incredibly efficient, it’s mind-numbingly boring for me. I actually get less done, and what I do get done isn’t always my best work. Change and variety energize me.  Continue reading