Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ain't Summer Great?

Ran into a friend in the library. I live in a company town and a lot of us all seem to be working for the same company, public education. Len is a wise school psychologist. He noted, "I was reading that we actually need stress, but there's a range that makes it healthy--too little, you get unfocused, too much, and you get run down. Right now, it's great to just take it easy." I smile inwardly and outwardly even now just recalling how sweet that moment was to share with a comrade, enjoying our earned temporary rest with our armloads of genius held against our hips under the skylight of the beautiful Jones Library reading room. He had a stack of videos and books like mine, Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" (However that is supposed to be misspelled--it seems overly fastidious to actually look it up), Vipassana meditation books, and Landowska recordings of Bach. In short, a rich trove of rare and special things that your most wonderful adult self might want for soul and mind nourishment apart from its direct utility in making you more skilled at your vocation.

Teachers liberated from daily concerns for the next day, the next week, let alone Monday morning its own bad self are decompressed, stressless, refreshed in ways they may not even remember they had in 'em. It's rich in itself to re-discover what we hunger for, and what we have been skipping: Nutritious food, naps in the afternoon, sunlight, whole days writing and recording music from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. In other words, exactly the stuff that doesn't fit in with a demanding 9 1/2 month long job around working with and for young people. I freshly realized how I am fitting myself into a shape that come to think of it, is not actually natural to me as is mine in this freedom. This week, I had a beer, I've grown a beard, I stay in the house. I do Yoga for an hour like I got all the time in the world in the morning.

If anyone who doesn't work in a classroom for a living tells you the answer to improving education is extending the school year or the school day, I say:

Maybe for you. Not for me, thanks. I think I'm going to be a better teacher next year because I got to stop being a teacher for long enough to find out what the part of me is like that isn't necessarily one:

studio version

Of course, when I am a teacher, I don't have to wait for summer. When it gets to be something I need to not do 24 hours, I am drawn to music.  I get my most inspired connection to music when I simply need a place to go where things assume the quality of who I am apart from what I have to be to meet my responsibilities. A songwriters' songwriter, the heroically great Ron Sexsmith (Check his new release "Long Player Late Bloomer") calls that kind of discontent, often caused by pressures or inevitable times of human unhappiness, "songwriting gold." You don't need special dire circumstances to experience this, ordinary life dishes it out pretty routinely, really. I know without songwriting, I would have dealt with it in a milllion ways I'd wish I could take back but wouldn't have been able to.  Neuroscientists have discovered that we humans have a bias toward current pleasure that makes us more or less incapable of imagining the benefits of disciplined self-control. (I suspect that self-control is more often than not, a matter of being locked into habits fueled by anxieties that steer us around pleasure-seeking impulses.) Wouldn't a hamburger taste great right now so easily overpowers all the benefits of a zesty the garden salad. But wouldn't music be great right now can usually overpower most other choices I might make. There's a lot to be said for that, even if it also keep me from stuff some better version of me would manage to get done.

Here's the live version of the song I linked a few paragraphs back. . .

So, to wrap up this meander. . .musical escape ain't perfect, because sometimes it works a little too well, and I don't face what I've put off. Still, it's good to have a realm available to you where your mind and being can be transported to something fabulous, outside the usual outer and inner grind.  The late, but immortal Gregory Corso said that when things got really bad and he was completely sick of everything he would "go to the movies/it hasn't failed yet".

One last note on this song:  I made up this riff a long time ago and forgot it, then it came up again when I was messing around at the piano a few days ago. There was a funny process for writing this. I  made a little in camera video of me playing this riff, then took it to the kitchen table with a white sheet of paper and a pen and listened to it. I started to list phrases that I felt or heard, but then after I got the first line: "They're playing winner take all sometimes/but before they know what they have won". . .I kept taking the lyrics into the other room to play them at the piano, then I'd come back to write.  I must have done this about 9 times, back and forth. I don't know why I didn't just write in the room where the piano was. It's like I wasn't admitting that this wasn't all a paper and pen time. Each time changed rooms, I acted as if it were the last time I was doing it, and that I was the writer visiting the music side of me, this morning.

What I like about the song is that there are a lot of American conversation idiomatic phrases embedded in it that also fit with the rhythm of the music. In fact, the whole thing is made of these phrases, practically. This makes the voice  not me, but not-not me either. I love it when writers do that. My heros of this are Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello and the late comic novelist (and writer's writer) Stanley Elkin. I hope it has some of that flavor for listeners, 'cause I want it so bad that I'm hoping to take it on naturally it the way a little kid will walk just like his daddy until that is the kids actual walk.

That's all I got to say. Gotta take it easy, its summer. You know why else I like this summer? My team is in first place going into the All Star game. Maybe that's not a big deal a lot of teams, but when your team is the Cleveland Indians, its time to take a deep easy breath and let it out in gratefulness for a world with compensations so sweet to help us survive the necessary difficulties.

Live version, pushed out on stage the day after it was written:

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