When I look back on 2008, I think the heaviest of realizations I conclude, is that the music has always been in, and a part of me. For as long as I can remember, there's been a song in every task I've ever carried out.
Whether it be doing my chores as a young lad, or coping with hardship, falling in love, or suffering a tough loss, music has always been there. The sounds have been the "old standby" that have never disappointed me, nor left my side.
Without the melodic noise, I often wonder what may or might have become of my existence. I wonder where I'd be, without all those artists, making great music, and helping me to get through the day.
And then, a few years back, there in the North Dakota dirt, the burning question hit me.
"What if?" What if I, me, just a red blood, blue collar, son of the working class, assumed the role of the artist? What if I started making the music that gets me, and others, through the day? What if?
Let's Walk It Back.
I've only ever known tough, physical, blue collar trades, despite two tours on college campuses, and degrees in History and English Literature. I guess it's just the way I was raised. I've just always been drawn into a world, carved and cut from the stone and timber. The story of American Life and all that.
From way back in high school, I remember being interest in creative writing and literature, both fictional and nonfictional. I just love the imagery created in words. Wordcraft is so powerful, in so many ways.
Early on, I formulated the opinion that ink and parchment possess a strength, very near that of the voice. So I guess, it stands to reason why music became such a magnetic force for me.
In the mid 90s, during college, I was a drummer in a post punk, modern alt, rock band, during the height of the grunge era. Percussion was something that just came naturally, and I've always been rhythmically inclined. We were all childhood friends and Nine Spine Stickleback made some great, aggressive music. It was my first taste of writing lyrics for music, or anything else, for that matter, and I was hooked.
But as all things grow and evolve, so too, do personalities and perceptions. We went our separate ways, remaining good friends and parting on good terms (remember that).
My attention shifted toward my "working" career for nearly 20 years, and I focused on "growing up" as it were.
As we all sometimes do, I took on life, like a bull in a china closet. I did my best to wreck a brief marriage to my high school sweetheart. I crushed my fair share of hearts and souls along the way, and I sabotaged plenty of friendships. All while maintaining a mutually beneficial partnership with booze. Needless to say, my propensity for self destruction was perfected in my affinity for pain. I've long since curtailed the self deprecating behavior though, thank the stars.
For whatever reason, I never put down the pen, always writing in journals or ledgers, always collecting thoughts and stories.
And through it all, there was music. Always music.
Where the Music Took Shape
Somewhere, sometime in 2009, I was literally sitting there, in the North Dakota dust and dirt, just pondering life, listening to a Will Hoge tune, ("Highway's Home" or "Even If It Breaks Your Heart") and it struck me. "I'm going into town to buy a guitar."
I'd never played before, I couldn't even read or write music. I had no background or musical pedigree. I just had this cloudy, faint hint of a dream, to start writing songs.
So I ventured into Minot, North Dakota, and bought a shitty guitar.
I never thought it'd amount to much more than something to occupy the lonesome lengths of time out there, a thousand miles from home.
And so it began.
It started with me just aimlessly strumming and picking strings, trying to find some semblance of sounds to put together in some half assed, sensical way. At first, it was nothing short of frustrating.
Were I a betting man, I never would have laid odds that I would amount to Jack shit as a musician or songwriter. But something was happening. Something unexpected. Something truly awesome. All the noise I was hearing and humming in my head, was starting to manifest itself. Slowly, mind you, but most assuredly, even I could hear it.
You see, I didn't immediately seek out lessons on YouTube, or try to learn to play some of my favorite songs. Something in me didn't dare try, or was afraid to fail and make myself look or sound stupid. What can I say? We all fall subject to being self conscious and critical. Instead, I just kept trying to formulate chord progressions, and combinations of sounds that were pleasing.
One day I found the balls to let my wife listen to me play. It wasn't like she was blown away or anything, but she did remark,
"Honey that's cool. You should try putting some of your writing to that."
She was onto it, well before I was. So too, was my oldest brother, Michael. I had hired him to come to work with me in NODAK. Mike would later become a major inspiration in my musical endeavors.
So off I ran, ledgers full of thoughts and fledgling abilities with a guitar in tow.
Just like all passions or interests in hobbies, it became a difficult labour of love. I started listening more intently to my favorite songs and artists more intently, studying the semantics, the mechanics, the rhythm, and the flow. I listened to the reason and rhyme, and the mood created by tone and sounds. I honed in on melodies and harmonies alike. I took pages and pages of notes, and started constructing a template for creating a song. I didn't want to just copy means and methods, but at the same time, I didn't want to stray so far from familiarity that my music would be uncomfortable to listen to.
And then, one night, there in the dark during a fierce electrical storm... it happened. Everything aligned and "There Hangs A Hero," "Journal Box Road," "Chesapeake Bay," "Maybe I Was Wanting," and "Love From Afar" were born.
It was one of the most liberating and validating nights of my life. It was real.
And through it all, there was music. Always music.