Friday, February 25, 2011

Enjoying the ride...

"So much ahead of you, so much behind
Keeping your balance while walking the wire
Flying your flag, any colour you like
Happy as sin in the middle of life."

I'd like to dispel rumours about my upcoming EP release, "The Ride Of Our Lives". To clarify, I have not taken to singing in an impossibly high-pitched voice while vamping on an electric piano. Further, the CD's title is not "Crisis? What Midlife Crisis?". 

Admittedly, the record in question is a little reflective, and it does contain a few nostalgic nods to the old country as I remember it. It also, dare I say it, features a song called "Middle of Life", which might sound alarm bells for some, but it's really not an angst-ridden lament, by any stretch. In fact, to my ears, its overall vibe is more celebratory in nature; a sort of -  "I've made it through the first act relatively unscathed; I've learned a bit on the way, and with this new-found maturity and self-assuredness, I'm better equipped to navigate the second act without as many cock-ups, thank you very much" angle. At least, I hope it comes across that way. Come to think of it, I hope it works out that way, too (especially the maturity and self-assured part...)

It's a tricky subject though, isn't it? I mean, I'm as wary as the next bloke when it comes to listening to the self-absorbed bleatings of whiny songwriters struggling with their emotional baggage and ennui. But your whole way of looking at the world changes as you get into those middle years, especially when you have a beautiful child who's turning into a beautiful little adult right before your eyes, and you simply have to write about it. 

So, all apologies for that. Look on the bright side though - at least I don't have sticky, mid-life divorce proceedings as my muse. Then, I'd be turning into Phil Collins.

Friday, February 04, 2011

"If there were no music
Then I would not get through
I don't know why
I know these things, but I do" 

The cynic in me wants to view these lines from Shawn Colvin's I Don't Know Why as a bit melodramatic, but sometimes the cynic in me really needs to just sit down and be quiet. 

Yes, this could easily be another Reasons To Be Cheerful post, in which I extoll the virtues of the fabulous Ms. Colvin. But, since she has previously won Grammy awards, I suspect that most of us already realise just how special a singer, writer and performer she is, so I'll refrain from too much ungainly gushing. Instead, I want to consider the power and truth inherent in the above-quoted lyric (gulp).

I mean, is music really that important to some of us? 

I'm beginning to think that it might be. I've often heard performers make comments along the lines that the only time they feel really comfortable is when they're on-stage or in the studio creating music. So often, it strikes me as a little self-aggrandizing; almost like they're furthering some over-romanticized notion of the struggling artist. You know, a misunderstood, tortured soul lurking outside of the zeitgeist, who can only find redemption and self-expression through his art.

In the days of my youth, this kind of airy-fairy behaviour would have been ill-advised, at best. A grimy council-estate in a decaying northern English steeltown in the 1970s (think US government housing, but with rougher accents and uglier carpets),  was hardly the time or place for such arty posturing. That is, unless of course, you were partial to scorn, ridicule and the occasional outbreak of physical violence. (I once heard Big Country frontman, Stuart Adamson, remark that as a kid growing up in Dundee, Scotland, he kept his guitar playing a secret for fear that he'd be beaten up if his sissy musical proclivities were to be made public. I fear he wasn't exaggerating.)

Of course, at this point I'm no longer in northern England, nor am I living in days remotely resembling those of my youth, having long ago left the cold and damp of Lincolnshire for the hot and damp of Florida. As far as I can tell, the threat of schoolyard bullies has retreated somewhat, so maybe it's safe to own up to the fact that I too, have occasionally (ok, often) been prone to seeking comfort in that skulking, pained and struggling artist territory that makes me so queasy. 

You know, it's a sobering thought, but on paper at least,  I now qualify as a mature, middle-aged man (Please, no laughing at the back!), and so all manner of male menopause symptoms abound. Night sweats? I have them during the day too. Mood swings? Yeah. (No.) Overly nostalgic and  sentimental? Please. I get teary-eyed watching Laurel & Hardy silents.

Yes, those crushing feelings of existential angst commonly associated with middle age have been having their wicked way with me for a good couple of years now. Fears, regrets, frustration and the occasional outbreak of despair may work well as a title for an imaginary Morrissey compilation album, but in reality such dastardly emotions can put a real damper on your social life.  Apparently, they often herald the arrival of the much-ballyhooed "midlife crisis", often involving a tawdry affair with a young girlfriend, or a reckless trip to the local sports car dealership. Not for me though. I've never liked sports cars, anyway. They strike me as rather sad and desperate, and I would never want to be seen in one. Or a young girlfriend, for that matter ...

So, a couple of weeks ago, there I was, having a bit of an episode, as they say. I'd been feeling totally out-of-sorts for a couple of days, and a rather fitful night's sleep had intensified my rather dour mood for most of the following day. By evening, I was feeling emotionally frazzled, without really knowing why. That night, I sat down at the piano, turned on my trusty Korg recorder and managed to finish writing, and then record, a demo of a new song. I was lucky enough to have a few hours to myself, and boy did I take advantage. As I'm prone to do, I totally lost myself in the music,  and all else (including my sense of time) melted away into the periphery. If my wife hadn't returned home and asked me why I hadn't turned on the lights, picked up the mail, or even eaten dinner, I might still be sitting there. 

Now, I don't really know how good the song is, or whether people will like it (although I may soon find out, since it seems destined for inclusion on the upcoming Steve Robinson/Ed Woltil collaboration.) It hardly seems important, though. Getting into that zen-like state where you are right in the moment and are able to focus entirely on the task at hand, especially doing something that you love,  should be reward enough. I mean, it's a beautiful thing even when it's fleeting; when you're fortunate enough to experience it for several hours, it's like a bloody miracle. As an added bonus,  I slept like a baby that night. A really content baby. 

I suppose music really is that important to me.  Like it or not, music is where I've often retreated to in times of duress. I feel like a pretentious prat saying it, and writing it down here is certainly making me squirm a little, but writing songs and singing them is the most liberating and cathartic process I know of. I really don't know how else to work through stuff. Therapists are so damn expensive, and if word got back to the UK, I fear that a schoolyard bully or two may come out of retirement.

So what if there really was no music? Well, I suppose Shawn Colvin would have to find a different way to get by, as would I. I have no idea what Shawn would do, but as for me -  well, ideally, I'd like to think that I would invest my time and creative energy into perhaps making something a little more practical and useful than songs. Maybe I'd take up carpentry and learn how to make coffee tables, or something useful like that. Come to think of it, making furniture would be a lot more beneficial to the household than making music, wouldn't it? It would certainly make my wife a lot happier. 

I don't know how I know these things, but I do.