It’s been a long time, but I’m excited to announce the first guest post in just over a year!
BK (yes, the BK made famous (?!) by this very blog) shares some of his thoughts on music and writing, with tips on enjoying either or both. Here’s what he has to say:
The focus of CeeBee’s blog is normally writing. As a guest contributor who is not a writer by craft, I cannot give writing tips or point to helpful books or workshops. And, as an engineer by profession, I am more a supporter of the arts than an artistic individual on my own. I do, however, enjoy music.
I play at guitar. I am not an accomplished musician. There will never be long lines outside the box office where eager fans wait to get the best seats to a BK concert or multi-thousand hits on a YouTube music video featuring my latest release. So, if American Idol or a big recording contract is not in my future, why do I play? Let me introduce you to the BK Theory of Musical Performance.
Set your level of expectation:
What I seek in playing is fun. I do not expect note for note reproduction of an Eric Clapton guitar riff. And no one will ever confuse my rendition of a James Taylor vocal with the original. But that is okay, because my goal is to play well enough so that when friends come together we can make a happy sound.
Accept your mistakes:
I was discussing guitar with a former coworker who played while he was in college but had stopped playing when he moved into the real world of jobs, student loan repayment, independent living – the adult things into which we fall at some point in life. No time to practice, fewer friends with whom to play. “But why did you stop?” I asked.
“I used to be able to play songs without missing a note. Now I make mistakes.” I guess this is an extension of setting expectations, but it is also a statement about self-forgiveness. When CeeBee and I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band a few years ago there was a moment during the show when the band had a miscommunication at a song bridge. Bruce made some comment about the band messing up and they picked up then continued the song. After the song ended Steve Van Zandt whispered something and Springsteen broke into a big smile. Stepping to the mic, he said “So Little Stevie just told me that I was the one who was off.”
He laughed. “You just heard The Boss (expletive deleted) up!” So if The Boss can make light and move on, then BK can do the same.
Make the music your own:
I cannot play exactly what Little Feat plays on “Willin’” nor what Blind Faith played on “Can’t Find My Way Home” but it does not stop me from adapting the song to my skill level. I jokingly say that I reserve the right to correct oversights in the original songwriter’s version. You may be surprised at how well your interpretation works for you. Probably one of the biggest kicks I get from playing with friends and family is when the version of a song that comes out of the jam session elicits enthusiasm and comments. I remember one jam session version of “Hotel California” done with a reggae syncopated rhythm and with Guitar Jack absolutely wailing on the guitar. When it was over, we looked at each other with an almost “Was that us?” look on our faces. Okay, maybe The Eagles have nothing about which to worry, but we really stuck it that afternoon.
There are other things. Play with family and/or friends if you can. Set the goal as fun, not perfection. Kids are especially good at this. The next time you have a family gathering you may be surprised at how enthusiastic the little ones can be.
I have been very lucky. I came from a family in which music was a normal part of life. Then I married into a family with a similar love of music. And so many of our friends enjoy playing, singing and listening that pulling out a guitar usually leads to others joining in.
How to make this about writing? Let’s try this.
Set your level of expectation:
If you write as an outlet for your inner artist, take satisfaction from meeting your milestones. You completed a short story and are happy with the results so you deserve a reward. If your goal is to be published, you probably need help from someone for whom writing is his craft rather than from a back porch guitarist.
Accept change in your choices:
I modified “Accept your mistakes” here because, in writing, you make character choices, plot choices, and dialogue choices that, after self-editing, friends’ suggestions and group critiques, you decide to change. The changes are not mistakes but the natural result of refinement during the authoring process. Writing a story or play is a living activity. The story will evolve as you proceed. That the first draft requires changes does not invalidate your effort.
BK didn’t include a writing section on making the work your own (the way he said to make the music your own), so this is CB, adding on to what he wrote:
Make the story your own:
We’ve all heard the old saying that there are no new plots. Depending on who you believe, there only three, or seven, or thirty-three plots…or some other number I’ve forgotten or haven’t come across yet.
However: we all still like stories that utilize old plots or somewhat familiar characters. An individual writer can help a story say something it never seemed to say before. That’s what keeps us looking for new novels, short stories, movies, and TV shows.
So, whether you’re a writer, a musician, a knitter, or an enjoyer (um, is that a word?) of some other avocation/vocation, keep at it for as long as it brings you joy. That is all.