Come on in my living room
this noteís for you
By Keith Waller
One of my earliest musical memories
involves my 88-year-old great grandmother. I must have been around 6 years old
and was visiting at her home in Des Moines, Iowa. I remember her whispering into
my ear one day to follow her into the kitchen. She seemed to have something
secret for my eyes (and ears) only.
Intrigued by the air of mystery, I
followed her into the kitchen where she closed the door to the dining room and
proceeded to extract from deep in the back of one of her kitchen drawers a
harmonica. With a twinkle in her eye and a cat that just swallowed the canary
look on her face, my tiny white haired great grandmother put the harmonica to
her lips and proceeded to get down. She rocked back and forth and she stomped
her foot. As she played, her cheeks inflated and deflated just like Dizzy
Gillespie. I was mesmerized.
She might have played "Sheíll be Cominí
Round the Mountain," or it could have been "Me and the Devil Blues," I donít
really remember. At that point in my life I wouldnít have known the difference,
which is why Iím sticking with the notion that she played me a Robert Johnson
tune. She seemed to have a look on her face I couldnít describe at the time:
either agony or ecstasy.
Later on I realized what that look was all
about. I saw it on the face of B.B. King as he coaxed moans and sighs out of his
six-string Gibson, Lucille. It was there on the face of Jimi Hendrix at
Woodstock as his guitar made sounds like bombs bursting in air during his
rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner." But that look is not just the sole
possession of the Guitar Gods; it has also been seen on the faces of Billie
Holiday, Wynton Marsalis and Pavarotti. Itís the transcendent look of someone in
a heightened state of elation as a direct result of making music.
So what was that look doing on the face of
my grandmother? She was a great cook, but on harmonica she was no Sonny Boy
When I first picked up a guitar a mere six
years ago, I certainly did not expect any sort of spiritual elation. That was
only something that the great masters experienced after decades of dedication
and hard work, wasnít it? Well, six years down the road I can tell you that the
answer to that question is no. It can be experienced by anyone at even a
rudimentary level of musicianship. You donít experience it on the first day you
take a crack at it, but once you have some basics down, itís available to you.
Okay, Iím going to let you in on a little
secret here that most, but not all, musicians know. We donít make the music. The
music comes through us. Three simple chords or a short series of single notes
can, at certain times, feel like a gift from another realm.
Emmylou Harris once said that in the
pursuit of perfection the living room had gone out of the music. We had lost
that sublime experience of everyday people sitting around together creating
something simple, and imperfect, but also profound.
So what are you doing still reading this
column? I know that back home under the bed or in your closet is a dusty old
guitar, saxophone or flute. Go dust that thing off! Itís time to put the living
room back in the music. Your own experience of musical elation is right there
waiting for you to tap in.