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The Investment Magic of Writing…

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“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
poet Mary Oliver

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music magic

I’m trying to become a musical magician but it hurts like an August sunburn…

I was a huge fan of Elton John in his early years… Yellow Brick Road, Candle In The Wind, Love Lies Bleeding, Tiny Dancer, Your Song… tons more.

Honestly though, much of Bernie Taupin’s lyrical imagery for John’s songs were beyond my ken (lack of hallucinogenic stimulants?) …

back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny back toad…

What the hell is that? Intriguing, yes…

I dreamed and schemed of wearing weird multi-hued eyeglasses in my teens as if that would make me a super songwriter… NOPE!

Alright, eyeglasses aren’t the magical secret. So what is?

elton john glasses.jpg

Good writing, whether prose, poetry, lyrics, or music is a jigsaw puzzle of pieces that conjures magic from the ether.

But like any magic, it isn’t really magic, it’s reality with a sweaty halo wand.

Good writing is hard work and when it reads or sounds easy to our ears and eyes, I know the crafter has worked the hardest of all.

Hemingway and Stephen King and Shakespeare and JK Rowling were/are no slouches at the art of writing. Imagination, imagery, metaphor.

Lennon and McCartney, JS Bach, Paul Simon, Antonio Vivaldi dedicated 10,000 hours and beyond to their efforts.

Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera
Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenery
She read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field… Paul Simon (America) 

Paul Simon takes us on a emotional journey in 8 lines of verse where the initial fun and exuberance of young love fades as they pass over the landscape… it’s simplicity that likely took him a month or more to write.

He could have told us the same story in 4 lines filled with cliche and “you and me” directness but instead filled our minds with storybook images.

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… magic, it’s reality with a sweaty halo wand …

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Pretty much any of us can get lucky and write something of quality… something that’s meaningful and memorable… once.

Almost any person can line up a tee shot once in their life and hit a hole-in-one. But can they replicate it? Play the Vegas slots enough and one day a big winner will likely come your way. Once.

But the writers and musicians that make me want to kiss them and raise their children, are those that work past the “lucky” stage and consistently find ways of speaking to us that engage our head and our heart.

I used to think that inspiration was the key. So wrong.

Inspiration is a lazy verb… hell, it’s not EVEN a verb… how slothful is that?

David Ben, a former Toronto tax lawyer turned magician, has been an entertainer for almost 40 years and says he still rehearses several hours each day. Inspiration through dogged rehearsal.

Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel the same.

Inspiration is the feverish result of watching and listening and dreaming and pushing and pulling.

There’s an inquisitiveness aspect to magic-making where we drill in closely at a microscopic level trying to understand what it is that makes something work.

I’ve always been far too lazy or disinterested to understand how a car engine truly functions, or how a sail catches the wind in just the right way. I’d spend my 10,000 hours of learning in a bored-out-of-my-tree haze.

I hunger for magic that makes me jump up and down.

I unearth that feeling when I’m typing words, or picking out guitar notes.

But the inspiration usually only comes with time investment, which is really good for me as I jump up and down when I think of investment.

For the past two years I’ve invested time and thoughtful energy into a song, a song that I publicly previewed for the first time at an Open Mic in Oliver last night.

Two years investment. One song. Three musical minutes.

And it’s an investment – based on a lifetime of learning – that I look at… and as so often like with my financial investments, the end result isn’t quite as rich as I would like.

But that’s just being greedy.

It’s not the wondrous magic filled with fireworks that I dreamed of, but it is magic lite. 

And magical writing – wondrous or lite – is a process that goes nowhere without the sweat equity that makes any investment prosperous.

All these years later I’m still trying to become a musical magician, and damn if it still doesn’t hurt like an August sunburn…

 

Paper Rose photo (1).jpg

 

 

 

Goodbye Norma Jean …

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Candle in the Wind.

Candle

One song … of two mysterious but tragically unfortunate women, struck down at the age of 36, in the beautiful prime of their lives.

Long after Marilyn’s lifeless, drugged body was found in her bed on August 5, 1962 …

Long before any of us knew who shy young Diana Spencer was …

Long before Princes William and Harry were born …

… Elton John (music) and Bernie Taupin (lyrics) penned a song called Candle in the Wind… an ode originally written to the memory and significance and tragedy that was Norma Jeane Mortenson. You probably know her more familiarly as Marilyn Monroe.

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And it seems to me you lived your life, like a candle in the wind 

Never knowing who to cling to, when the rain set in.

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The song was on Elton’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album that came out in 1973 when I was a young lad at Glendale High School in Hamilton, Ontario.

It was the most influential set of songs I had heard to that point in my life with pop classics like Bennie and the Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Funeral For A Friend, and of course … Candle in the Wind.

“Candle” was probably my favourite song (along with Danny Bailey and Sweet Painted Lady) on the entire 2 record album.

I’ve always loved ballads, and Candle in the Wind with its simple chords and melody and poignant lyrics, captured the struggles of untold fame on the lives of simple people.

Songs we love are so important to us because we find meaningful significance in them that the writer may have never intended.

We internalize a message that is unique to our own experience.

For me, Candle in the Wind was an ode to my Mother’s untimely death – I’m certain thousands of others felt the same deep emotional connection within their own lives, whether relating to the death of a significant other or perhaps the loss of a relationship that had once been strong and filled with love, hope, and longing.

When I was a teenager, I would sit in the apartment I shared with my sister, playing my guitar, dreaming of becoming a music writer and rock star like Elton John …

elton john

I wanted the weird, multi-coloured eyeglasses.

I wanted the fame.

I wanted the adulation.

I wanted the ceaseless waterfalls of cash flowing into my bank accounts.

What I didn’t want was to serve up the work ethic and sacrifice that would make it possible.

Like my studies in high school where I did OK, but rarely ever pushed myself, I was a lazy musician and songwriter.

I hadn’t mastered the arithmetic of putting 2 + 2 together yet and wouldn’t for a couple of decades to come. I closed my eyes to the blatantly obvious that the really good things happen when you put in the hours and focus to make it happen.

The hard work happens before the rewards flow. It harkens back to that old 10,000 hours rule of “practice makes mastery” that Paul and John knew, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs knew, JK Rowling and Sheryl Sandberg knew.

Good luck shines on those who pour themselves wholeheartedly into their dreams. Wishing just doesn’t make it so.

I’ve changed now. Both in understanding what it takes to excel … and what I’m willing to bring to that lionized table.

I’ve changed, but not enough to become a rock star, or an esteemed author, or a renowned gardener, or even a celebrated Porta-Potty cleaner.

I’ll never be a famous or acclaimed singer/songwriter because, even though I’m willing to put more effort and time into the things that are important to me, I’m still not willing to make the all-out sacrifice of time, focus and energy that it takes.

I won’t pour myself into making music or anything else for 8 or 10 or 12 hours a day every day. That’s not who I am. Even my vacant macho dreams of becoming a male prostitute to Desperate Housewives peters out as I realize my Peter’s not up to the hard and salacious demands of Urban Princesses.

I’ll always be a Hobbiest, never a Master.

I’ve made my choices and I’ll never be Elton John.

Some candles burn brighter than others, but really, we all cast a flicker of light that provides warmth and illumination to those around us.

Marilyn and Diana were those dazzling, brilliant candles that lived their lives on the treacherous edge of hurricane alley where the storms were always a threat to their light.

Often, those that burn brightest sadly seem to be the ones at the greatest risk of being snuffed out when the winds begin to swirl and howl.

And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did …

Marilyn and diana