Friday, July 17, 2015

The Fire Within

There is a fire inside of you.  You may not realize it, but it is there.  The fact that you are breathing and reading this right now is evidence that you have something in you that is making you be alive.

This element of life, this fire, comes out in the music we play.  However, the extent to which this fire is released is based upon how its burning inside of you.  A musician's life is not an easy life and when you pick up your guitar you have some decisions to make.  Are you going to let all the challenges of life, all the hard times, all the disappointments, all the waiting, all the bad news from all over the world choke that flame inside of you out until it's just a smoldering wick?

Or, are you going to let ALL your feelings come out thru your music?  All the good times as well as the bad.  Let it all out thru your instrument and break thru that dam and let it flow.  Living water.

The music doesn't have to be "fiery", but if you let that fire inside you roar while you play guitar, there will be a significant increase in the feeling, vibe, emotion, and spirit of the music you play.  Whether it is slow and peaceful, or fast and wild, or anywhere in between, the fire of passion that you infuse into your playing will differentiate you from many musicians who are simply moving their fingers around on a guitar while using only academic knowledge to decide what and how to play.

Awhile back I played a gig at which the actor Jim Caviezel (The Count Of Monte Cristo, The Passion Of The Christ, et. al.) was the keynote speaker to a crowd of about 2,000.  I was back stage when he came up to speak.  There in the dark as he stood right beside me and was waiting to go on, he was focused - so intensely focused that I thought, "if I tap this guy on the shoulder, he will turn around a knock my head off."  He was breathing heavily - as if he was an Olympic swimmer filling his lungs with oxygen while standing on the starting block prior to a race.  Then he dropped - with his body straight as a board as he fell - onto the concrete floor in his $1,000 tux and did 20 of the fastest pushups you've ever seen anyone do.  Then he jumped up and walked on stage.  With all that buildup, I was expecting him to launch into the crowd like a screaming revival tent preacher, but he delivered his words in a calm and cool delivery.  But he owned that talk and carried an authority and credibility that does not come with superficial memorization of a script (or in our case, a song).  He had undoubtedly been fanning the flames of the fire inside him prior to walking on that stage.

When I was about 17 years old I lived in the Dallas, TX area and knew how to sneak backstage at a venue called The Palladium.  I went to a Tom Waits concert with my buddy and I showed him how we could get backstage.  We went thru my hidden portal to the inner sanctum of my music heroes and about 30 feet away from us there he was - Tom Waits himself - sitting in a four legged wooden chair, rocking back and forth with only the back two legs on the ground, hunched over and smoking a cigarette.  He saw us and stopped rocking.  There was no one there but us three.  He stood up, walked slowly over to us, got his face about 8 inches from my face, looked me over, and slowly blew cigarette smoke in my face.  My response?  "How ya doing?"  Tom replied in his gravely voice, "Feel like crap.  Haven't slept in 3 days."  Then he turned around and went back to his chair and started rocking again looking at the floor (BTW, that was my favorite artist encounter thus far).

Tom Waits did an absolutely incredible show that night.  It was basically his Nighthawks At The Diner double album and he took us all into another world of the down and out.  In retrospect, I know what he was doing backstage while rocking in that chair.  He was stoking the fire inside him.  Like Jim Caviezel, Tom Waits was not intense, but he carried something special - an authority, a message, a gift, that does not come thru mere memorization of songs, but instead delivered his songs with a fire that burns in the marrow of your bones.

You can have chops out the ying yang, but it you don't have the most important ingredient - the secret sauce of Fire - your music may not have a deep impact on those who hear it.   Try it and see.

Not long ago I'd had a string of setbacks in various aspects of my life.  I sat alone in my house one night and picked up my guitar and a FIRE burned inside of me when I played.  The music coming out of me was very different that night - very alive.

I had not even realized the fire had died down to a pile of smoldering embers until the Wind blew upon it and made the flames roar again.  Over a long period of time I had not realized the fire was gone - until I experienced it's revival that night.  Your soul can devolve into zombie-land if you're not careful and before you know it, you've become a shell of who you really are.  But once you see, hear, and feel that power of that Fire burning within you again, and the filling of a great space which had become dry and empty, you are hooked my friends - never again content to burn out.

Tom Waits