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What I do when the well runs dry


Everybody has down times. Every artist has times when the muses no longer sing or even whisper. There are times when the previously plump fruit of inspiration, just waiting for me to sink my teeth in and let the juice of ideas dribble from my chin, is nothing more than a dry husk and I choke on the dust.

The muse has been my constant companion for as many years as I can actually remember. I’ve personified the flow of ideas, as she always whispered to me things that were worthy of exploration. A motif I heard in some obscure pop song that could hold an unusual amount of power if voiced differently, string lines that could jump  to a new genre and be way cooler and every bit as evocative, chord sequences the mere playing of which could reduce full grown men to tears at their beauty.

Maybe she doesn’t speak as much these days because not as much is new to me now. Now I have step-kids that are so busy making many of the same mistakes I did, that I perhaps spend more of my time looking back than looking forward. I’m in the prime of my life, I guess. I’m healthy, mid-40’s, my voice has never sounded better or more powerful to my ears. What remains new to me but gradual decay, the betrayal of my body to the destiny woven into its genes and to the accumulation of my bad habits?

Perhaps the muse is still here – she just whispers different things. She whispers that Ray Charles wrote some really amazing songs that someone should play. She whispers that music that truly touches the soul doesn’t come from fretting about the minutia of orchestration. She tells me about the flow of energy and how music is one of the few perfect conductors of that energy from one soul to another. She mentions in passing that music could be thought of as love made audible – in all of its messy, glorious shades.

Nevertheless, I tell her, I still must write. I still must play things on keys and sing words and record them. That’s what a musician is supposed to do, is it not? And that’s when she whispers one of her most profound truths to me – over and over: I am not here to create.

I am simply here to be here.

I am here to experience this life in its horror and beauty. I am here to love and hurt and curse and bless and be overpowered by the essence of life in every way that it makes itself available to me. I am here to experience this.

And it’s when I do that – when I LIVE – that the music flows unbidden from my hands.