Sometimes you see a movie that just hits you where you live. I just watched the movie “Once” and absolutely loved every single, quirky, music-loving, self-consciously shy and joyful moment of it.
A few years ago, not so many really, I took my guitar to a music studio downtown. I’d scrounged a few hundred dollars I really didn’t have and poured it into a couple of days at the studio, setting down tracks with just me and my guitar, singing a half dozen songs I’d written and thought were pretty good—mostly because friends, family, sometimes audience members, and the occasional music industry person told me were pretty good.
My songs were the only good thing about my music career really. I was a so-so singer with not much of a lower register and a higher register that was nobody’s darling, I’m sure. I was a good middle-range singer and a self-taught guitar player who should have taken some lessons.
But the songs. Ah, the songs. You could give me a topic, a word, a thought, a picture, and I’d write you a a strong melody, with a hook, and handsome lyrics at the drop of a loonie. Okay, no loonies involved, necessarily. Although, like the guy in “Once” who busks and sings his own songs only in the night time, I once played on a street corner in downtown St. John’s just so I’d know what it would feel like. F**ckin’ hard work. Constantly entertaining—or trying to. Constantly playing. Fingers getting sore. Strumming and singing against the wind. Nobody listening, not really. Sure, I made maybe fifty bucks or something like that for a morning’s work. I never did it again. But I learned a lifetime of lessons.
For a few years after that, I made my living with my guitar, singing with various bands, strumming to keep up, but the songs…ah, the songs. I wrote ‘em, I sang ‘em, and people would say, “Did you write that?” It was the moment I lived for.
That was the thing about the movie that got me: I remembered—no, felt and re-lived in my mind—that moment when the song was everything—that sense of urgency, of having to lay it down, get it out, get it right, and never think for a moment that no one would care about it or that it would never be recorded or nurtured or anything else. You only cared to sing the right note, to say the right word, to be brilliant in that very moment. To sound like music.
That’s creation at its finest, at least for an artist.
It’s a feeling I lived for. I still do that with my writing. I feel fortunate to have a book that’s coming out next year that someone actually wants to publish. Maybe someone will even read it.
But there’s nothing like that feeling of having to get it out, knowing it’s important because it matters to you and only you.
With music, every time you sing the song, there’s the chance for brilliance—for a moment that makes sense of the world even if all around you is chaotic shite. If you sing with someone else, all the better. The smile spreads slowly across the hard-lined face of the songwriter who hears his words on the lips of someone who gets it, who knows what it means, more or less, and who wants to sing it with you.
I miss that feeling. I crave it sometimes. There are times when I just know I’m going to pick up that guitar again soon and head down to a St. John’s recording studio, this time maybe with some real money in my pocket, and a band to back me up—a band who’s practiced and professional, who knows what you need and that what you need is for them to be in the moment, to love the song every bit as much as you do, except you know that they couldn’t possibly.
Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Not for fame or fortune. I’ve never done anything for those reasons. But for love. The pure joy of creating something from nothing and from seeing something through to the end.
Now that’s a movie.