All Good Things Imaginable

Sep 23, 2014

Robert Fripp on stage in Boston, 2014.
Credit Tony Levin.

A musician lives for music.

Perhaps better to say, for the 'experience' that music has to offer. More precisely, a musician lives to further clarify and deepen the relationship between themselves and that mystical experience when music removes us from any sense of time, ourselves, our obligations - all those encroaching weights that keep us aground.

A friend of mine, normally taciturn, expressed his experience after a joyous reunion of our old band:

"I have no words to express the experience. I do know that for a brief moment on Saturday there was no pain, no sorrow, no worries and it's like we left our earthly lives and went to musical realm that filled our souls with love, harmony, joy, and all the good things imaginable." ~ Nelson Ramirez

Music makes us feel elated. Or plainly put, music gets us high. Then we try to recreate that experience artificially - through drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol lie to us. Then we lie to ourselves. A vicious, self-destructive cycle begins and well...you've heard the stories.

Trouble is that lots of things get in the way of just the simple act of music making.

Then there's all those little slip-ups on the way to the music. A wrong turn of a finger, a guitar that takes a tuning detour, a cue that we miss - any number of minute things can derail connection.

There are many peripherals, many distractions. Online, inline, downloads - billions of bytes about music. Most probably written by those who have never been unseated by music. Even more are those envious of those who have. Predominately, this type of journalism is not about music at all. Rather, it's to boost the profile of the writer. To enter the fray without ever having fought a battle.

Is the magic of music found in the writer's ink? Not on your life.

Then there's the rabbit hole of equipment. Musicians chase after the Holy Grail of instruments, electronic gizmos and gadgets that promise that new and radically improved way into the depths of music making. My eyes glaze over when the topic of equipment goes on too long. Truth be told, you can make powerful, life-changing music with a mop and a bucket if the conditions are right.

What to do then?

Practice, prepare, fuss, analyze, think, warm up, practice, sort out faulty equipment, take walks, confer with other musicians. In short, place yourself in a position of readiness.

Let me not appear to underestimate the value of the audients. Player and audience must get out of the way of the music in order for it to come to life. If the player's ego is on display, then you might as well go watch the annual Tough Man Contest. A better evening awaits you.

If I seem like I am saying that this particular experience is exclusively the domain of the musician, then you are correct. This is why we spend thousands on equipment to garner a $50 fee at the end of the night. This is why we spend years working on our craft, studying with teachers, and still being open to improvement and lessons regardless of the decades spent becoming a musician. This is why giving up the dream of any national recognition or success is not an insurmountable hurdle nor is it a soul-crusher. We eagerly await that next "fix."

At this point in my musical life,  I want to play music that engages me. Music that makes me not care where I am. Weddings, events, parties: these past years, pickings have been slim to none and I'm perfectly happy with that. I've done enough of these soul-sucking jobs. Time for quality music time.

The picture above makes me wonder what old Robert Fripp might be thinking as the audience is brought to their feet. Is he thinking about the last 45 years of his musical life? Ruminating on the contributions Crimson has made to music? The hardships of the pro touring player? Still vibrating from the lighting bolt that the music delivered?

Perhaps he's only thinking about that piece of chocolate cake he's stashed for after the show?

Again and again, we return to the plateau, waiting for the heavens to part. Arms extended, palms upwards. Waiting to be awash in that ecstasy of sound, floating timelessly, where music, instrument, hands, heart and soul are as one.