Thoughts on Music
What Music Does to Me
This is just a quick thought about the science and mystery of music and what music really does to us. What music really is.
Music is vibrations. If you knew that, great, if you didn’t, take a second and think about that and get ready for the rest of what I’m about to say. Don’t read for a minute.
We are vibrations. We are each, as everything is, a swirling galaxy of electrons and neutrons and protons and French fries. Every piece sparking off the signals of the one next door, flying around until it conks into the next.
Imagine you are running through the forest of concrete columns of an interstate interchange. Like spaghetti junction in Atlanta if you’ve been there. Or where I-5 meets I-15 in Fontana, CA. All the cars are zooming around; over, under, thru, this ones passing that one on the outside and then zipping over and taking the next exit on the left. It’s all very complicated and there’s a lot going on, but really, there’s a lot of space between. You could build a football stadium in the space between. That’s what the inside of your body looks like on an atomic level. And the only thing keeping it all together is the jostling itself. This little neutron can’t go that way until that little proton goes over there and collides with that electron and makes some room for Arthur Dent.
This is vibration. This is you. This is music.
Music is caused when vibrations reach a certain level of intensity and create a pitch. A pitch is what you call a note. Hit a key on the piano and that’s a note, but it’s got a specific pitch vibrating at a certain wavelength. We have the advantage of thousands of years worth of trial and error to figure most of this out for us, like what the wavelength of middle C is and why it’s middle C at all and not first, second, or third C. This has all been determined, thankfully. What’s left to you and me is how these notes make us feel. What does middle C feel like? An the C above? Is there a tune that you feel in the pit of your stomach?
I love to walk up to piano and hint middle C. Really bang it. It makes me feel rooted. Like, OK great! There’s my good buddy middle C again! Middle C feels good in my bones. I like G, and D and B Flat, but F is my favorite part of the middle C family. You have to hit the C first, to kind of announce the arrival of F. That’s not a value judgment, that’s just me. I like F because, as the four chord of the key of C, it’s always going somewhere else. I like the process of going somewhere else. That’s what F does to me. I don’t get the same kick out of A as the four chord for E. F is my personal wavelength.
Fortunately I became familiar with it back in high school physics and trigonometry, so it’s an old friend now.
I believe music is the good vibrations that heal parts of us we don’t understand yet. And God forbid we ever do. We aren’t supposed to know everything. The desire and need to know everything is the greatest insecurity one can have.
Music will put parts of you back in touch with other parts. It’s the only ethereal glue.
We vibrate. Music vibrates. There’s the space between vibrating in response. The closer you get to the music, the more it affects you. If you’ve ever wondered about Keith Richards and Johnny Cash and Steven Tyler and how they’ve lived such long lives considering the poisons they consumed, I believe the answer is in their proximity to, and quantity and quality of, their music. If your music makes you feel good, it’s not just because it’s telling you it’s ok to party on the pontoon as long as you don’t drink lukewarm beer. The music itself is doing something to you on a cellular level.
So choose your music well
Why Country Music
Some obvious answers. I was born in North Georgia, grew up on a farm in the woods, went to church every Sunday for fifteen years, learned to milk a cow without a hobble, totaled my first car on a dirt road when I was thirteen (it was a Subaru wagon). Rolled it all the way over like a bullet exiting a gun. My brother eventually took it to the volunteer firehouse and cut the crumpled roof off with the Jaws-Of-Life and I drove girls around in the cornfields for years before it finally collapsed from a compromised frame. I loved pan-fried chicken and potato salad. What other kind of music was I going to hear?
But that doesn’t answer the question. Why do I still love Country Music? If there were a simple answer I wouldn’t be writing this little essay to answer it. I can answer it, but I want try to do it right.
Let’s start in a six foot deep ditch laying the city water pipe for a subdivision that one of my uncle’s was building. It was me and a guy named Petey in the ditch and a guy whose name I don’t remember running the track-hoe. This is the summer of 1998 and the track-hoe guy had a radio blaring in the cab and the front was swung open so he could yell at us. I couldn’t always hear the words of each song over the scream of the engine, but I could hear the groove and knew which song it was.
A couple FYI’s here; I’d been hearing Country Music since before I could read and talk, and I’d learned to play the guitar at about twelve. I’m still learning to play the guitar but you get the picture.
