I couldn’t believe it. It almost didn’t make any sense. How could the greatest plan of my life finally come around to bite me in the butt? It was cruel and unusual, maybe worse… the kind of thing that shouldn’t happen to a person who was doing the thing he loved best, in the only way he knew how. He thought his race was finally over, that he had won, and was now going to bask in the glory and the wonderful remembrances of it all. Yup, he had lived his whole life, believing, knowing that he’d done the right thing, and done it the best that he could. Until the unthinkable happened, the almost Twilight Zone-type shit that you never think could happen to you, happened. His whole life’s plan, his passion for it, his belief in it, was coming back to haunt him.
It was the most honest mistake a person could make, in hindsight. My love for music, my passion for it, buried me in it for about 40 years, easily long enough to anchor it in my genetic makeup, maybe even my DNA. Well, let’s say enough at least, that when I retired at 62, I was tired, worn down, satisfied with what I’d accomplished in those years, and ready to call it a day.
Right. That part was easy, relatively. But getting the music out of my mind, out of my heart? Not so easy. And wait… why would it? Why would I stop loving the same music I had given a good chunk of my life to?
It Was The Music… Always The Music
I guess it started one evening when I was playing some old jazz standards for B and me. I think it was a sweet old tune, “Blame It On My Youth.” I was into the song, as usual, playing with my heart and remembering the lyrics when the dam broke, and I had to stop playing. I was crying. Didn’t really understand it then, still don’t. I’ve thought about it a lot, trying to figure out the reason.
There are several explanations, but I’m not sure which one holds water, or if it even matters. One theory is that music is one of the strongest activators of the brain’s memory, and a musician who is emotionally connected to his music through the years, would logically be affected by any number of songs he or she had played during their lifetime. Sure, that’s the easy one. We’ve all experienced that to one degree or another. I’m a sentimental sap. I’ve been told that, and know it to be true. And I did love those old tunes I was playing… always. So I hadn’t been aware of how deeply that love went, or how it was going to affect me in the long term. Man, was that an eye-opener!
The next day I began trying to understand what music did to me, how and why it affected me the way it had. Turns out to be fairly simple… well, fairly. For one thing, music is vibrations, and we, after all, are also vibrations. Certain studies and philosophies have shown that when we get our vibrations in line with other positive vibrations, wonderful and sometimes magical things can happen. Sounds a little spacey, maybe a touch iffy? Too delicate an idea? Too bad, it’s true and it’s real. Those of us who have hopped on the vibration train are reaping the rewards.
Yes, rewards. And I have to tell you, that stuff about an honest mistake coming back to haunt me, is true. See, I know, and have played most of the old tunes all my life; I know most of the lyrics to them, and understand, in most cases, the message and the emotions the composers tried to communicate. And if that’s not enough to get one to tear up and blow their nose, I also have so many memories of times, people and places where I played these wonderful songs. When it all comes flooding back at once, as it frequently does these days, well, Katy bar the door. The emotional overload is beyond controlling.
That’s what I meant about a mistake coming back to haunt me. Well, haunt me? Only in the sense that the old tunes make me remember so much when I hear them, whether I’m ready for those memories or not. I’m sure you experience the same thing from time to time.
An example: I can never play, or even hear, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” without tearing up. See, it’s the song to a small degree, sure. But the memory that rolls in with it is overwhelming. For Pete Caldwell, a former owner of Doppler Studios in Atlanta, held a company Christmas party at his beautiful home for several years. He would invite all his staff, musical friends and even a few of his lawyer pals and their wives. There was always a big fire in the living room hearth, many tasty hors d’oeuvres (Pete was an excellent chef) and everything under the sun to drink. For starters, the Doppler crew was the best gathering of fine and fun folk I’ve ever been associated with. They knew how to party, for sure! Pete had a grand piano at the far end of the living room, always in tune, and several of us would play Christmas carols throughout the evening. When the mood hit, everyone would gather around the piano and sing along. Jimmy Ellis and I were usually the main players. When I play or hear We Wish You A Merry Christmas, I hear that great gang in Pete’s house, drinks in hand, singing beautifully around the big grand. It was magical, and it my mind it still is.
And there are so many others that do the same thing to me. Don’t misunderstand… these memories are precious to me, of course, and I’m grateful to the music for bringing them back with such clarity and emotion. But with the sweetness of those memories comes with them the commensurate pain… the fact that those times and fine people are so long gone from my life now… and I miss them so much. There must be a part of my sub-conscious that recognizes the irony of that moment of simultaneous love and loss, and responds to those memories… with tears.
It’s gotten to the point where I sometimes feel like sitting down and playing awhile, but I don’t because I know the music always sucks me into my favorite tunes, which, these days, seems to always make me emotional. In those times I simply don’t play because I don’t feel like getting emotional. It comes down to, the older I get, the more attractive feeling “normal” becomes. Sue me, that’s where I’m at.
I find it fascinating that my music career, that same career that so many told me would lead nowhere and would give me nothing, gave me things I’d barely dreamed of ever having… a home in Montana, a cabin on a North Georgia lake, a condo in the city, a ’56 Chevy, a motorcycle, a recording studio. Not to mention countless memories of a musical journey that was beyond fantastic. We were on a wonderful roll, my music and I. I thought I could survive anything back then, but ultimately I couldn’t, nor could my music. A career that had run its course, and a broken marriage… did us both in. Me and my music…. did us both in.
Turns out that music has been such a deep and basic part of my life, that my life and its memories have become all tangled up in the music, and there are times when the simple peace and quiet are the most attractive aspects of a day. I’m slowly working through this, as one might work through the frustrations of a second childhood. I despise the saying, “It is what it is,” yet my best answer to those uncomfortable music memories so far has been, “It was what it was.” Best I can do right now.
Writing a post like this, digging a little deeper for what might be true, is almost always cathartic. I think when we dig deep enough inside ourselves, long enough and sincere enough to find and admit the truth when it finally emerges, we come to grips with our real essence, and there is closure, growth and peace in that. Not knowing certain things about ourselves can be safer, easier, as in Ignorance Is Bliss. It’s a personal choice, of course. My feeling on that is I want to know as much about myself, the weaknesses and the life mistakes, as possible. To know them is to begin fixing them, as we all have a responsibility to be our best selves, at least for our loved ones. Don’t they deserve the best of us? And beyond that, when I’m sitting alone in the heart of the evening with my Jameson’s, I don’t want to be that guy who is rationalizing or regretting his life away. So far, so good.