What’s That Got To Do With Music?

Life, music, and the pursuit of happiness: This pretty well sums up what I’m into, I think. Or feel. Or intuit. I’m sharing this because there are some people who see my posts and maybe read my stories and articles and ask: What’s all this got to do with music?

It’s funny, you know? When I was a kid I wanted to be a writer. In 4th grade, I wrote something like 17 books. I even tried to turn one into a screen play, but became very anxious when the other kids I drafted weren’t serious about it. Thus ended my career as a filmmaker. And “books” is a strong word for what the 17 creations were. They were made of colored construction paper and included lots of pictures of dinosaurs and monsters with captions and quotes and the like. I suppose this made them graphic novels. Anyway, I wanted to be a writer. In high school, acting and music interested me, but I was too monotone in my speaking to really accomplish anything dynamic on stage, and I only played guitar enough to look cool. And even that was more accomplished by being the guy with best pot on hand, more than whether I could play guitar. Poetry and visual art then became my thing. Visual, it was, art is questionable. But the poetry is what eventually led me to songwriting, which led me to become a more skilled guitarist. I talk about all this briefly in my book, The Outback Musician’s Survival Guide. And I’m speaking of my various creative interests. I have others.

History has always fascinated me. I started a Masters degree in History and Economics at Roosevelt University here in Chicago, but dropped out. Politics is interesting, but after hearing about the kind of man it made my Grandpa Les Jones, I’ve steered clear. My negative proclivities had enough fun making their way to the surface of my life as a musician. I can’t imagine what power plays and politics would have done to me. Still, I’m a voyeur. I watch like an armchair quarterback as the political landscape shifts, and quietly consider my views. Business is interesting to me. I’m a music entrepreneur, after all. So are people. So is looking for answers to things. Science and technology have an impact on my life and my imagination. I like to read and learn about how these topics merge to create change, for worse or better, and look over where this may take us as a species. Our species interests me to no end. University of Chicago okayed me for a degree in Anthropology after I fell in love with the subject while at Columbia College. I stayed at Columbia. But I still read up. I continue to absorb and synthesize all these subjects.

When I lived in New Mexico, I remember complaining to a Buddhist mentor of mine about having to work the dreaded day job. I wanted to be only involved in music.

“Do you like Bruce Springsteen,” he asked.

“I appreciate his talent, but I’m not into his music. But, go on,” said I.

He went on to point out that Springsteen was hugely popular partly because he wrote songs about every day life. He appealed to the average American. He was accessible. People got the feeling he understood them.

“What kind of a songwriter will you be if you’re isolated from real life, if you haven’t lived it like everyone else?”

I couldn’t argue with that. In fact, it gave me license, at age 23, to maintain my wide range of interests without feeling like I had to be a master of them or go study any one of them specifically, or be some great success in any or all of them. I was also, at that age, fortunate enough to be surrounded by lots of people who were outside my chosen profession, and yet curious, supportive, and interested in my choices. I drew inspiration from them and inquired endlessly with them about their work and interests.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Phil lived from 1989–92.

When I started teaching in 1993 at a local Catholic school, the first day of class, for grades 5 through 8, amounted to me asking two questions of the kids: What do you want to do when you grow up, and what’s your favorite style of music? I would take each student’s answer to the first question and correlate it to music. I would take each student’s answer to the second question and connect it to multiple other styles of music. For example: If they desired to be a professional athlete, I pointed out that the great Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton, played drums and studied dance. If they enjoyed hip-hop, I connected it to Jazz (Cab Calloway) and New Wave (Blondie), while also pointing out the connection of most contemporary American music to the Blues. I do this still, but my students are all adults, so the first question is more related to their current job. I wouldn’t have been able to find these connections so easily if I didn’t have multiple interests. The wide range of topics that I follow have contributed to my being a better analogous thinker. Range begets range. And, what kind of advocate of the arts would I be with a sheltered view of the world? How could I motivate students and encourage my contemporaries if I didn’t understand at least a little piece of what they experience outside of music? To me, there’s no separation between my music and my daily life.

I was raised to be curious. As a result, my natural childlike wonder at the world was never really squashed. For this, I’m thankful. Whenever I find gratitude for something, I’m inclined to spread the love. I suppose this is why I have this need to bring up lots of questions and only partly answer them. I love to hear the dialogues begin. I love to encourage more curiosity. I like the open-ended aspect of learning. It never ends. We’re far more likely to deal well with the problems facing our world and ourselves if we’re made free to ask questions openly and honestly, if we assume it’s an on-going process to find knowledge.

Life, music, and the pursuit of happiness. For me, that last one springs from the first two. And then they intertwine endlessly.

-Peace.

-Phil

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