But that summer I was ready for the epiphany that this music has since made to me. That I could hear its bones talking and I understood. Here are a couple things I distinctly remember from that summer:
“A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” has space around it. I didn’t need to be able to hear Dwight saying ‘there’s no place I want to be’ to know he’s forever out there in the middle of nowhere. And one of my favorite songs, “Shoulda Been A Cowboy.” There’s a wistful reminiscence in “Shoulda Been A Cowboy.” I can taste dust in my mouth riding into a little town just north of the border, praying I can get water for the horse and get off and stretch my legs. And that’s all just from the feel of the song.
And maybe I can feel these things because I know the songs like I know my parents road in the dark. But I don’t think so. I think a great song, minus the lyrics, carries the integrity of the story. No other genre of music can take you somewhere that the words just enrich the scene you’re already seeing. Punching sticks of six-inch PVC together, I began learning songs as they came out of the cab of the track-hoe.
“I’ll Always Be The Man In Love With You,” “Small Town Saturday Night,” “Don’t Take The Girl,” “Me And You,” “Here’s a Quarter(Call Someone Who Cares,)” “I’m Gonna Be Somebody,” “Young Country,” “Forever And Ever Amen.” I could see the structure hanging in the air in front of me. I felt the one chord and then stacked the rest of the song up on it. I didn’t know then that this is called the Nashville Number System and it’s the way the pros learn each others songs. But the whole thing just made sense to me.
That’s not to say that I didn’t hear everything else, too. My sisters had Slippery When Wet and New Jersey on vinyl. We had Cyndi Lauper, Men At Work, Kylie Minogue, Run-DMC, Midnight Oil, Hall and Oates, Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice. And I still love all of them, but they don’t run in my bloodstream like “Amarillo By Morning.” My brother, thankfully, was a Country fan. I think Midnight Oil was his, too, but he bought a lot of Country.
My mother probably was the one tuning the radio when I was a child hearing John Anderson and Sylvia. But by the time I can remember it was my brother who kept country music a constant in my life. We played “Name That Tune,” “Who Sang That?” and my favorite of all music games, “The Nickel,” which is essentially “Name That Tune The Fastest,” because whoever yelled out the title of the song first got to keep the wooden nickel until somebody yelled out the next song faster. Kind of a verbal Slap-Jack. Cheap family fun in the car.
I can still sing large parts of every country song that was any kind of hit on the radio between 1984 and today. I have a mind built for memorizing lyrics. I don’t have to think about it, they just stick.
That, and the rudimentary guitar skills I had acquired, were enough for me to start playing songs for people regularly. In fact, I haven’t met a girl without a guitar in my hands in fifteen years. There’s probably something wrong with that but now’s not the time to figure it out.
I’ve spent lots of years making other kinds of music that I more or less liked, but there’s been nothing that took the place of that gut-level passion for country music. I’m now making up for the time I lost trying to do something else. I should’ve been making country music since I was twenty. But now’s better than later. So I hope you like my CDs “Country Music”, “Looking For You” and “Atmosphere”. I hope they takes you somewhere good. If you’re ever in a ditch laying water pipe, I hope you have a fat guy in a track-hoe playing the radio. If you have your own story about how you came to love country music, please send me an email here at the website.
I didn’t get everything I wanted to in this little bit, but I’ll continue answering this question as time goes by. Feel free to ask your own questions.
What’s Neil’s Favorite Song
nytime I’m asked to play my favorite song its always one of two. “Amazing Grace,” or Travis Tritt “Anymore.” And I often don’t know which it is that day until my hands just start doing it. In my mind and heart they’re the same song and ultimately say the same thing. If you write down the lyrics and put them side by side you’ll see a soul struggling with an unbearable burden, and praying thanks that the time to lay it down is now. Example; “I once was lost but now I’m found was blind but now I see.”
“My heart can’t take the beating of not having you to hold. My tears are no longer waiting, my resistance ain’t that strong. My mind keeps recreating a life with you alone, and I’m tired of pretending that I don’t love you anymore.”
My cousin played bass in Travis’s band as a kid and I went to several of Travis’s shows. Looking back now I can see how lucky I was to get that up close injection of wildly visual talent that without, I might not have had the nerve and courage to chase the dream of making music.
It was a pretty good example of how to be and how much you had to give the crowd in order to make lifelong fans and friends. Everything. You give everything.