THE PROMISE OF THREE CHORDS
I fixed up my music studio. The Old Man has rented the room for 25 years, and it’s in a big warehouse in the industrial area of San Francisco. There is never much glamour in buildings that house monthly rehearsal studios, and this sense of grittiness is familiar to most musicians. There is a feeling of rolling up your sleeves and going to work as you drive by the docks and the wholesale warehouses and the taxi companies. Somewhere in the world, there are clean and shiny hourly rental studios that the big names use, but most of us practice in the low-rent areas of cities, diesel fumes coughing on us as we arrive.
The room is a decent size, but the amount of equipment in there closes in. I don’t consider myself a gear-hound by any means, but still I have more than I need. Three drum kits and bins of pieces and parts that served a purpose and may one day serve another. The Old Man is a collector. There are two lofts in the room and his loft is crammed with amps and guitars and gear. Really, mine is no better. It’s necessary to store back catalog merchandise, CDs and posters. The band has a full set-up of stage lights, and that takes up room as well.
Basically, the room is crammed full.
I spent some time trying to make it feel more spacious. I hung some muslin up over the dusty black baffling to lighten it up, and went overboard on fairy lights. I gave away a big dumb BASS beer mirror that was taking up space. I dusted, and put down another rug.
The bands who practiced in the studio 25 years ago were punk rock animals, and the carpet is disgusting. I can’t blame it all on them, but I like to. Beer spills. Duct tape grinds in. Loading gear through the grimy parking lot in the rain at four in the morning tracks in grime. We would do ourselves a favor to replace the carpet, but that would mean carting all that stuff out of there. The thought is just too daunting.
Also, when time is precious and so many things seem to take me away from the studio, if I’m going to be there, I want to be working on music, not cleaning.
For the first months of the pandemic I stayed away, holed up in the apartment, where I have an electronic drum kit, a piano, guitars a plenty. With no income coming in, I considered that maybe we should pay for storage rather than keep the studio around.
Now that I finally made it down there and got it all fixed up, the thought of giving it up feels like blasphemy. I love that studio. I close the door and I step inside the light of creative mind. The beauty of that space for me is obviously not in the way it looks, but in the silence and possibility. The drums are all mic’d up now, and all I have to do is push a button and record. I have some electronic interfaces that I can get lost in for hours. More and more, I goof around with using a guitar to spark ideas, yet another toy in the creation wonderland.
Years ago, in the process of writing my first solo album, I would spend weekends in the studio. At the time I had a day job, we didn’t have a pup, and when the Old Man was out of town, I would get there Friday after work and not leave until Sunday, sleeping on that disgusting floor, lost in creation. It was marvelous.
In the course of the pandemic, I have filled up my time with so much. I’ve been in two courses of study, working with folks as a spiritual counselor. I assembled my writing into a book and started writing for a drum magazine. I took a break from writing music. I needed to, as the deep fatigue of the road was apparent once it all shut down.
It’s funny how, after a time, music always calls me back. The first call was not so subtle. I was taking a walk in the San Francisco afternoon, and the desire for amplified guitar in my ears fell on me like a craving. A few days later, some sense memory happened and the feeling of being on stage, communicating through sound, rose up in an ache. I was goofing around on the guitar one night and the idea for an album of songs fell into the organizational folders of my mind and stayed there.
So, I got the studio ready to go and have begun to get back to it. An amazing realization when I sat down at the kit was that everything was still there in my body, even the foot technique I’ve struggled with. Thank you, electronic drums.
I recently interviewed Laura Chandler, who uses the drum in her healing practice. In my study of shamanism, I learned that a shaman is a person who translates the unseen messages of the natural world to the community. Laura, a songwriter and musician herself, spoke about how a musician is doing just this, allowing this information, from nature or “spirit” or whatever your interpretation, to move through them, into the instrument and out to the listener.
The story of how Bach considered himself an instrument of God, with music flowing through him, comes to mind. I think of those transcendent performances I have witnessed in my life, and how the artist seemed to be bringing through energy from some other place and changing the whole reality of the moment. Tom Petty at the Greek, Patti Smith at the Fillmore, Iggy at the Warfield.
We know that the pandemic has deprived us of the physical connection with groups of people, so much so that many risk their health in order to connect again, the longing to comingle molecules just too great. Maybe what we’re also missing in the absence of concerts is being in proximity to the modern translators of the unseen world to inspire us, remind us that we, too, have this ability. Each person can connect in this way, if we allow ourselves. We see these big personalities and it reminds us, we too are a shaman, able to translate divine inspiration into the actions of our lives.
We can connect to something bigger, to that energy that holds answers for us, by allowing the creative spark to be nurtured and celebrated. Whether channeling a beautiful melody or an equation that solves economic crisis or global warming, stepping into our own creative life values this connection to the divine. It is possible for anyone to access it.
The only necessity is to be present, without any thought to outcome. I’m realizing how important it is, just on a personal level, to open up that channel. I sit in the fairy-lit studio, and everything is possible. All I need to do is to show up and go where I’m drawn, opening to what wants to come through, and getting out of my own way.
This is a different type of work than anything else, because there are no rules. I follow delight. There is not an end result I’m moving to, at least not at the beginning. Maybe I’ll spend an hour sliding around in an open tuning on the guitar, and see how I can mess with the sound of it in the computer. Maybe I’ll get lost in drum programming, or dive into a lyric.
How often do we get to find ourselves going where it is we want to go, with freedom from judgment? There is discernment of course, this sounds better to us than that, but so much of creative work is letting go of the internal rule follower, the inner judge, and just letting yourself open to what is here, asking to be expressed.
This is why creative endeavor is salvation for us. We get to break out of our restrictions and just fly. In our daily life, there are so many do’s and don’ts, and the weight of that is heavy on us as we live with so many restrictions we feel placed on ourselves by others.
Here then is the truth of it all: our real limitation lies only in our own mind. Freedom doesn’t have anything to do with what other people tell us. It has everything to do with how far we can go in opening to all the glorious possibilities of our world.
I think about this kind of freedom a lot these days, because there is so much discourse about it. So much of the conversation seems lost in a misunderstanding of what true freedom is. To know that it is possible to manifest a new reality in each breath is the ultimate liberation. True freedom is knowing that the only rule necessary to follow is alignment with the truth within our being, and to be vulnerable enough to accept that this truth is available for everyone.
The parallel to writing a song is so clear. We want to feel free to experiment with new forms and melodies and they lift us up, fill us with excitement and happiness. We want to imagine our song moving out to the listener and affecting them in a way that inspires them, and we connect through this language of compassion and generosity, communicating in the magical field of common ground.
We pick up the guitar or sit at the piano or pick up the drumsticks, or we create a fabulous dinner or sing a lullaby to our child. With these creative acts, the world opens to all imagination, all possibility. We offer our gift to the world, with an open heart. In this we tap into the real truth of being, that light of generosity beneath it all.
Here then we channel the divine. We have connected to the freedom of infinite possibility, and through that we tap into the field of love on which everything sits. We allow it to flow through us and inspire. In this energy, the planet is healed, community thrives, and we imagine all possibility as we connect to the greater wisdom that flows through us. You didn’t know there was so much in a three-chord rock song.
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