I played a funeral service yesterday morning. I’ve probably done a couple of hundred over the years. Most of the time they’re pretty sad affairs as expected. Family and friends talk about how loving and caring the deceased was, how involved they were with their family, etc., etc.. This one was no exception in that regard. But it was also very different, and it was also very moving.
What made it so moving were the stories everyone had to tell. They weren’t all rosy. They spoke of hardship. They spoke of struggling. They also spoke of overcoming those hardships by facing them head-on and not crumbling. They of course spoke of love. In all, they stories of the woman who had passed away made her seem so real, and it made it very clear to me that this woman lived a full life; uncompromising in her values and uncompromising about her deep feelings for the people around her.
But in another twist, people spoke of how she shared her life and experiences with them; maybe to teach them a lesson, or simply to pass the time.
All that made me think: What kinds of stories will people tell of me when I pass away, but more importantly, what stories am I able to share about me with others? I’ve been contemplating this for the last day, and that brings me to the title of this article.
What I came to realize is that you really can’t tell any stories unless you’re experiencing life. Conversely, stories can’t be told about you if you’re not showing up. Woody Allen is often credited with the saying, “90% of life is just showing up.” To me, that’s all about getting myself out there. Being involved and really putting MYSELF out there, not a facsimile of whom I think I or anyone thinks I should be, but showing up as me. The other 10% is execution: You’ve made it, now do it…
A big part of the philosophy is reflected in why I gig so much. Right now, I’m gigging four nights a week. It’s not about the money. It’s about the playing. I’m exhausted as all get-out as I write this, but I’ve never been so fulfilled in all of my musical career.
Take for instance last night’s gig. Yesterday afternoon, I watched this video on YouTube. I ran across it randomly as I was looking for something entirely different (leave it up to Google’s search algorithm to come up with things that I’m interested in besides my specific search query). Curious, I watched it, and I realized that I was doing something similar to that for years. But with that video, I was able to finally intellectualize something I’d done by feel for a long time. Essentially, it’s taking a modal approach to the minor pentatonic scale, and it’s extremely powerful. Combined with my recent forays into major-scale, modal theory, it has given me yet another tool to use for improvising.
I applied it last night, and the experience was simply transformative. It was amazing because I felt as if I was telling a story while I was playing; that that particular skill opened up even more musical vocabulary into which I could tap. A young couple who was sitting near where I was playing actually stayed a lot longer than they were originally planning. As they left, the woman of the couple said to me, “Your playing was incredible. Couldn’t believe the phrasing you were using. It wasn’t rock, but it wasn’t jazz either. Really awesome.” I was awestruck by that. It was obvious that she was a musician. I’ve never really considered myself to be possessed of real improv talent. I’ve always just done it, and didn’t really think about it. But to hear something like that just blew me away.
The point to me sharing this is that on the way to my gig, after all my contemplations on story-telling that afternoon, I had the full intent of telling my story last night. It was a risk because I didn’t know how it would go, and when you do covers, people expect songs to be played a certain way. But I went for it anyway, and it was life-changing.
After the gig, I came up with the saying that I used for the title of this article. I couldn’t have told a story with tapping into my life experiences, and it made me think that if closed myself off from life I’d never have the experience to tell a story in the first place.