(Wed 5 Aug)
I have this one overriding obsession in life, and that is to perform music.
I've carried this obsession over since my late-teens. It’s an obsession that has not since abated; in fact my musico-mojo becomes more pressing or urgent as the years go by. Perhaps because I was so washed-out with baggage during my early twenties that my need to play dimmed to a large degree in those days. I was still active on the listening side of things though, discovering new and wonderful musical loves all the time. And now, at 39, my need to perform and express myself musically remains as strong as ever.
The buzz, in other words, remains eternally addictive.
One of the things I regret as a musician is that I haven't played in a great band intensely for a long period of time, a band like say, Cold Chisel. I've got what it takes to be a good musician, more so than the majority of people I observe around the scene. For one thing, I want to play more than pretty much most people I meet. Secondly I possess a vast, glue-like memory for songs and pieces. I have a vivid lyrical capacity. I remember words to songs like they're always floating in front of my face, even of songs I haven't performed for years and years. I can sing and play bass at the same time, and quite adeptly too. Moreover, I have this copious, volcanic passion on a Beethovian scale, a pure passion that translates so well to live work. When I'm on stage I feel naturally belonging. I rarely, if ever get nervous, I do what I do, and I just wish to stay there and never leave the heaven that's called a stage, particularly if I'm playing in a band or duo.
Although I don't consider myself to be a technically great musician at the best of times, I do have a reasonably wide musical vocabulary and a firm musical instinct that fits well into a wide range of musical styles. My strength as a musician is playing with other people both as a bassist or acoustic guitarist, and sometimes as a piano player. I became fairly ok on the piano when I played keys in an originals bluesy
band some years ago. The bluesy band is still going as an occasional acoustic combo where I now play bass, and the drummer is now the djembe player. And when I record and produce my own material I find I excel myself as I move along with the project.
My singing, slowly but surely, continues to improve. As does my guitar-playing and everything else musically related. My stylistic palette is wider than every other songwriter I know. I was a musicology student at uni and transcribed an Australian Aboriginal song onto western notation. I can rock, do folk, jazzy-blues, baroque and classical. I’m basically the male Eva Cassidy. Or the Australian Paul Weller. I won't be comparing myself to Ray Charles just yet!!!
I can say all this because existentially, I don’t care, in a few years time none of it will matter anyway! And most importantly, I know it’s not the most important thing on Earth, except sometimes, so I can stand back and just say what I say, and what I feel.
The one thing I seemingly look forward to in this life's journey, particularly as evinced throughout my thirties, are the gigs that lay ahead of me. Like little bits of starlight they lead me on with a (sometimes) smile on my face as I prick each date with my gig-presence and proceed to look forward to the next gig. Sometimes I do tire of it and keep away, particularly if I'm travelling where all I care about is stomping around places that I've never visited before, or places that are just too lush and beautiful to care about making music. Nature is even more perfect music than making sounds with man-made instruments.
And yet, for much of the time, I just wish to stay indoors and implode, snug and safe in my own being. Where the whole pizzazz of performing just doesn't cut it for me, instead preferring beautiful solace and solitude. And my dear close friends. Being at gigs can be a tiresome experience. It often is.
There's no way I can imagine myself getting up on stage in a theatrical piece. I have only one conduit to the performing arts, and that's music. And it's music that is done my way. My expression is paramount to my satisfaction and happiness and, curiously, this satisfaction is often more pronounced when I play with other people rather than on my own. I value and cherish my musical collaborations as they keep me happy, fulfilled, and sane. And the people who I've ever played have valued me because I'm such a musical administrator, what with my memory and remembering songs, and having a natural instinct for structure and feel for the songs performed.
Music brings out the best in me, and the worst. I confess to having a large musical ego that bumps and grinds about at gigs, even if it's bumping and grinding in my own mind and emotions which it mostly ever really is. I admit to a competitive streak. I want people to know how much this all means to me. Sometimes my performances are on the aggressive side, like Paul Weller. Yet I'm probably mostly like Paul Weller in substance and style, as far as famous people go. I readily keep a leering eye out for other singer/songwriters or musicians who are confident with their own style and strut themselves about like peacocks. If I consider them to have a heightened sense of their own talents – ie, if I don't like their music - then I really have it in for them, especially if they don't acknowledge me...
Like attracts like doesn't it, or shouldn't that be dislike attracts dislike. I can be as needy and indulgent as anybody, even if this narcyness does shoot through me only sporadically or fleetingly like sudden ink-blotches in my line-of-sight. The ‘scene’ can and does bring out the worst aspects of my character.
And there are some great players out there who are not only great, but they’re better presented on-stage than I am, and with that a whole lot more approachable and charismatic off-stage too. I accept that. Maybe I should do what they do. Talk in-between songs and tell stories, and start writing some more songs again, dammit!
And very few of these people can do what I do in play all the instruments (except drums) and produce and mix to make it sound good, even if I’ve only got a day or two to get the whole lot done from scratch. I’m a lot like Prince in that respect. And I know lots of jazz chords. The majority of singer-songwriters don’t.
…Life would be much easier if I didn’t have this urge to play, and the monstrous ego that gets carried away with this urge. I’d rather be a gardener, actually. Life would be easy being green, I don’t care what Kermit says (or sings about…)
What I am pleased about however, is that all the good musos tend to respect me. I like that. I always respect a good musician and will be amongst the first to say so. Why do I have this need for the respect of others?? Perhaps I’m more Italian than I think, more of a Godfather than I care to admit. “you show me reshpect, I’ll show you reshpect!” Hmmm….
I don't always have the greatest respect for singer/songwriters – albeit there are some very notable exceptions - who play or perform only their own material. Because to me, it's just not musical enough to only learn or play your own material. It's a bit like reading only your books (or blogs!), or perhaps just eating your own shit. I like to mix covers with originals when performing solo spots. The covers I choose not many people know of, for the most part. And these are songs that are incorporated into my blood every bit as much as my own songs, perhaps even more so. Performing other people's songs for me is simply a demonstration of my love for their songs, their craft, and my craft. It becomes my music, and my expression, totally. This is why I’m so good at collaborating musically with other singer-songwriters either on keys, bass or acoustic guitar. We’re talking about singer-songwriters I deeply respect though, nothing less than that.
I've never wished to be famous or anything as such - I've never had that kind of drive - but it would be nice to have more time to do that which I love. It's more than something I love, it's my whole being, my whole life, a damned mission, in other words.
Despite all I've written I have a shy side. That demonstrates itself most if not all of the time during my non-musical life. In my non-musical life I take interest in other people, I’m generally always kind and considerate of others. I’m like that too in my musical life but sometimes, the ego bug bites and …aghh!
As a musician I will say I've never been taken to play electric guitar except around the time when I started with this at about 16. Electric guitar is fun and all, and I've used it a bit live, but I find it to be too showy for my taste. I feel kinda naked playing electric six-string. Besides, I don't gravitate to the playing styles that are empiric to the electric; all those heady solos, bending of strings, pedal-effects of all sonic persuasions. I feel embarrassed with all of that. Instead I play acoustics exclusively, and the lovely, beautiful deep and rich bass.
More on the bass guitar in another blog!
And as a musician, generally, I feel I'm just a beginner. I wish to explore, explore, EXPLORE! It never ends...
And now, I'll go off and limp like a leaf as I generally do, until my next gig where I'll be powering on all cylinders, or grinding to a halt like an old engine, making an awful noise in the process...