Saturday, April 11, 2009

Song, Come Free Me

Music is life. Music is sustenance, oxygen, bread, water, faith and nurture. We all know how it feels to starve on the fat of some success or to thirst in the fountain of a few good times. Success and good times do not satisfy the soul’s craving for music. I’ve prayed for a little music, but never for success or good times. When the music is gone, as it often is for a season of fruitlessness, I turn to stone inside. Suddenly I don’t even know what’s wrong with me, but something is, terribly. Then the sweet confluence of events allows me to find, no, discover it again, and I’m resurrected.

This week was like that. After preparing my income taxes and getting caught up on (and in) some other distasteful duties, I was practicing for a weekend of shows in Massachusetts. In the process I’d lost all track of time while I was singing, singing for the pure selfish pleasure of it. You can reach a point when music, and life, finds the zone. You realize you want the rest of your days to be joyous like that. The world can wait. Song, come free me.

A photographer was at my house later that same day shooting some stuff for a newspaper story. I stopped singing while he was there. At one point, noticing my suspiciously barren walls, he asked where my songwriting awards were. “In boxes in the basement,” I said. “Go get them,” he said. “They’re packed away. All wrapped up,” I said. Without a pause he insisted, “Good, I want to shoot you unwrapping them.” I had a knot in my stomach as I reluctantly brought up a box that was in plain view. I unwrapped one award and it looked sordid in its tacky aluminum frame-- a piece of paper that acknowledged something I’d accomplished in 1995. I felt estranged and oddly ambivalent about the thing. In fact it immediately made me want to forget about 1995 and get back into the singing zone. That frozen moment from my past was simply the symbol of a point of discovery no different than the one I’d made earlier that morning: music is life, and I need it now.

This morning here on Cape Cod it’s overcast and chilly but there’s an unsettling beauty in the scenery that feels like a series of minor chords in a slow, exquisite melody. Even now the music is alive and moving around us. Strewn ice age boulders are the whole notes. Long beaches are the glissandos. Ragged clouds are the tension, and rain on the windows is percussion. A gull riding a thermal is a violin…

Sometimes we share the life within the music. Last night I sang at O’Shea’s. It’s been a long winter for many of these native Cape folks, and spring fever was burning in their blood. The whole room was energized with single-organism purpose like bees in a spring hive. We sang and told stories for two hours, ending with some sing-alongs as my old friend Randal Patterson joined me on mandolin and harmonies. For a few short hours of music we breathed in the joy of song. We forgot that we’re almost constantly engaged in our common struggle to overcome all that crushes life, while we felt the spontaneous bursting of moments into bloom.

At one point I sang a tune that I co-wrote with my friend the Irish mystic and songwriter extraordinaire Jimmy MacCarthy. The chorus says, “The more I know, the more I wonder, from the setting of the sun to the dawning of the day”. What little I know is that music is life, life is the moment, and the moment is, or should be, wonder. We were made to sing, all of us, and more harmony is never a bad thing.

copyright 2009 by craig bickhardt