Okay, so while we’re all nostalgic this week talking about roots, just wanted to pass along an interesting observation I made from the stage the other night.
I’ve been doing a few shows with the band, Scrap Metal, lately. This is an “all-star” band founded by the Nelson Brothers and Mark Slaughter that features a revolving door of different band members and special guest singers… with the idea being sort of like a greatest hits live, kind of thing. It’s always a fun gig, and always a walk down memory lane, for sure.
Scrap Metal played an outdoor show back east this week. And in addition to doing Nelson and Slaughter tunes (obviously two bands I’ve played with), we had Janet Gardner (Vixen) and Derek St. Holmes (Ted Nugent) on board. It was a nice set. Derek was the only one I hadn’t worked with before, and I was really looking forward to jammin’ on some of those old Nugent tunes.
Yes, I know that Ted Nugent and I have clearly taken opposite life paths philosophically speaking (with regard to our views on animals and, I’m sure to a large degree, politics), BUT – Ted Nugent (opening for Bad Company) was the first concert I ever saw as a young pot head growing up in Houston, and his music, especially that self-titled debut with “Stranglehold,” was a big part of my juvenile delinquency in the 70’s. So I figured it would be pretty cool and nostalgic to play some of those tunes with Derek, the guy who actually sang on the original recordings.
And I was right… it was cool! We did “Hey Baby,” “Stranglehold” and “Cat Scratch Fever.” The band was raging, and this guy can still pipe. Afterward, Derek gave me one of the more touching compliments I’ve gotten in recent memory. I want to keep that private, but let’s just say that his remarks spoke both to all that I’ve worked for through the years as a professional, as well as to the deep roots I had with most of the band that night – namely the Nelson Bros. and Mark.
In fact, as I was looking around on stage during the show, I had this weird, full-circle sensation going on: Derek St. Holmes, huge influence from the 70’s with Nugent; Mark Slaughter, bandmate for several years in the 80’s with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion; the Nelsons, for a time in the 90’s; Mark Slaughter, with Slaughter, again for a time in the 2000’s. And now, in this decade (the “20-teens”), all of these elements from the past have collided on this one magical night. It was like, each of my various phases with these guys represented varying degrees of my development as a player, each of which would contribute to where I am in the here and now. In other words, in the same way that we take a piece of all of those around us – namely family (and close friends), as discussed last entry – and become somewhat of an amalgamation of all those influences, so, too, do all of one’s creative endeavors and life experiences factor into what and who you are as an artist. This was never more clear to me than it was last Thursday.
Your Deck of Cards
Obviously, I have had many, many more musical influences and life experiences that have been thrown into the mix than just the above-mentioned ones. We all have hundreds, and eventually thousands, when you think about it. I describe this concept in great detail in one of several “secret manuscripts” that will hopefully see the light of day at some point. I call this idea your “Deck of Cards,” and it works like this:
To anyone on a creative path – whether you’re a musician, writer, painter or whatever – your ability to express and emote will get down to a complex web of factors. These include (but are not limited to) things that have inspired or influenced you; things you have been taught by, or have observed in, others in your field or on a similar creative path; the hours of practice that you have put into your art; the books you’ve studied from; the various performances you’ve been a part of; all of the many life experiences you’ve had; your background, upbringing, family life, traditions, values, key personality traits, etc.
So the Deck of Cards concept is about recognizing that every single one of these above-mentioned things represents a particular card in your personal “deck.” And your deck is that ever-expanding collection of life and artistic experience that comprises who you are and, ultimately, the potentiality of what you have to express through your work.
As an example, here are just a few options for what might be in a musician’s deck: Record a CD – that’s a 7 of spades. Spend a year on the club circuit playing bars and living in shitty motels – that’s a 9 of clubs. Survive some kind of heavy-duty trauma or catastrophe in your personal life – that’s a Queen of hearts. Do a first-class world tour, with plenty of live radio and TV appearances – that’s a King of diamonds. Accumulate tons of practice in 100-hour increments – that’s an Ace of spades. Raise a child? That’s a 6 of diamonds. Watch the life force leave a dog or cat who you’ve had to have euthanized? That’s a Jack of hearts. Go to college? That’s a 10 of clubs. Drop out of high school? That’s a 5 of spades. Survive a divorce… or bankruptcy… or a life-threatening illness? Those are 8, 9, and 10 of diamonds, respectively. Spend 4 hours as a “guest of honor” at a private bathhouse in Japan – that’s a 3 of hearts. (Not that I would know anything about that, but…)
Seriously, you get the idea. All of these significant life events become individual layers of fabric in an ever-expanding, ever-deepening tapestry of who you are. This tapestry represents the totality of your life experience and artistry, which you access in varying degrees every time you play (or create). Even these life experiences that appear to have no relevance to your art, actually do. They contribute to the overall “attitude,” “vibe,” “feel,” and “mojo” of what you do. It’s subtle, and often hard to define, but it’s there, believe me. In fact, I had to learn early on that, on occasion, it would be of more benefit to my playing in the long-run to forgo an evening of practice to take the wild ride of an unusual personal life experience!
Of course, you can have more than one of the same card, and there can be an almost unlimited number of cards in your deck. In general, the more living you’ve done, the more cards you would have accumulated. BUT – this is not necessarily a quantity game. A younger person might have fewer total cards, but could either have more “face cards,” or can simply access their full deck more profoundly than someone with way more cards.
So most importantly here, the real challenge is to go out there and “play with a full deck”… to play from your entire being (mind, body and spirit) so that you’re accessing the full deck (or full tapestry) as it stands in the present moment. This was the main idea behind my DVD, The Zen of Drumming; to demonstrate how each aspect of our being – and the synergy of all three aspects – plays a critical role in the ultimate expression of our artistry.
A Lifetime in a Moment…
Once upon a time at a social gathering, someone asked Picasso to do a quick drawing on a napkin. He did it, then when he handed it over, he asked for $20,000. “What?” they said with a gasp. “Why, that only took you about 10 minutes.”
“Not true, ” Picasso responded. “It took me my whole life to be able to do that.”
And so it is with any of our creative endeavors. It generally takes a lot of years, and a lot of joy, pain, practice, and life experience for one to do what he or she does at their highest level. Which brings me back to my original point: anytime we’re able to revisit our roots and have an experience like I just had this week, we are reminded of just how thick the ol’ deck is getting.
It’s all good, people. Till next time…