A Musical Misunderstanding

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I love writing music, but I don’t particularly enjoy playing music. I play to compose. Playing is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

For most musicians, a composition is merely an opportunity to play. The more demanding the composition, the more frustrated the musician will be. 

I write music to lyrics, but the lyrics, too, are merely a means to an end. I stumble on a subject, or feel like expressing an idea or a feeling, then the lyrics suggest a melody and a rhythm, which, in turn, suggest a harmony, and a structure emerges. The result is some kind of musical object, which is the end I’m after, because music is the only thing that can occasionally give me the chills, no matter what the lyrics are about, no matter how clever and satisfying they might otherwise be.

For years, I composed without really mastering any instrument. My 4-track cassette recorder + Casio organ + beat-up sax era was followed by a computer + MIDI keyboard era. Learning how to more or less play the guitar (basic rhythm guitar, couldn’t care less about shredding) made life easier, but it only brings me joy insofar as it helps me compose and get to hear a first approximation faster, without resorting to cumbersome digital crutches. To wit: I only play, and only know how to play, my own songs. 

But being able to play them just fuels the misunderstanding.

Similarly, I write songs (I’m a songwriter), but I don’t particularly enjoy singing. I could try to find a singer, but I know full well that the songs I write aren’t especially fun to sing, since that’s not what they were written for, which is why I don’t want to inflict them on someone who sings for the love of singing (and I don’t feel like paying for the services of a hired gun). 

I believe my renditions and recordings are good enough to get my musical ideas across and to please any audience that might be sensitive to what my music has to offer.

In 2019, I played my songs live with a real showman. He really liked my songs, for reasons I care about, so he convinced me to play them in front of an audience. It took him a while to accept that for me, the pain far outweighed the pleasure. Thankfully, Covid put a stop to our concert tour, and the big C just dashed any hope of the Bons Sauvages ever reuniting. Rock In Paradise, Éric. 

All of the above perfectly explains why my music never quite made it (even though I’ve had a few fifteen minutes of fame). It appeals to people who like my lyrics (and who don’t necessarily care about the music), or to those who are really into music for music’s sake (and who enjoy mine). It doesn’t appeal to people for whom music is a fashion accessory and/or an excuse to shake their booty, nor to snobs who don’t believe humor belongs in music.

A person who truly gets and appreciates what I’ve attempted to create is worth all the anonymous likes and applause in the universe. I’m lucky to have two such people in my life (and to have crossed paths with a few others over the years). 

For many reasons, I’ve never tried to earn a living from my music, and I have never regretted that decision. I’ve never really fantasized about fame, about hordes of fans (and groupies) awed by my superlative genius. As far back as I can remember, my ultimate fantasy was for some anonymous patron to pay for my room and board in some remote location, indefinitely, no questions asked. 

Fast forward a few decades: I have more or less become said patron. I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a small house in a remote village, where I now live frugally, working only part-time to pay the bills (translating, another type of creative writing). A semi-ultimate fantasy ain’t half bad, even though I no longer have the creative energy of my youth.

Fake guitar instruction manual. A cool young guy is sitting down holding a guitar, surrounded by groupies. The title of the book reads "Learn Guitar and Get Laid"
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