It was a very good year.
One of my favourite songs of all time.
I should warn you that the following blog is pretty introspective, self indulgent and it’s all about ME!! Lol. So if you’re not into that, here are some amusing pictures of kittens so you don’t feel like you’ve come here for nothing.
For you others who are interested, here’s a glimpse into my experience with this thing we call music set to the tune of “It was a very good year”. (actually, it’s not really set to the tune of it at all so don’t try to sing it as you read.)
When I was 12 years old, it was a very good year.
For my 12th birthday I received my first guitar. It wasn’t a great guitar. An Onyx electric, one humbucker pickup, no tone knob, really light weight wood. It came with a practice amp. Only a few watts. It had a tone knob but other than that and a volume knob it had no other features. No gain or distortion, no reverb. (to get distortion I’d turn it up to full volume… then it’d distort plenty! Not nice distortion and it would be too loud for my bedroom so I would shove pillows and blankets over it to reduce the noise. Surprised I never started a fire.) In spite of the inadequacies of both the guitar and the amp, I was in love. I’d found the passion that would drive me for the rest of my life (at least it has to date.)
I was never really very good at learning things though. The teachers at school couldn’t teach me anything and I always seemed to be one of those people who’d learn by doing. I’d put on records and try to jam along (badly) to the songs. My brother was a child prodigy. Keyboards mostly, though he could pretty much play any instrument he picked up. Usually within five minutes of him picking up something he’d have a crowd materialise around him that were eager to listen. Me, not so much. I’d have a crowd materialise that would be asking me to turn it down or off. I was so jealous of him and his ability. I think though that was part of the drive for me. He’d sit and play something for a while and then get bored as it was all too easy. I would spend hours, days, weeks with the instrument in my hands. In spite of that though, I never really got that good at it. Certainly not on the scale of others I’d see who seemed to be born to play.
When I was 16, it was a very good year.
I was in a band and although we weren’t very good, we were jamming and writing songs. (albeit rather terrible songs when I look back on it. I remember the chorus to one having the line “It burns like fire deep into my soul”…. Well, you get the idea. My stuff wasn’t exactly poetry. )
A kid named Jamie Wilson started up at our school. He was in my music class. A recent ex-patriot from the UK. He was introduced to the class by the teacher who announced that he was going to play some guitar for us. He did and my jaw dropped. He was my age but his musical ability was not only streets ahead of mine but possibly continents, if not planets, ahead. I got talking to him after his little recital and he asked me to come and jam with him in the lunch hour the next week. I turned up with my little red Onyx guitar and struggled to play along with him and a few other talented musos he’d also found. It was fairly embarrassing. Here I was struggling with a few power chords and he’s ripping up shreds of Dire Straits songs on his very tasty strat. By the end I was feeling pretty demoralised. He comes up and says he’s going to start giving lessons and asked if I wanted to be his first student. I jumped at it and then headed around there every week for a couple of years through finishing high school, going to college and then out into the work force. The lessons fell away when I moved to the country for a couple of years and the next I heard of him he had won MTV’s “Long Live the Lead Break” competition and was off to tour with Jimmy Barnes during that whole soul thing that he did. His career was going gangbusters, mine… not so much. I’d played in a few pub bands and I had gotten a bit better but the stuff he was doing compared to what I was doing was nowhere near in the same league.
When I was 21, it was a very good year.
I’d moved back to Sydney, I was getting married (Yes, way too young!) and I was in a kick arse rock band. Well, I thought it was pretty kick arse at the time. Looking back, we weren’t that good. We had a few originals, most were shit, and a lot of covers of Black Sabbath, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Iron Maiden, etc. We were doing gigs and I loved the stage. With my ridiculously long hair and even more ridiculously tight leather pants, we were rocking the local circuit. (ummm, for those of you a little younger, there used to be a “local circuit” on the Northern Beaches where bands could play. I know this seems like a foreign concept.) The tape deck in my car was pumping Guns n Roses, Early Metallica, Maiden and the like and head banging was the thing to do. Having big hair, torn jeans and something with studs on it were a standard uniform though the grunge scene was just emerging and the more “dressed down” fashion that it brought with it was taking over. Eventually even I dumped my suede cowboy boots in exchange for some sneakers.
When I was 25, it was a very good year.
I’d shifted around through a bunch of different “day jobs”. I never settled on a “career”. I was under the belief that music would be my “career” and everything else had been just a way to pay the bills until my big break came. I hadn’t really been playing that much. I’d been doing lots on my own musically but I’d not been in a band for a while. Finally, circumstances led to a reformation of the afore mentioned kick arse rock band with some new material I’d been writing while on self-imposed “hiatus”. Unfortunately our old singer (who happened to be my wife.) didn’t want to get back into it. We auditioned a few people but they all turned out to be wrong for it (or just…umm… wrong!). With the knowledge that “no-one else can do it yourself”, I took over the reigns as the singer. I was getting to be a reasonable guitarist. (not a great guitarist. I still haven’t achieved that.) I certainly wasn’t a singer. But I had drive and tenacity, nobody else to do the job and absolutely no training in it. How could I fail??
