What? Artist VERSUS Musician? What is this about? Don’t they come in one (crazy) package? Well, some do, some don’t. Apparently, I must fall into the latter category according to Janice B.’s brilliantly written contemplation on the subject. Reading her article as to what sets the two apart in a way, reminded me of the first time I may have – more subconsciously – found out about that. I am going to have to elaborate a bit for this statement to make sense.
I started playing in bands at around age 13. I had been playing guitar for four years with some minor formal education for two years until the local music school’s teacher ran out of material to work on by saying something like “I can’t teach you guys anything else.” (doh! LOL). I then continued to work with the only other student in my class and we’d somehow figure out how to play Beatles songs on acoustic guitars and singing along in harmony. Something like that. From that and “performing” around campfires – I was being asked to join a band, which I gladly did. From whatever pocket money I had, I bought my first electric guitar (I recall it being a Fender Stratocaster copy) and shared the guitar amp with the other guitarist in the band. Rehearsals took place in the basement of the keyboardist’s parents house and let’s just say that basement was in questionable condition… But I didn’t care, I was so pumped about being in a band and getting to perform in front of people, I put up with mold, freezing temperatures, damp fingers, lack of light and oxygen for hours on end, bickering and disputes over song arrangements and the correct phrasing of vocal and instrumental parts, the usual amount of friction between “ego mammals”, transportation issues, juggling school and other chores, making time for rehearsals, bugging out Mom to take me there in winter, in other words: The usual “side effects” of being a musician – right? Right.
So, I kept doing that for a while. At 14, a former buddy comes to visit and runs me over with his moped. Result: Ruptured ligament in the left knee, hospitalization for… the entire summer break (6 weeks in my country)! Back in the day, that meant full surgery under anesthesia, total immobility for two weeks after that, cast, crutches for bathroom “breaks”, bed-time, in short: No fun at all! (and this in summer, with high temperatures and such. Can anyone say “scratch me under that thing there? Like NOW!!!!”) My dad signed me out of hospital prematurely, so I got to be in my room at least (right under the roof, during the summer the equivalent of a George Foreman grill for human beings). All my friends were gone for the summer break, so noone came to visit. My sister was out and about. My parents were considerate enough not to go on vacation without me. So, no walking around the house or garden, bathroom breaks had to be scheduled, distraction was scarce. What was I to do? … Yup! You guessed it: Pull out the guitar and play all day! It must have been way above 100 degrees in my room (“I like my wesbound well done, please. Thank you! Got a bun and some mustard to go with that? A cold beer? You know, white people tend to be a little chewy”… LOL). I can still feel the sweat running down my chest and back from only thinking about that. But: I believe it was then when the Muse hit me in full. I would actually listen to the records I played along with, analyze what made ’em great for me, emulate the guitar parts as best as I could and improvise with the modest skills I had then (and consider not to be too different by now). So: This may have well been my defining time as a musician first. I say “musician first”, because as I went along in understanding, what made the greatness of the song for me, I instantly wanted to do like those great composers and artists. Which is how I got into songwriting, I believe.
To come back to the subject at hand being discussed in Janice’s article: I am in total agreement with her as to what makes a musician. And there’s no judging on my part as to that, either, whatsoever. Matter of fact, it is now that I feel the ambition to become a better musician and look into ways of accomplishing that (practicing at home is just a part of that equation). And as to artist: In my book, I believe this species to be a being, who look into ways of expressing themselves and their experiences by way of their artform of choice (music, painting, writing… you name ’em). There is a prevalent urge in saying something in such a way that everyone (with open ears and mind, that is) can relate to it. Much as for Janice, to me the greatest joy and reward in music is to write a song. Work out a chord progression. Find nice sounds to go with that. Optionally lyrics to tell a (personal) story. Make the “inner track” audible to the public. That sort of thing.
I’ve been writing songs eversince (I trashed a large stack of unfinished lyrics when moving out from home at 18). 25 years later – I have just started out (again). With a bit of life on my hands. Some insights, some lessons, some pain and some joy. I consider myself that bottle of wine that stayed dormant in the basement. The door has been opened, new light falls into the room. Time to pick up the narrative and journey.
Care to come along?
wesbound, July 2010
P.S.: On a little less serious note: When you forget the lyrics, it’s still better to hum and look involved. Like this: