My Long & Unexpected Relationship with Music: a godsend?

I can't tell you how many times when I was working with frustrated sixth grade boys that I wished I could have directed their energies to something constructive, like playing music. I knew what it had done for me when I was in high school, but generally felt like it wasn't my place to make the suggestion. Too bad. But I guess all of us need to find our own path. Lord knows my path toward music was anything but direct.

As a little kid in the early 60s I listened to the Beatles, thanks to my two older sisters and on at least one occasion my sisters, myself, my younger brother and younger sister did an impromptu Beatles concert for the gathered relatives when one uncle had the nerve to dismiss the Fab Four. Music was definitely in the family blood. But when the opportunity came up to join the school music program in the fourth grade my folks said no. They’d previously bought an accordion for my oldest sister, but she was a bit too young and they probably should have rented. Either way, they weren’t going to repeat that mistake. So, my dreams of playing the drums (my first choice) or the clarinet (second choice) were going to remain just dreams, it would have seemed.

Then when I was in high school it was the 70s and my first girlfriend played guitar. I didn’t learn to play guitar from her, however. I guess I wasn’t opened to learn and she wasn’t open to teach me. But i wasn’t too shy to pick up her guitar and make noises with it. Then some time later, I was at a party hosted by friends of my folks, I got bored and found a guitar in the bedroom of one of their daughters. When the daughter came in and found me making pathetic plucky noises on the thing she showed me how to play three or four chords. That was pretty much all the encouragement I needed. Whenever there was a guitar in the area I’d find it and play my four chords until someone wrestled it from my arms.

Around this time I’d become a born-again Christian, so the combination of my nascent faith and largely un-formed musical skills probably was rather difficult for others to bare. Fortunately I had a friend, Jim Davis, who had also just come to Christ and had much better musical skills. I’m guessing that putting up with my playing in those days was his daily good deed especially when I would try to tune his dad’s 12-string guitar (lord I did not have the finger strength to play that thing, but I loved trying). Then one day Jim told me he’d written a song and I was shocked, I’d never thought to do something like that. Actually, he’d just added his words to an already existing song, but he planted the seed that this was doable. My girlfriend was into Country/Folk which I wasn’t really into and I didn’t feel like anything I’d learned to play on the guitar spoke to my soul, especially after my conversion.

So, from 1974 to the early 1980s I cobbled together over sixty original tunes. Fortunately only around a dozen still survive in anyones memory. They were some of the worst, trite, fatalistic songs that one would largely expect from a frustrated passionate person who knows virtually nothing about life. Scary. But, there were a few of those songs and memories from those times that reached me and helped calm the madness at those times when I didn’t know what to believe and didn’t think that there was anyone to talk to. And I would reach back across the years and either listen to or play a very select play list from that era in my life, even when none of it fit whatever else was going on in my life. On more than a few occasions I caught myself wondering what the girlfriend I was living with must have thought of all of this musical-Christian nostalgia. I’m sure that she might have thought that sooner or later I was going to go all religious on her. Didn’t happen. But it kept me connected to my past.

In fact the only through line in my life has been been my music. More than any relationship (not counting family, of course), more than even my faith, the tunes that I created as a kid stayed with me. I also found myself, even in the exiled years, listening to Mark Heard and Sam (Leslie) Phillips. There was a reality to their music that transcended the usual religious pop tune. They wrote about a life that I could remember, even if I wasn’t so sure about the God they were singing about.

So, I guess the irony in these latter years is that I did, in fact, come back to playing music and performing on stage when I got involved my married “friend” and found myself fully back in the emotional/spiritual place I thought I’d left 15 years before. That was unexpected. But when that connection didn’t turn out to be what I wanted, I could have walked away from the performing part of the music, as I had before. But I decided that I needed to stay connected to this thing that had meant so much to me, even if I didn’t fully understand “god” part. And when I moved to Florida I decided that I would continue to pursue the music part of myself and see where that would take me. Alas, in the three, approaching four years that I’ve been in Florida haven’t really gone back to performing or playing as much as I wanted to or learning new things like the keys or drums. But it’s still a part of who I am, even if only Tricia and a very small group of friends are aware of it.

A few years before my move to Florida, my folks had one of their last big anniversary celebration and I played and sang a couple songs for the gathering. Afterwards my brother expressed surprise at my voice and music. See, I guess I kept it from family too. Going back decades, when I did a church concert I invited everyone. Mom and dad went to one, that I remember, but weren’t too happy with the preachy, judgmental tone of my music. That was probably the last time I shared with family (up until the anniversary thing decades later). Silly, but understandable that I would choose to not share. I should probably do something about that.

It’s been a long unexpected journey. I guess I thought that it would be too difficult to explain all of the different eras of my life. I remember toward the end of my Christian-concert era, that I began to write non-get saved songs and worried that that wouldn’t fit with the ministry, and that probably contributed to walking away from performing. And when I decided that I was agnostic I couldn’t imagine the confusion of me performing some of my early “You Need Jesus” stuff. I guess I forgot what Dylan did in 1980. Of course when I did go back to church and start playing again… It’s an incomplete, imperfect story. I don’t know how it will end, only that music has been with me the whole time and I want to celebrate that for however long I might have.

The following MP3 are recordings that I did in the early 80s, just my guitar and my voice. Then in 2003 I digitized and arranged into a kind of album. Mixed in are a couple concert recordings and other silliness. It’s hard to imagine that this is from over thirty-years ago. Enjoy. Click on the player below the song to hear the song and click on the song title to pull up the lyrics in a separate window.

Stormmaker 2003

KBOR Ad (circa late 1980s):

Air, Dirt & Ink (ADI) Ad (circa late 1980s):

About joebustillos (1154 Articles)
Writer, Digital Storyteller, Face-to-Face & Online Educator, Curriculum Designer, Technology & Learning Troubleshooter.

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