Through a bizarre turn of events during this period and the statement from my then wife of: “If you’re not doing what you want in music, maybe you should consider some other music-related thing to do”, I ended up entering into a partnership with the band’s bass player and we started up Continuumusic. (You know him as Paul. We are still together to this day… unlike me and the first wife… but that’s another story.)
When I was 33, it was a very good year.
Singing was my new real musical love and I was pretty damn good at it. (not great at it.. but reasonable. I could sing in tune and in time. ) I was still writing songs and playing guitar (and the songs were considerably better. Certainly there was no sign of burning like fire into your soul in the lyrics!) I was also fronting a jazz band that was earning reasonable money playing at people’s weddings. Not great, super-star kind of money but a shift of singing at someone’s wedding reception would make up half of my weekly wage. The studio was doing reasonably well. I was recording lots of bands and I’d almost finished doing my own first solo album that would go on to sell almost three copies. (yes, you read that right. I said three not three thousand or three million. Three.) There was certainly lots of music in my life. I was living it and breathing it but the fame I’d thought I would have achieved as an actual musician by this stage in my life hadn’t eventuated. Instead I was becoming a local “guru” of sound (ummm, somebody else bestowed that title on me. I’m pretty arrogant but not that arrogant!), doing live PA engineering and recording, helping others achieve their musical goals and dreams and burying my own under a pile of self-doubt and the belief that ‘you had to be lucky’ to make it or at least work a lot harder than I had. I had no idea what was playing on the radio at this point. I’d stopped listening. Instead I tuned in to what was being played at the studio by the rehearsing and recording bands. That stuff seemed fresh and inspiring where as the radio was simply playing shit that I just couldn’t get into.
When I was 36, it was a very good year.
I was teaching singing, still fronting the jazz band and working on writing a second album. The studio was busy and the desire for pushing the marketing of the first album had pretty much completely subsided even though it had only just gotten back from mastering. The real interest for me had become the teaching side. I had come up with, what I believed to be, a very different and insightful method that I’d pretty much feel that every other singing teacher would definitely disagree with. It was getting results with students though and, in the spirit of “teaching that which you need to learn”, it was paying off in my own musical ability. I was the most confident and ready to perform that I’ve ever been and the jealousy that I’d felt for other guys who were “better than me” had been replaced by a realisation that they were tools of inspiration for me and not better or worse, just different.
I was still no further ahead on the path to stardom that I’d originally set out to be on. In fact, if anything, I might have felt I was going backwards rather than forwards towards being the next big thing but I really didn’t care. Music was all about the love of making it and if there were to be success in doing so it would be a sort of unrelated byproduct. What was getting me off was performing and owning it. Taking a crowd of whatever size and captivating them for the period I was on stage. It didn’t matter that five minutes after I got off, they’d moved on with their lives. It was all about the moment and the feeling that I had during it.
Now the days are short. I’m in the twilight of my years.
Well, actually I’m only 42 but let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of people who break into the major music marketplace at that age as a starting point. (I’m sure there are exceptions but it’s unlikely to be the rule.) When I look back to when I first picked up that Onyx guitar, I remember thinking I’d most likely be dead by this age. You know, in that classic successful musician pose of drowning in your own vomit or a plane crash, death by sexual misadventure or something equally as “rock”. Being in your forties just seemed so old back then. Nobody was saying it was the new thirty at that point anyway.
I’m not sure I can look back and see my musical life as vintage wine from fine oak kegs. What I can see is that at this age, whilst I still think I have a fair bit of time to fill on this planet, that maybe there won’t be a major surge in my musical career that will see me in selfies, poking out my tongue with Miley Cyrus on stage at the Grammys. (umm, that’s possibly a good thing though. God only knows where that tongue has been!)
I don’t actually play a lot of music anymore. I picked up the guitar the other day and had a sing for the first time in probably about 6 months if not a year. I still love it. I still love to perform. Every now and then when I’ve left it for a while I forget how much it means to me until I start doing it again. I still have the same dreams of stardom secretly hidden in a locked drawer in my head that I never let anyone see but they are faded now like an old pair of jeans. I can’t imagine a set of circumstances that would lead to me fulfilling them. And, that of course is the problem. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t make it happen. I know too well that if you can’t believe that you can do something, then the chances of doing it are incredibly slim. Achieving anything has got to be at least fifty percent believing you can, surely. Am I right? I mean, you can do anything you set your mind to if you believe that you can and you are willing to put in the effort. I truly believe that you can’t fail at something, you can only quit. I just think at some point I kind of quit on my biggest dream from my youth. I let the belief that I wasn’t worthy of it or that it was just too hard or whatever change what I thought would be my destiny. Frankly it pisses me off that I did that. I’m angry with myself over it. Damn angry! It’s something I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to do and I can’t for the life of me understand why I would allow myself to do it.
I’m not unhappy with my path. I think I’ve achieved a great many things to be proud of. I have a good life, a good family, friends and I guess I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. But sometimes, when I play that old six string, I think about it and wonder what went wrong…. Oh wait, now I’m segueing into a different song.
But it was a very good year.
PS. Would really love some comments on this. Are you where you expected to be when you first started playing? Do you still dare to dream of becoming a star?