When Creativity Falters

Recording this week
Recording this week

Not that you didn’t know it from the postings, pictures, and other miscellaneous things I’ve posted here, but I’m a musician.

As the 26th of March approaches, there’s been a heavy weight on my shoulders trying to do something different, not necessarily better, than the anniversary of the massive change in our lives.  March 26th, you see, is the day my wife – the kids’ Mom – Andrea passed away.  Last year was the 1st anniversary, and it would have been our 19th wedding anniversary.

I don’t say these things to give you pause or to gain sympathy.  I’ve come to terms with the loss.  I didn’t get over it, I’ve learned to live with it and live is the key word.  Yesterday I used the Dr. Seuss quote “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”  It took me awhile, but I came to understand the meaning of that and smile a lot now, thinking back to the amazing things I’ve done in the last 20 years . . . nearly (but not quite) half my life so far.

So this year I wanted to do something different . . . this year it’s not about the loss or a tribute to who was here before.  It’s truly telling the story and sending a message.

So I picked up my guitar.  Well . . . I should say I picked up multiple guitars.  You can see the stacks of stuff there in the background.  I have a Stratocaster in my hands.  The Dobro in the background.  A Clapton Strat is behind me, and there are something like four amplifiers all wired up and in use for this one freaking session.

I know what I wanted to do.  I wanted to slap people in the face with what I was recording.  I had a song, an arrangement, all of it picked out.

Then creativity faltered.

I’ve had writer’s block . . . both as an actual, wordsmith style writer and as a musician.  In the weeks after our loss I wrote one song and couldn’t write another thing for more than a year.  By the time I’d finally come to terms with things and started recording again the clock on the next CD with my brother had run out.  He’d far surpassed me as both a writer and musician and had filled an entire CD except for the one track I was able to write.  I’m not bitter, I’m enamored with his talent and a little jealous of his abilities, if I’m being honest.

But then came this last 7 days.  I started with one arrangement of a track . . . and the key was wrong.  My vocals . . . well, my vocals sucked!  I can tell the truth.  I pulled out the guitars between chores all weekend and tried tons of stuff.  Monday came and when the arrangement still wasn’t working I ended up screwing around and recording an Elmore James song instead.  Not what I wanted, intended, or needed.  I knew I was in trouble when my daughter told me the one-take James tune was awesome and the others weren’t passing muster.

Last night I totally broke down and went full-bore, Black Crowes meet Gov’t Mule on it.  Five guitar tracks.  Dual vocals.  Harmonies.  Percussion (without drums, which is part of the problem) even mocked up a bass line.

Nope.

The kids had gone to bed, I tried unsuccessfully to mix the mess of tracks together and that’s what it was . . . a mess.  I threw my tuner across the room, watching the batteries fly out of the back, and sighed knowing I’d likely made more of a mess of things than I should…needing the tuner if I’m going to continue with the open tunings and different arrangements.

I put the batteries back in the tuner, tested to make sure it worked (it did) and wound up all the cables, shut down the amplifiers that I’d put on “standby” mode, and walked unceremoniously to the living room.

I went into the back yard, started a fire – though it was now almost 10pm, and grabbed a book and my Dobro.  I wanted to play the Dobro and reverted to the book, reading the latest from James Rollins and hoping it might clear my head.

I got through about a chapter and in frustration picked up my Dobro.  I mindlessly started noodling around, or at least I thought I had.  Suddenly I realized I’d inadvertently found what I was looking for.

One guitar.  That was it.  A dobro, a slide, tuned to a “G” chord without thinking, I’d found the right key, the right arrangement, and the percussive tone of my fingers on the wood of the guitar all piqued my interest.

I walked into the office and launched the Pro Tools software and hooked up a single microphone.

A shot of me with my dobro
A shot of me with my dobro

And I recorded it.

It’s the song I wanted.  The slap in the face I was looking for . . . just didn’t think was the one getting slapped in the face.
In my head was my horribly creative brother’s voice saying “if you’re putting something down, think about if it’s driving the song, or if you’re just doing it because you can.”

My creativity had faltered and I tried to compensate by over-producing it.

Abbi came home from play rehearsal to find me, content, at the fire and reading.  I still have to polish the track . . . but I learned a lesson in the middle of it all.

I didn’t really need to try that hard.  That applies to so many things in life, doesn’t it?

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