Every so often, I run into someone who knew me back when I was a Musician–at the grocery store, usually, because that’s one of the few places that Life Then and Life Now intersect. After a nod at my daughters and a “You’re keeping busy,” they typically ask one or more of three inevitable questions.
1: “Do you still play?”
Yes, I say. I do. At home.
(With Lydia at my side playing her ukelele, requesting “I’ll Fly Away.”)
2: “Will you start playing shows again?”
Ha ha! I laugh. Ha, ha.
3: “Do you miss it?”
I do, I say. And I don’t.
Let me explain.
I don’t miss the jitters. I don’t miss the nights when the audience looks two-dimensional, and everything I sing to them seems to fall flat. I don’t miss walking the thin line that divides me from the music, the one that, when crossed, tempts the listener to think that the music is somehow who I am.
But I do miss those moments when everything connects: when I see your still silhouette in the darkened bar, your beer untouched on the table, and know that you are listening. Or when I am so absorbed in the song that I don’t see you, but I can tell by your silence that you’re there.
Those moments are the ones that I miss when I play quietly to myself as the girls sleep: I miss sharing the songs, and I find that it’s harder to write them when I know that they’ll probably hang around our house for a while and then vanish, forgotten.
But please don’t think that I just need ears to hear me; it isn’t that. Music is something that ought to be shared, like the time I played “Hallelujah” at a house show and everyone began to sing.
Can you imagine that? Me with a practice amp and acoustic guitar, singing Leonard Cohen’s heart-stopping song, as a man joins in the chorus with a humming bass voice. Then a woman picks up the alto harmony. One by one, around the room, even the shy ones begin to sing (but this is a birthday party for a fiddle-playing friend, so there aren’t many here too shy to join in).
Those are the moments that I miss: when my voice finds its way into the music just so, and the words settle into the melody, and something about them feels alive and right. Something about them makes sense to you.