One thing that always motivates me is a deadline. Having a calendar of coming events, coming obligations, is a not so gentle reminder that I need to take action. Time moves on, and me doing other things or not paying attention of the business at hand, gets me into trouble.
I’ve wanted to do something different at the monthly community open mic that I’ve helped get started. I do a lot of promotion for it and I always have something to read there.
Being the essayist, the book writer, the poet is a comfortable role. And, reading off the printed page is not threatening. I’m not totally drenched in nervous sweat when I read at a public event.
Many of my friends come, and the event is developing into a nice cultural event for this small town. One of my friends is now the regular emcee, and he does a fine job. Lately, he’s been “suggesting” I do something with my guitar. I play in a community country rock band; we’ve done public performances. And, I played my guitar while my wife sang at a friend’s wedding last year. So, I’ve dipped my toe into the public waters.
This past two weeks, I’ve flipped through several song books, and listened to some of my new favorite CDs, hoping to find that perfect “cover” song to play. If Willie or George or Pete can sing and play something in public, well maybe I can copy that.
I even found one of my first favorite songs, from when I was literally just a babe. “This Old House” was the number one song when I was one year old, and I annoyed my mother to no end playing it again and again on my little kid’s record player.
This week, I learned that Rosemary Clooney sang it in the key of Eb and it now is seen as a Gospel song. But, after a few hours, I realized it just wasn’t working for me. At least not with a deadline of tonight.
The last few days, I’ve felt that the song to be done is a blues song, and I found the rhythm and key that fits. All I needed were lyrics.
An article I read said that songs that work are about things you experience and have feelings about. I kept thinking about it, even when I was stuck in traffic. My home town is going through construction madness this summer. All the tourists plus construction of a new highway intersection, a town plaza and new sidewalks has often brought traffic to a halt.
I went home and sat down with my guitar and a quiet hour on the deck. Just me, my guitar, a pad of paper, and, hopefully, my new song.
I played my chords, got my rhythm, and wrote down a few thoughts about the traffic. Then a few more words, and more guitar strumming. I gave it space, and let the Muse settle in for a visit. More words. I put down the pencil, and found a pen. The pen somehow made it easier to write what came to mind.
Yeah, a lot of words and phrases came to mind, got written down, then crossed out, or new words and phrases stuffed in.
I looked up, taking in the coming sunset, took a break, got a glass of water, and wrote some more. And, edited, rearranged, mulling it all over.
I went to bed, feeling that this thing, this “song” was about there, and had been, well, created.
Overnight, my brain mulled it over again. At 2 a.m., I woke with the first verse fully in my head, and it was good. At 6, I sprung out of bed and wrote another verse, and revised several others, all before coffee. The Muse can be demanding.
Later, out of respect for my wife’s ears after only one cup of coffee and the morning hour, I waited until she went outside to the garden before my song rehearsal. The pen made a few more word changes, and then even editor’s remorse, and some editing was undone.
I relaxed, guitar pick in hand.
“Let the words guide the music,” the Muse whispered. “And relax.”
“Just let it flow.”
I like it. It’s a song. It’s good entertainment, too. Fun. Whimsical. And, a new side of me that I haven’t let too many people see. I haven’t let me see it very often, either. Playing that tonight will be fun, and my friends will be surprised.
The Muse stayed with me, as I brought my guitar into the yogurt shop. I took it out the case, tuned it, and set it up near the microphone. I brought my music stand and put the printed words out there.
Nerves set in, as I waited for folks to gather, and we finished setting up the space. I sucked down a whole bottle of water, my mouth parched by the warm day, or was it nerves? My buddy started us off, and others played their music, read their poems.
It was a comfortable night for everyone, or so I thought. Old friends, reading new works, sharing deep emotions. Just like me.
Soon, it was my turn. And instead of having an essay or poem in my hand, it was my old familiar guitar. I strummed a few chords and off I went.
The song went as planned, and it came out the way I thought it should go. And, I got a nice round of applause at the end.
One friend admired the fact that I’d done something different tonight. We’re both poets, so he asked how writing a song was different.
“Still a poem,” I said, “but one with more dimensions.”
I’ve tried something hard, but it felt good, felt right. For what I wanted to say tonight, it was the way to go, a blues song about my little town, and what was going on affected me, changed me. That’s what a good poem, a good essay, or even a book chapter does, too.
Life is like that, offering challenges, new ways of saying things, getting things out.
–Neal Lemery, 7/23/2017