Friday, November 05, 2010

Caveat Collaborator

A friend wrote me the other day and among other things praised the two word songs (just a week left now, my how a month flies), which was unexpected. He also pointed out one of those things that is so utterly obvious as soon as it is pointed out but I swear it never occurred to me before, which is that they represented a ready-made batch of enigmatic titles for instrumental compositions. Never occurred to me.

I'll tell you though, I can see why it wouldn't, because I don't much, particularly lately, think of myself as a musician. Creatively I think of myself, if anything, as a lyricist. I do sing, a lot, and I suppose I shouldn't short-change that, because I'm not a bad singer. But in terms of composition and performance, I've generally given up. Becoming a competent instrumentalist is an every single day kind of undertaking and I don't have it in me. I am one of the world's very, very large supply of mediocre guitarists, and when I used to compose music for the guitar I was a terrible serial abuser of many overused progressions involving D, A, G, E, and C (with the occasional cheater F not done as a proper barre chord or minors of D, A or E thrown in). I played the clarinet in high school, and there is some ghost of a recollection of proper embouchure and the rudiments of keying lurking in the back of my brain I'm sure. I picked up a bit of sight reading singing with a church choir. That is about it. I still know basically nothing about music theory, don't get scales, how chords work, minors or major this or that, don't know what a "fifth" is.

I sometimes daydream, not very hopefully (and certainly not to the extent of taking any positive action) that I might find my musical counterpart, sort of, a copiously prolific composer and performer of music that I could neatly pair lyrics to, do my singing and be otherwise relieved of musical responsibility. I've had only one really substantial relationship of musical collaboration in my life, a long time ago now, that really did not work out for a variety of reasons (a fair share of which were my own fault). Right now it is hard to imagine taking music seriously even as an avocation. I feel constant pressure to try to do all the housekeeping and working and time volunteering and managing of home economics that are on my plate. It is hard to reconcile any of the necessities of serious musicianship, playing out, regular practice, going on tour, with my lifestyle as a homebody father and homemaking part time science research guy. A while ago in a blog that since got eaten by internet bad luck I wrote

There isn’t much chance of getting around the fact that one of the central questions (if not the central question) of the ongoing [song]writing is why I continue to lash myself to write lyrics day in day out when the pleasure I take in it is minimal, when (more relevant than anything) I have all but given up any dream of ever doing anything significant with music.  In fact something other than that even, I have given up any belief in a future for my music, which exists however I might belittle and disdain it, and yet dreams persist.  Dreams I don’t believe in, dreams I pity and despise.  Must I really toil in my inadequacy, just to dish thin gruel for disowned dreams?

I'm not quite so down on my current creative production these days. Still. This kind of attitude should generally serve as a warning to any putative potential collaborator, I suppose. Warning, subject is "complicated," and honestly I'm not all that damn sure that I'm anywhere near good enough to be quite that complicated. Not that I've asked anyone to get in line to try out for the position, not that anyone would if I did. But I sometimes wish I was willing to. I think, however, in the interest of keeping it all ambiguous, that when people ask me what I do these days I will tell them that I am a lyricist.
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