The songwriter kicks himself off the lawn
04/18/2023- The Who got old, kids write the darndest things, the rock garden at the end of the road
My friend Luciano told me a joke this morning.
It comes with a trigger warning for people who completely miss the point.
Can you imagine how horrible it would be to be Jesus, hanging on the cross for days and the other guys hanging next to you only want to talk about football?
I love that joke. I love it because it’s goddamn funny and also true as hell.
That’s how I feel about my role in all things music.
The more I know, the less I think anybody needs to hear it.
The secret to happiness might be accepting one’s creeping irrelevance.
The kid band project that is Acoustic Bowie is a real band now, one that doesn’t need a 63 year old guitar player as conductor. The kids learn so quickly, and the bandleader, The Kid (I wrote about her before), is so much more an intuitive and instinctive arranger and creator than I am, that I’m finding less and less to contribute.
The newest member of Acoustic Bowie, the Poet, has already brought them an original song.
Ziggy has evolved into more than a lead singer, taking up guitar and filling in the spaces,
And once a band starts playing original songs, it’s a real band.
Note to my readers- Acoustic Bowie is no longer completely acoustic nor exclusively a Bowie cover band. But the name is so good it stays.
I had no idea just how far this band would go. It was simply a project to offer an opportunity for my students to play on stage with their peers, in front of an audience.
When we started, I thought it might help to have a veteran guitar player, so I joined the band.
They are nice kids. The kind of kids who won’t want to hurt Mr. Bell’s feelings.
But right now the only thing I’m really doing is playing a few intros that can be taken over by The Kid or the Prodigy. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that during this tour, in my absence, my parts have already been taken by either guitar player.
The over-used Buddhist instruction to “kill the teacher” might be coming into play.
This is a serious band.
And the band has so much groove, the bass player (Two First Names) and drummer (The Drummer), so much swing, that I’m a little sad. It’s fun to play with this band. Fun like, “music is supposed to sound like this,“ fun.
But the only thing worse than a band of teenagers with a 63 year old dude hanging around on stage is a band of teenagers with a 63 year old dude hanging around when he knows he’s irrelevant!
The Songwriter got old.
But that’s okay.
If you’re lucky, you get old.
The Who got old. The guys who sang “Hope I die before I get old,” only managed to have that be true for one member. And the lead singer, like so many classic British rockers has become the kind of anti-vax, grumpy-ass rich Grandpa you hope begs off for Thanksgiving dinner.
Time is relentless.
Lucky for us, kids in bands are relentless.
And that’s a wonderful thing.
As for Acoustic Bowie, now they have a song.
And the Poet’s new original song? Well, damn. I sure as hell couldn’t have written it when I was in my 20’s, let alone when I was 15.
These are the best things: a new song and a new songwriter.
This is the amazing thing, friends. No matter how screwed up governments and nations can be, no matter how much news comes at you that breaks your heart and feels like nothing good is happening, somewhere there is always some kid or group of kids who won’t stop doing SOMETHING.
It’s really something to watch a band feeling their way through a first rehearsal, laughing during the breaks, getting better beat by beat, and finally achieving the one thing that a band is really designed for: hanging out after the rehearsals and shows at the same damn place every time.
The new song is really something. It gets right to the heart of what it means to love who you are, the place you came from, and the beauty that even the hardest lives are capable of expressing. I’m just as impressed with the careful use of slang and language and the particular references to cultural signposts.
I’ve only written a few love songs but I know a REAL love song when I hear one.
I was thinking about the Poet’s song right before I went on stage a couple of nights ago in Belgium. Mostly I was wondering, “why is anybody interested in an old man like me, singing about what old men think about, when the kids are always more adventurous, more willing to dance on a slack line, and just more right on?”
And then, I realized, in the middle of a guitar riff, that the first moment I heard the Poet nervously play this song, “Moonshine Rich,” (the first time she had been willing to seriously sing in my presence), the baton was passing over and I was out of the race.
It’s the same thing that happened when the kid with Two First Names and Ziggy showed up and performed at virtually professional levels during the first Acoustic Bowie session.
And The Kid, she was always two steps down the road from me. The Kid knows it, but she was raised right and probably won’t admit it to me.
Kid, if you’re reading this, thank you.
I’m cursed with self-knowledge.
I need to get out of the way.
But I had these thoughts when I still had a song and a set to finish. I had my work to do.
I just call it my work because it never feels casual. I know the audience has spent good money to see me play, and that’s a big damn deal.
But as I said in a previous essay, I can see the end from every stage.
These days, when I finish a show, I take a step down from the boards and one more step onto the rock path I’m building to my office.
To be honest, I haven’t even figured out what that rock path and the rock garden around it will look like. Right now it just keeps me from having to scrape mud off my boots.
But since it leads to the place where, one day, I’ll spend most of the days of an old man’s life, I know it should mean something. Every stone should be in its right place.
It’s not much, yet.
But I don’t care. I’ve started building it, one bag of stones, one rock, and one lantern at a time.
It doesn’t look like anything yet. It’s uneven, uncomfortable, and nothing like what I imagine a peaceful path looks like.
I’ll get there.
I know how to work.
Knowing how to work taught me how to write songs.
Songwriting taught me how to work harder.
Watching The Kid, The Spaniard, The Mechanic, and The Drummer (and nobody deserves to just be called “The Drummer” more than her), become a band that knows how to hang out reminded me that everybody wants to belong somewhere.
Playing with Acoustic Bowie has given me the sense that the future will be something wonderful, with or without me.
And becoming irrelevant is the best thing of all.
A person can do amazing things when nobody is looking: like build a path and a garden to a place he’s always been, even when he doesn’t really know how.
I know the exact moment that this photograph was taken. I had just sung the last chorus of my closing song about working: “I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love.”
There is always heavy work to do.
But there’s a light in the lantern, at the end of the path, through the rock garden at the end of the road.
That man on stage can see that light. He can see that light shining on the place where he will hang out after the rehearsals and the shows.
That man knows where he belongs.
That man is the luckiest man in the world.
I Don’t Do This For Love (Homage to the Songwriter) is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
You can read the essay that introduced The Kid and Acoustic Bowie, here.