Posted by: jgurner | January 19, 2011

Musical Obsession Milestone

I’ve never tried to deny the fact that I’m obsessed with music.

Music was a big part of my household growing up. All kinds of music, from Wagner to Alice Cooper. From Glen Miller to The Carpenters. My parents gladly encouraged any of us who wanted to take part in music, whether it was piano lessons, choir or band.

When I was in grade school, I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to be in band. I’d seen my siblings in the band all of my life and the thought of being able to play a musical instrument fascinated me. And once I learned how to play one, I wanted to know how to play more. Through high school and into college, I took every chance I could, with varying success, to learn to play new instruments. Coming from the French horn, trumpet and baritone were easy. The tuba was tough mainly because of the size of the mouthpiece and trombone, I just never got the hang of. Woodwinds were similarly difficult. I could learn the fingerings. I did a decent job of making a sound, but I never was really able to get either the clarinet or saxophone “under my fingers.” Flute was even more difficult.

Then, my freshman year of college, I got my hands on a bass guitar. It was a cheap piece of junk, but it was functional and it added another dimension to my music. I was ready to rock and roll!

I’d only played with six string guitar a couple of times in the past and never really had my hands on one long enough to actually learn anything. The bass attracted me because it seemed like I might be able to actually accomplish something on it a little more quickly.

And I did.

In less than a year, I was getting together with some friends and we had our first “band.” We never played outside the drummer’s living room, but it was a lot of fun and a great learning experience. My sophomore year of college at Ole Miss, I became a member of one of the jazz bands. It was completely made up of people who were playing on secondary instruments, but it was fun playing a completely different style. And we had a director who, in just working with me a few minutes at a time, here and there, taught me a ton.

Less than two years after I bought my first bass, I’d saved up enough money to buy my pride and joy: My Peavey Foundation bass. It took most of the summer of 1987, cutting grass and digging graves to save up the $399, plus the cost of the case, plus tax, plus extra strings, etc. (At $3.25 an hour, 40 hours a week, minus money spent on beer and money put aside so I would actually have some money for school in the fall.)

I was proud of that bass 24 years ago and I’m still proud of it today. I have other instruments I play, guitars, keyboards, even an accordion, but the two instruments I get the most absolute joy out of playing are my classic Holton Farkas French horn (a present from my parents when I was in the 9th grade) and my Foundation bass.

And that one aspect of music, the plain and simple joy it brings, is why I love it so much. Whether it’s listening to it, playing it, writing it, it doesn’t matter. Back in the fall, I took part in Ole Miss alumni band for the first time. It had been 20 years since I last set foot on a football field with a mellophone in my hand, and almost as many years since I’d seen some of the others who took part. The fun of playing all the familiar old tunes coupled with the fun of being with old friends and the group dynamic you only get playing in a group like that made that weekend one of the most fun I’ve had in a very, very long time.

While music in general is a joy, one aspect of music is an obsession. In college, I dabbled with recording some in college. A friend and band mate had some multitrack recording equipment and I’d spend hours recording and experimenting. Compared to what I’m able to to with a computer today, it was very primitive. It was very time and labor intensive. But it was fun being able to build entire songs – drums, bass, keyboards, guitar and vocals – completely by myself. Don’t get me wrong. I loved playing in a group and would do it again in a heartbeat. But this was something solely created and performed my me.

Flash forward two decades and I’m still at it. I started recording again seven years ago and I haven’t stopped. Now, more than ever, it’s my obsession.

One end of the kitchen is now completely dedicated to this “hobby,” with computer equipment, instruments, audio interfaces, mics and cables running everywhere. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t spend at least some time recording something, tweaking something, listening to other friends who have newly recorded music or working with someone, possibly on the other side of the Earth, on a piece of music.

This would be enough fun, even if I was just doing this for my own pleasure and no one ever heard a note of it. But, I’m lucky. About the same time I started recording music again, I found various communities out there on the Interwebs of people just like me. Websites dedicated to amature music makers looking for a place to share their music.

In June 2004, I posted my first song on the MacJams.com website. It was thrilling putting my work out there to be heard not just by friends who I managed to trap in a car while I just happen to have a tape of a song I recorded, but by potentially anyone anywhere in the world. It was also pretty scary.

Now, many years later, I’ve posted my 99th song.

Technically speaking, it’s not really my 99th song. Over the years I’ve taken songs off my website, redone songs I’d already posted, done collaborations with other musicians, etc. Without sitting down and really thinking about it, I couldn’t say exactly how many songs I’ve posted. But, according to the song list on my page, the latest one I posted in number 99.

Knowing this “milestone” was coming up, a few months ago I started planning on doing a song for the occasion. I decided I would call it 99.

Clever, huh?

Working on it, and several other songs that are in the works or finished and just waiting to be posted, I realized just how much of an obsession making music has become. It’s not just the time spent or the money I’ve put into it, but it’s the effect it has had on my entire life. And, in my opinion, it’s been a completely positive one.

Sadly, most people never find a good truly creative outlet in their lives. Let’s face it, our society in so many ways puts the kibosh on creativity. It’s discouraged in our schools because teachers can’t handle it. It’s treated skeptically by many parents because they are wary of it. It’s often treated badly by society because so often those who are creative are “different” and society doesn’t like different. Family, jobs, TV, the Internet and so many other things eat away at everyone’s time, making it almost impossible to do anything extra.

We, as a people, are forgetting just how important our creativity is to us as individuals and to mankind as a whole. Where it’s “allowed” it’s often kept bottled up. It’s relegated to “hobby” status and never given any more importance.

But my “hobby,” my “obsession,” I believe, makes me a better person. It helps keep my life in balance. It helps give me perspective. It helps me express myself. It helps me share my happiness, sadness, anger, loneliness, peace, love and understanding with the world in a way nothing else could. It combines my joy of playing music with my strong desire to tell a story.

And, yes, in my own mind and in my own kitchen, it makes me a rock ‘n’ roll GOD!

Never underestimate the power of a healthy ego.

I don’t see this obsession cooling down any time soon. Sure, there are dry spells where the music just doesn’t flow. Sometimes, the last for months. But for the time being, it looks like the music will keep flowing. I’ve posted or been part of half a dozen songs in the past month and I currently have another half dozen finished and waiting to be posted or in the works.

If the past year or two are any indication, it may take me less than seven years to post the next 99.

But, I’m not in any hurry.

Right now, I’m enjoying what I’m doing. Hopefully in the coming months and years I’ll add to what I’ve already done. I’d like to play in a band again. I’d like to put out a CD. And I want to meet face-to-face with more of the friends I’ve made through sharing music on-line.

Twenty-plus years ago, I dreamed about the possibility of taking my music to the “next level.” Of making music my life. Back then, that meant touring, albums, record contracts and all the trappings of “making it” in the music business. Today, I realize that I’ve really “made it.” I’m making music I want to make and I’m making it for my own happiness.

Anything else is just extra.

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