Rejuvenation

My family has had a small cabin in Mountainhome, Pennsylvania (in the Poconos) for decades. It may be my favorite place on Earth.
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Last week at this time, I was preparing to return home from there, During the last day or two, the rain decided to assert its dominance. On the cabin porch, surrounded by mountain rain in the trees, and with a rushing creek 100 feet away, I started working on a chord-melody version of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”
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It sounded like this:

Time in the woods, breathing clean air, and not having to deal with the assorted nonsense of city life reminded me of two very important things:

(1.) I definitely need to take more time off. I don’t mean the lazy disengaged sloth that passes for breaks. I mean regular planned breaks from routine. Nature, preferably, should be involved.
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(2.) If I’m not ACTIVELY creative, I’m like a plant withering from lack of water or sunlight. Sadly, my job, which used to be actively creative (I was a music director) is now merely passively creative. I lead the creative process of other people who ARE actively creative.

If I was older, bald, and surrounded by the most diverse-imaginable team, my time at work might look like this:
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So there’s this illusion that since I’m “working creatively,” I’m creating. Not really. It’s a fine point, but any artist who’s ever been promoted out of actively creating knows that there’s no substitute for making your own things.

Reflecting back on June and July, there’s some sense of  creative accomplishment. I finally recorded Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone” in memory of my friend Katie (though I have always wanted to play it). I recorded guitar and background vocal tracks for my friend Todd Gilbert’s new album “Guiding Light” (dropping July 31). And The Mood Rings (my acoustic duo) continues to play cover songs in local watering holes.
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But the most profound moment for me was when my fingers, on the fretboard of that guitar, started working out the melody and accompaniment of “I Can See Clearly Now.” Suddenly, while showering, or driving through the Pennsylvania and Ohio countrysides, the little poet who lives in my brain started calling out lyric ideas. He’s been quiet for a while. Rest and reflection seems to have woken him up. He’s downright chattery now.
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Five years ago, before taking that music director job, I was deeply enmeshed in working on acoustic chord melody arrangements. I was also writing and recording a solo album. These things are innate and important to who I am. Every day, I yearn to be creating music while I’m enmeshed in the blah-blah-blah (which disguises itself as important creative processes). I wilt a little more, and just let it slide along. Clearly, the disciplines of active rest and active creativity are important.

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I don’t have an answer to the dilemma today, other than to make the time to do the stuff. All I can tell you is that I’m driven to do the stuff… ACTIVELY.

What do you do to rejuvenate? Do you need creative rejuvenation? If so, What do you do to get that?

Ten Years Gone

Twenty years and a few months ago, some friends of mine asked if I might record some guitar tracks for a young girl named Katie Reider. She had about an album’s worth of material, and with their help, they gotten it to where it was a few electric guitars away from sounding like a real record. Well, I added those very guitars, and that record ended up being called Wonder.

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In just a few actual evenings (which were spread-out over the course of several months), I managed to record eight of Wonder’s ten songs. I never expected anything to happen with it, really. I thought, maybe, in a year or so, she might have sold enough CD’s that, if all went well, I might get $100.

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The album was a local smash. We won a bunch of awards, we were on the radio, and in the papers. My guitar students thought I was famous. Overnight, I became the guitarist in one of the most popular bands in town. I had arrived. Image result for yatta

 

There were highs and lows, but in fairly short order, I was the only original band member. Katie and I had no choice. We became the best of friends, confidants, and musical partners. The next couple of years were great. In 2006 everything suddenly caught fire. I was convinced we were just a few yards from the proverbial touchdown. Then she got a toothache.

Only, it wasn’t a toothache.

It was a horrible monster, and it destroyed my friend.

 

My first gig with Katie was at Taste Of Cincinnati in 1998. My last gig with Katie was at Taste Of Cincinnati in 2007. The next year, she was gone. That was July 14, 2008; ten years ago.  This was how she looked at our last show together.Image result for katie reider wonder

When 2018 started, I was aware that the ten year echo of her passing was coming. Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone” has always been one of my favorite songs, and I thought it would be a fitting tribute. Robert Plant wrote it about an old girlfriend, so it doesn’t quite fit, but the music captures the feelings, I think, of a yearning for a time in the past with someone dear. Also, no one knows this (until now). When I was recording Wonder, I felt a tremendous pressure to accomplish something special. When in doubt, I would ask myself, “WWJPD” (What Would Jimmy Page Do)?

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“Ten Years Gone” is a fantastic anthem. One of my favorite discoveries about it, once I dissected the guitar parts, is that, apparently, I record layered guitars rather a lot like Jimmy Page did on this song.

Fitting, right?

Anyway, I know Katie would love it, because she loved the music I made. This is for Katie. But also for me.

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