“If you sit down and listen
I’ll play you a song
But I’d probably play anyway
I play the music
I play the music”
These are the first few lines of the song, I Play the Music. I wrote the song with my good friend Mark Renburke when we were playing together in an Irish band called The Rising Pints. We were playing lots of gigs in crowded bars. Sometimes people listened closely – sometimes people didn’t seem to listen at all. But you know, we played the music, yes we played the music – that’s what we did. For some people in the pubs, we were the focal point of the evening. For others, we were just a background for the fun and talking. And that’s fine, too. Because the music doesn’t always have to be at the center. Sometimes, the music is just the background that makes the rest of our life so much richer.
This photo shows Mark and I playing together at my wedding in Canada about six years ago.
Although we never properly recorded the song I Played the Music together, we released several CDs together including Another Round and Charm, and we are currently talking about a new Rising Pints CD.
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In the musical, Jukebox Paradise, this song is played by two characters known as the buskers. The buskers sit on the seawall in Hilo, Hawaii and play the song while two young people talk nearby. It is a beautiful moment in the show. Again the music is the focal point for a moment, and then it provides a background for a lovely moment of courting. Along with Busker #1 (the lovely Sarah Mulvey), I appear in Jukebox Paradise as Busker #2, and as the song says, we play the music, we play the music.
Jukebox Paradise features the music styles of the late 1950s and early 1960s – think of the sounds of Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry and you’ll understand that this is not complicated music. It’s simple old-time rock and roll played by great musicians, and it sounds great. These musicians didn’t have the amazing technology of today’s studios and live stages. They just went out there and played great music live, night after night. If you asked Buddy Holly or Chuck Berry what they did, they would probably answer, “I play the music, yeah, I play the music.”
Both in the 1960s and today, the music industry generally presents us with much more constructed music and bands. For example, the popular Japanese group, AKB 48, aren’t really of the same breed as Buddy and Chuck. Without any disrespect to the young ladies in the group, they probably haven’t been selected solely on their musical talents. Buddy Holly was pretty darned good on a stage or in a yard playing guitar and singing guitar without the benefit of costumes, lights, makeup and pitch correction. He played the music.
Jackson Browne has a great song, Just a Little Bit Longer, in which he describes the end of a gig and the roadies are packing up all the gear. He pays tribute to the roadies in a beautiful description, thanking them for putting away the folding chairs and getting the trusses up the ramps. He calls the roadies “the champs”, and then he sings:
“But when that last guitar’s been packed away,
You know that I still want to play
Just make sure you’ve got it all set to go
Before you come for my piano”
Because Jackson Browne plays the music, yes he plays the music. You can strip away everything else and that’s what he does – he plays the music, and he sure does it well. If you don’t know his music, get listening as soon as you finish reading this post (and buy your tickets)!
The wonderful songwriter, David Gates, expresses the same feeling in the song, Guitar Man.
“Then the lights begin to flicker
And the sound is getting dim
The voice begins to falter
And the crowds are getting thin
But he never seems to notice
He’s just got to find
Another place to play”
The Guitar Man keeps searching for another place to play. Of course he does. He plays the music. Yes, he plays the music.
I do various things in my life. I’m a teacher and a researcher and a writer and an NLP trainer and a hypnotherapist and various other things. I enjoy doing all of these things and get a lot out of all of them. However, it’s when I play the music that I usually feel most myself – it’s one of the times in my life when I feel like I’m really in the right place at that moment. I’m no Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly, but it makes me feel right. It’s nice to have an audience sometimes. It’s nice to play alone sometimes. As the song says, if you sit down and listen, I’ll play you a song, but I’d probably play anyway.
I believe that everyone probably has things like this – things that makes us feel right, as if we are actually really alive. For you, it’s probably not playing music – it might be cooking, or it might be running, or it might be teaching, or gardening or talking to your friends. And of course, it doesn’t have to be one single thing – it might be lots of different things that make you feel alive, and that’s great. In the concept of the Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell calls it “finding your bliss”. I reckon that we probably all have lots of ways to find that bliss, that feeling of being alive, but some of them are probably more powerful than others for you. Every time I play the music, I feel a little of that, probably not as much as Buddy Holly, but you know, we all do what we can. And probably doing more of those things that make us feel alive is a good thing, so it is worthwhile trying to figure out what they are.
When I wrote I Play the Music with Mark, there was a bizarre moment in which the exact same words came out of both of our mouths at exactly the same moment. We were so in sync at that moment that we had somehow both produced the same lines that eventually became the final verse:
“Now nothing but smoke
And silence remain
Of all that’s been said and been sung
Where I played the music
I play the music”
Because in the end, of course, the show finishes and the audience goes home, and we are left with just ourselves and whatever it is that we do. As for me, I think I’ll go home and play the music!
I look forward to seeing you all at Jukebox Paradise. Tickets are selling out quickly.