April 13, 2019

Chapter 14 - Life Sings to Me

Life Sings to Me

Music has always been an integral part of my life. It’s not a matter of choice but instead it’s a compulsion that is part of me. I always hear music playing in my head. Ever since I can remember, whenever I am sitting idle and not preoccupied with some thought or other, a sort of music, or rhythm actually, fills the empty spaces between my thoughts.

My father was a life long musician who played a saxophone and clarinet in wedding bands until he died. Legend has it that my mother was a singer and that was how they met. Out of all his kids I was the only one who learned to play an instrument and shared their love of music. I play a decent guitar and an excellent Bass guitar. I can bang out a good beat on the drums and can be pretty creative with an electronic keyboard. I was the lead singer in most of the bands I played in and have never been booed for it. But the main reason I do any of that is because what I do the most is write songs. Actually I hear songs and write them down. I have all my life.

My mother used to say that I was dancing before I could walk and singing before I could talk. Standing in my crib or playpen I would bounce or sway, not spastically, but in rhythm. As though there was a song playing and I was moving to it. I would make sounds that would follow the beat of what tune might be playing on her record player or the radio at the time. Or just match the dance I was doing to whatever I was hearing.

Music was a big part of my mother’s day and so it was mine too. She would always have a record playing and be singing along. I can still remember her singing as one of the best sounds I knew. She often called my name in a singsong way that I loved. When she did it usually meant she was taking me with her and we were going to listen to records while she did her house work.

As I got older I realized that the music was always there even when there was no record or radio playing. It was general and undefined but constant. Every so often though, it would get very loud and clear as a bell; often drowning out the rest of the sounds around me. It was then that I would hear not just the rhythm but a complete song, with instruments, rhythms, beats, voices singing and lyrics. Some times it actually scared me it was so loud and strong.

As soon as I could write I started writing down what I heard when this happened. Since I had no music training the best I could do was write down the words I was hearing, At least that way I could remember the melody and the lyrics. They looked like poems on paper but were in fact whole songs with all kinds of instruments in the background. Instruments I couldn’t play but never the less knew by their sound. Although I wrote the song down I never felt like it was a song I wrote. It was more like it was a song I overheard someone… or something else singing and just wrote the words down. It didn’t come from me but to me.

I still have the original copy of the lyrics to the first song I committed to paper when I was about 7 – 8 years old. I even heard these songs in my sleep. They would be so strong that I would often wake up and grab a pencil to write what I was hearing before I could forget. Unlike a lot of dreams, when I awoke in the morning and saw the words the music would all come back to me. When I sang the words it wasn’t like they were something I memorized, but like something I was remembering. Not recited, but recalled… more memory than music.

I was convinced I was crazy. I mean, who else had this happen. I couldn’t play any instruments and didn’t know a chord from a chorus or a C note from a banknote. But I could sing every note and word I heard. Too shy to sing with people around I had no problem singing around my mother. Sometimes she would hear me singing one of the tunes I wrote down and say something like, “that’s a nice song, where did you hear that?” or “who sings that?” Embarrassed, I would lie and say I heard it on the radio or TV somewhere but didn’t know the name or the singer. But, inside I would be happy as hell because I would think to myself, if my mother liked it, it must be a good song.

It took the famous comedian, Steve Allen, to finally make me realize that what was happening wasn’t so crazy and maybe there was something to this. Aside from being a great comedian, Steve Allen was a prolific song writer. One night he was a guest on the Late Show with Johnny Carson and he was asked how he came up with all the music and songs he had written.

His answer changed everything for me. He said, not exactly in these words but close, “I don’t write them, I have no idea where they come from. They just come to me and I write them down”. He further explained that he almost felt guilty and somewhat embarrassed at taking the credit for them.

He explained that the best songs where not the ones he deliberately sat down to write. Most of his songs and certainly the best of them were songs that just came over him. It happened at anytime and anywhere…in the middle of the day… during supper... on the toilet... BANG! He would start hearing it and it would get so intense that he had to rush to write it down before he forgot.

It was like hearing someone who knew exactly what was wrong with me and he was talking like he didn’t think it was weird at all. He heard music, as I did, all the time and every so often a whole song would suddenly be playing. He, like me, wasn’t writing a song, he was writing down what he was hearing.

I was overwhelmed with a sense of relief that is hard to describe. I wasn’t insane and it wasn’t the fillings in my teeth. In essence he said to me, your not crazy, Michael. It’s a gift… enjoy it and don’t try to explain it.

Like a lot of kids I played in a rock band. I played in bands until I was in my forties. We played a lot of the songs I wrote along with the usual cover tunes. And like most bands we went nowhere. While we enjoyed playing and made some money at it; fame wasn’t in the cards.

But even today the songs still come to me. I write then down, sing them, learn to play them on my guitar and then put them away. I never knew what to do with them and still don’t. I’ve written a complete musical and have another one outlined. I have dozens of tunes that range from classical to country in style.

Life sings to me all the time. My fingers are always tapping to the tune in my head when I’m in line or sitting idle for a moment. I have so many that I find it hard to remember all of them and have lost some that I wrote down along the way.

I enjoy singing them every once in a while but no one I live with seems to enjoy it when I do. When I breakout the guitar most of my friends and family take it as a cue to leave the room so I usually wind up singing them to myself. I hope someday I’ll meet whoever sent them to me to begin with so I can thank them and tell them how much I like their work.

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