Thursday, November 30, 2006

Make It Hurt So Good

Around the time the kids needed to be put to bed, tonight, I got in the car and headed downtown. It's snowy here with a temperature between 1-10 degrees but Chad was waiting for me in the parking lot, smoking a cigarette.

I said, "Sorry, I'm late. My wife actually wanted to see me some time this week."

Chad said, "That's okay. I understand. Except my wife told me I suck and likes it when I leave. Do you want help carrying your guitars?" Chad is technically separated, even though he and his wife and their kids all live together in the house they bought as a family. His wife just has boyfriends now.

We walked through the tangled halls of a run down building. The hall had an odor. My guess is that it is the same odor that is on the subway cars in New York City. Maybe someday I will find out. Every door in the hallway had stickers on it, displaying dumb band names of the previous tennants who came to jam in these music studios.

The studio that Chad uses has secondhand carpet and furniture. The ceiling looks gross and the walls are covered in Iron Maiden banners. This is where I met Mike. Years ago, Mike inherited some money from a dead relative. Mike took the opportunity to stop working and all he did was learn to play music.

Over the years I have learned not to be intimidated by musicians. Most of them aren't very good. Chad and I have been playing guitars together on our breaks at work ever since I blogged about it earlier. It made me think we were at about the same playing level. Sometimes I think of musical talent as a fancy car. Just because you have the means of getting somewhere, possibly even with style, it doesn't mean you have any idea of where you are going. A lot of good musicians will still seem lost in music. If you are in a place with no road then I guess it is up to you to blaze a trail.

Mike is a good trail blazer. My guitar came out of tune during the drive. I was in the middle of tuning it and I strummed two chords, just to see how they sounded. As soon as the chords hit the air, Mike struck out a strong beat. I didn't have any choice but to build a song out of it. Mike wasn't going to wait and Chad came right bounding along on his bass.

It was like that the entire time we played. Chad was being silly and started tapping one of his bass strings with his beer can. I played a simple little riff to go with it and half a second later the drums were running and we were in the middle of a new impromptu song. It is hard to make an impromptu song because you want at least two parts to a song. Me and Chad did fine at creating two parts but we were not good at switching between parts A and B at the same. Once I figure out the difference between a bar and a measure, maybe I will think about counting while I'm playing. Chad seems to follow me through a song okay but it is hard for me to follow him because his six-string bass goes a whole string (5 notes) lower than my guitar does.

Chad had a song he wrote. Mike said, "Yeah, I can imagine a nice jazz scale being played to this song." They looked at me like, "The song is in G. Play a jazz scale." I am so out of practice that I can only remember about 3 scales off the top of my head and I'm certainly not at a point where I can zip through the notes like running your fingernail down the teeth of a comb. I tried to play along but I'm pretty sure I used the wrong scale. I basically hijacked the song, making it unrecognizable from what it started as. It was so bad that I felt embarrassed but when we finished that song, Mike still said, "That was cool."

After that, we spent the rest of the night listening to songs that Mike composed on his keyboard. It is pretty amazing. Mike could give Danny Elfman a run for his money. It all sounds like professional movie music. It was weird to switch from hard rock to movie music so quickly. The awesome thing about Mike is that even though he COULD do the complete songs by himself, he still likes to ask other musicians to come in and add to his songs. Chad has done the bass to many of the songs. Mike wanted Chad to record the bass for another song before we ended the night. I watched Chad listen to one of Mike's songs and quickly find the right key and an appropriate scale without any hint from Mike. In a matter of minutes he came up with a respectable bassline for an entire song that he had never heard before.

That is when I realized that I found what I have been looking for: A bass player and a drummer who are way, WAY better than me. I never thought I would be able to get myself into this situation and now my fear is that they will cast me out and rightly accuse me of wasting their time by trying to play with them. In the last few minutes before the studio closed, Mike told me he already had a recording of him and Chad playing the song in G that needed some jazz guitar. He wanted me to sit down and record a track for it before I left. I kept trying to refuse and Mike kept trying to make me. I didn't want to ruin the song, letalone have recorded evidence of me ruining the song. Luckily, the place closed before we got the equipment set up to record. I guess I have one week to practice my scales.

It was strange being in that studio. Mike and Chad are not wannabe rock stars dreaming about MTV, touring or getting a song on the radio. It is different with them. They just want to make music. They don't care about popularity or unwritten rules. I think Chad and Mike are both suffering in their personal lives right now. I think that is why it is easy for them to be so nice to me. You see it in their faces and you can hear it in the music. It is pain coming out. Pain being immortalized. Every song is a personal issue. The drum sticks pound across the rototoms. Chad slaps and pops the bass, the same pattern being yanked out of the guitar with little details falling out like crumbs. Getting it out. The issues don't go away but, when the song is over, the issues have at least been dealt with and then we are ready to start a new song and deal with the next issue.

Mike and I were talking about the wide range of music that he plays and how his style makes it impossible to predict what type of song you will hear next. He is proud of that. He says his goal is to make music that is grounded but still takes you to a mystical place; a foot in two different realms. He had been drinking, so I think he meant it. It is funny to have a drummer tell me, "I think it would work if you used a diminished chord right there." And my response as a guitarist, "That means take a note out, right?" I really need to get practicing again.

It was the first time in my life that I felt like MY views on music were cheap and shallow. It was the first time I felt like other people understood the beauty of music and I didn't. It made me feel like I was wooden like so many other musicians I have met. It made me feel like I have a lot to learn. I hope they will keep inviting me back.


Native Minnow said...

I hope they do too!

Anonymous said...

It sounds great that you finally did something you wanted to. I bet the hard part will be deciding between conan and music, but I'm sure you'll find a way to combine them...have you seen this?'Brien/Pale_Force/

ShootingStar said...

There is something so invigorating and terrifying about being in that space where people do the thing that you love better (at least in your eyes) than you do. But enthusiasm and honesty can get you pretty far. It works for me in the writing world anyway.

Oh, and the subway cars in NYC surprisingly don't smell bad really.