I can’t remember the first time I thought of myself as a “musician.”
Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the floor in my bedroom as a little one and picking out the melodies to whatever TV show my parents were watching at the moment on my little Yamaha keyboard that probably looked something like this…
Eventually, during my early (and probably angsty) teen years, I started learning the guitar in addition, and frequently played drums with the church orchestra.
My mother, throughout my childhood, would occasionally pick up her trusty old Harmony acoustic and play for my sister and I, and I just thought that was so cool.
She could make us cry with some of the songs she would sing and play, and I wanted to be able to do that, too. The ability to make people feel with nothing more than a chunk of wood with strings on it just absolutely awed me.
I would struggle to learn things I heard on the radio, and began to develop quite an ear for how to play a song just by listening to it. I learned Nirvana. I learned Hootie and the Blowfish. I learned Jars of Clay. I learned praise and worship songs. I just couldn’t learn enough, fast enough.
As soon as I had my first few chords down, along with a reasonably good strumming ability, I began to write.
I wrote songs about love. I wrote songs about heartache as only a teenage boy can write. I wrote songs about Jesus. I wrote more songs about heartache. I wrote songs about how I felt.
I wrote songs to feel.
To this day, I remember the first time getting on stage and playing one of my songs and making other people feel.
One of the girls in my church youth group died in a car accident our Senior year, and I was shattered. The only thing I knew to do with all the pain was pour it into music.
A few months later, I found myself timidly walking onto a stage at a youth group trip (“Centrifuge,” for my fellow recovering Southern Baptists) with a borrowed guitar in front of 400 or so fellow campers.
I nervously explained what the song was about, and began to play.
As I did so, the stage-fright melted away, and the song I had written about an angel named Joy just… took over.
As the final notes faded, I looked up, almost surprised to see an audience, and was further surprised to see so many openly weeping.
After some reassurances that the crying wasn’t because of a terrible performance, but that the song had, in fact, moved them, I realized something: I had found home.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Throughout my time in the US Air Force, I was a member of various praise and worship teams both leading services and supporting them on drums, and by the time I had reached what was to be my final duty station at Ft. Meade in Maryland, the hook was completely and absolutely set.
Maryland was to prove to be a reincarnation, of a sort. The gangly, awkward little Christian boy had grown into a gangly, awkward young Airman who had begun to view religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular, with a healthy dose of skepticism.
And yet the love of music persisted. I’d found the most wonderful place in the world, you see; a quaint little Irish pub by the name of the Sean Donlon’s in Annapolis, MD. Before I knew it, I was sitting in with the evening’s Irish bands playing the spoons, then the guitar, then getting to play during the breaks, then entire sets, and finally getting my own night to play.
If I was hooked before, then what followed became a full-blown addiction. A service-member by day, and a musician (and, probably, an alcoholic) by nights and weekends became my way of life.
Following my separation from the service, I continued to play wherever and whenever I could as I continued to migrate about the country, searching for… something.
I played in Maryland. I played in Florida. I played in Arizona. I played in Alaska. I played in Virginia… I played everywhere I found myself.
And then I found myself in Michigan. First Manistee, and then Ludington, and my god, did I fall in love it. The forests, the lake, the people, everything just felt like… well… home.
And I played more than I’d ever played before. I played on sidewalks. I played in bars. I played on decks at house parties. I played for city events. I played for anyone and anywhere that would have me.
Of course, I worked odd jobs here and there, as a house-painter, as a sous chef, as a salesman, but mostly, I earned my daily bread through song. And still I wrote.
Then… a pandemic.
Worse than the pandemic; the ensuing mind-boggling stupidity; a stupidity so frantic and profound that it has very nearly broken any last vestiges of faith I had left in humankind in general, and the trust I had in people around me in specific.
So here I am; wondering if I still wish to call myself a musician.
I don’t feel like one, at present.
And maybe that’s ok. Maybe I need to find that angsty kid inside me and ask him what he wants to do; how he wants to channel all these emotions.
Maybe that’s exactly what might bring that feeling of being a musician back; getting in touch with what created it in the first place.
Just wanting to feel.
So I don’t know if I’m done. I really just don’t.
I know for now, I’m taking a Sabbatical from music.
I’m going to play with my kids. Teach them.
And while I do that, I’m going to see if that angsty kid is still in here, and see if he wants to come out and play and write.
And maybe he will.
And maybe, just maybe…
I’ll remember how to feel.