May-June 2011

Music: Master Of Time And Space

By Dennis Roger Reed

Most of us live in a very intense world. We have more things to do than we have time to do them. Our appointment calendars keep us glued to our smarty phones to make sure we don’t miss anything. And when we get a chance to unwind, we often spend some or most of that time in some form of electronic social networking. Staying in touch has become an essential ingredient of most of our day to day lives. “Where were you?” sputters the exasperated teenager. “I called your office, your cell and I emailed and texted you and you didn’t answer any of them!” It’s just unfathomable that someone is not open game for contact at any selected moment.

Jim Kweskin and friends - Relax Your Mind

Much is made about music being the common language, and that is of course quite true. I don’t speak any languages but English (insert editor’s comment about the shakiness of even that statement) [ editor finds no fault w/English] but I can jam on a 12 bar blues in the key of E on a couple of different instruments. There have been times that quality has proven very valuable.

 But common language aside, some of us enjoy listening and/or making music because it has an element of time suspension. Yes, in a very Rod Serling-like way, music can make that internal clock stand still while the rest of the world whirls by. Even a novice instrument player has probably had that feeling that an entire afternoon sped by in the blink of an eye. Time does fly when you’re having fun, especially if you’re learning something at the same time. There is a special magic the first time you get a mandolin in tune, or plunk your way through a 12 bar blues on your guitar for the first time. And the first thing you think once you’ve played the turnaround in B7: I want to do this again. Right now. There is a big element of “swing me again, daddy, swing me again.” The 12 bar blues may not have quite the same magic the hundred and tenth time you play it, but if the magic is right, you’ve picked up something a bit different in the tempo or learned a new transition chord that helps make it sound better. And be more fun.

 Maybe you are a fledgling songwriter, trying to best Bob Dylan at his own game. I can guarantee you no matter how bad your first songs may be (and I speak from personal experience) you’ll want to play them over and over. Until you write better ones. The creative process is exciting, and it’s somewhat hard to convey to someone who hasn’t felt that particular mojo since their grammar school teacher said their painting didn’t look anything like any horse she’d seen. Or their grandma told them “that’s not the way that song goes.” Many a mojo has been squashed, but the good news is that it can be rekindled, and it’s not really all that hard.

 People say that they don’t have time for certain things. I don’t have time to exercise, eat right or file anything that has landed on my desk since 1979. Of course, if I really wanted to do so, I could find the time, and of course, I do. So why does talking about living in a world that doesn’t have enough time relate to doing something like listening or playing music that takes even more of your precious time?

Balance. All work and no play makes Jack a boring creep. The human engine can’t run 24/7 on Starbucks, TMZ, and the electronic device du jour. You may be getting 8 hours of deep REM, working out with a famous personal trainer 6.75 hours per day and consuming nothing except tofu and blue rice, but if you’re running at 110 mph the rest of the time, you may find yourself not only tired, but haunted by a feeling that something is missing.

It is…Music. Music was not invented to fill 35 minutes of your commute each day. But if you drop the morning news on the way in to work, at least once in awhile, for some of your favorite music, do you think you might be in a slightly better mood when you punch in? How about on the commute home? Less likely to kick the dog if you haven’t been arguing with Rush for the last hour? How about the Beatles on the way home tomorrow? Or better yet, how about listening to the Beatles and when you get home, how about learning those chords to Drive My Car or You Won’t See Me? Hey, it may take an hour or so to learn them, and a few weeks to get comfortable making the changes. Rome wasn’t built in a day (are you counting? What number cliché is that?) Is that wasted time? Is McCartney going to call you to back him up next tour? Or maybe at least a slot on the Ringo Starr All-Star Band next summer? Even if the tune will never be heard outside your rumpus room/bedroom/grandma’s house, it’s a relaxing and rewarding thing we do, this music. And if you’re interested in composing music, or writing songs, so much more the better. Music is brilliant all by itself, but if you can glue the create art of composition onto your love of music, it’s indescribably incredible. Building a chair in wood shop is very cool. Writing a song in creative writing class is ultra very cool.

So unplug for awhile. Hide the clock. Cover the computer. Pull out that old A style mandolin, or that college era acoustic guitar. Buy a new set of strings. Pull out that old Stones songbook. Write about that girl that dumped you.

 And when you’re exhausted (or out of time) don’t just hit the sheets. Change your clothes and click on Find out who is in town performing, or even better, go see that local artist you haven’t seen perform in a long time. Tip your waitress, bond with your bartender and take a cab home if you drink alcohol or consume medicinal marijuana. See you soon.

Dennis Roger Reed is a singer-songwriter, musician and writer based in San Clemente, CA. He’s released two solo CDs, and appeared on two CDs with the newgrassy Andy Rau Band and two CDs with the roots rockers Blue Mama. His prose has appeared in a variety of publications such as the OC Weekly and MOJO magazine. Writing about his music has appeared in an eclectic group of publications such as Bass Player, Acoustic Musician, Dirty Linen, Blue Suede News and Sing Out! His oddest folk resume entry would be the period of several months in 2002 when he danced onstage as part of both Little Richard’s and Paul Simon’s revues. He was actually asked to do the former and condoned by the latter. He apparently knows no shame.


All Columns by Dennis Roger Reed