Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ides of March

I love it when an old adage is played out in the reality of unfolding life. It didn't happen as March ended this evening. At the end of February I wrote about March coming in like a lion as snow started to fall. In actuality, it wasn't much of a storm, just one of those teasing dustings that appear every now and then as if to lull the casual observer into believing that one of the old western Maryland winters of chilly days gone by is rubbing its elbows with us again. The flakes fell and the brown grass was crusted with a reasonably full cover which had melted away by the time I got home from church around noon that Sunday. A pretty modest showing, but technically enough to be classified as inclement weather, so the month should have rounded out this evening like a lamb. But the wind has been rattling the windows across the back end of the house like the endless breeze at Nag's Head pounding a beach house, and the first minutes of April will enter in the cold air. Tomorrow is supposed to see the temperature climb into the mid sixties, which would certainly be a welcome change from the biting breeze of this evening.

A month ago I lamented my lack of self-discipline to compose an entry each week, as I had initially hoped when launching this literary ship in the first week of January. Now, here I am again struggling to put something coherent together just for the sake of rounding out the month with one entry under my belt. Writing couldn't help but fall by the wayside in the onslaught of alternate creative exploits which seemed to blossom in profusion in the last four weeks. March was the music month, to be sure. My friend, Bobby, and I exported our odd brand of troubadouring to our favorite local haunt, Port City Java, as well as to a small Pennsylvania enclave. Due to our propensity for playing and singing a probably disproportionate amount of Beatles music, we've officially been referred to at gigs as 'those crazy Beatles guys'. But somewhere between Rocky Raccoon and Polythene Pam we've managed to slip in the occasional Waterboys, Damien Rice, James Taylor, and even a few originals. It's been a great time of not only getting our feet wet in the playing-live realm again, but also a time to meet some fascinating fellow musicians. We've sat in the presence of a jazz pianist who could have made Vince Guaraldi run for cover and a blues-rock guitarist with some absolutely killer chops. And we've been inspired by all that influence to branch out and try some new things ourselves, the culmination of which will occur this Thursday as we convene at Port City to perform a set comprised of three songs which will be played on acoustic guitar and piano. Two are compositions by Snow Patrol, but the third, in honor of the open mic emcee, Tommy, will be none other than A Day in the Life, the climactic closing track from the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper.

Bobby and I started dusting off our songwriting skills lately and have even started to collaborate on a couple of decidedly Beatlesque numbers. The still-evolving plan is to start recording an album of all originals, which will hopefully get under way within the next week or so. The last full album I recorded was one I was working on six years ago this week, Dust of Jericho. It was a disjointed collection of some of the strongest writing I ever came up with juxtaposed against some absolute crap that should have never made it past demo form. But there were nuggets of value here and there, and I'll always remember those strange recording sessions I conducted in my brother's basement in the wilds of West Virginia during the tail end of the winter of 2003, the last year that we had one of those classic winters, with a certifiable blizzard and a seemingly endless array of smaller storms thereafter. I listen to those old tracks now and marvel at how raw and primitive they were, recorded on a digital four track with a ten-dollar microphone. There are only two recordings from the entire set that I think have aged really well, and there's something unarguably compelling about them. I can listen to those simple takes and remember what it was to be alone in my brother's basement on a chilly Saturday afternoon, pouring out everything I had into that cheap microphone. Amy Grant once commented about how an album is like a snapshot of exactly what is going on in your life at a given moment. It's like a commentary about what you're thinking, and fearing, and hoping for. Bobby and I will start recording soon, and it will be a new set of music, and a new collection of recordings, and I'll listen to it when I'm fifty and remember the me that ambled around western Maryland in April of 2009, and the immediacy will pour of the old recordings like a perfumed love letter pulled out of envelope pushed all the way at the back of a drawer somewhere.

My earliest blog entries were truly infinite ramblings. Now, there's a self-imposed brevity that's born more out of the realities of a forthcoming early-morning commute than out of any fundamental change in my observations. I'm listening to Paul McCartney's alter ego 'The Fireman' as I write this, and this fascinating music will become one of the soundtracks of the spring of my forty-fourth year. There will be writing and recording in the days ahead that will be the next in the long progression from the first time I picked up a guitar in 1973 to whatever lies ahead. Somewhere in the midst of everything new, I may even pull out some odds and ends, including a song or two I wrote when I was about fourteen, that have never been refined to where I truly celebrate them. Yet something in that rough-hewn proto-music is the essence of who I am, and who I will be the next time the recorder is on and the guitar is resonating, and the gift God planted in me is pouring out like April rain. The sounds may never be earth-shattering, or innovative, or even worthy of a second listen. But they'll always be my narrative, and the story will unfold with each note, like my life itself. It would be impossible to imagine anything more, and a grievous error to embrace anything less.