Thursday, September 9, 2010


There is a flood of wet noses sniffing and furry paws jumping and happy tongues kissing inside my front door and when you crack it open, there's a cascade of licky-barky happiness that spills out all over the place. So it's only natural that I've developed an adrenaline-tinged Pavlovian anticipation to that first door-opening moment. Tonight I had an anti-climactic surprise when what I found instead was inky blackness, until my eyes slowly adjusted and the tiny flames of candles began floating in the dark around me. My living room was there after all, recast in sensual flickery light.

James had declared it a no-electricity night. Well, kind of. It was really just a no-light-bulbs night, with laptops and even TV allowed, which was fine by me. So it was kind of like Little House on the Prairie except that Linsey was Facebooking and I was blogging, but hey, at least Ashley's math homework was done by candle light. She complained about it the whole time.

And it was magic.

You know, that line you cross when stuff around you stops being just “interesting” or “beautiful” and adjectives become irrelevant. Because magic can't be condensed to words. Even poetry is an echo of the thing itself, creating new magic in its place.

I studied music composition with a brilliant and difficult man who did his best teaching after three Grand Marniers in any bar seedy enough to overlook California's indoor smoking ban. I remember a late night bullshit session that focused on who (or what) we were, “we” meaning composers – Is a composer/musician an entertainer? An artist? Do we provoke or soothe? Create or reflect? Used car salesman, expert craftsman, misunderstood bohemian... it was all up for grabs. My professor said that he knew one thing, and that's for sure, that we are shamans.

When you need the magic, you go to the shaman. When they want to raise their hands and cry because their God is so real and so close, they come to me. That's what they pay me for. If every choir octavo was neatly filed, and every note was correctly played, and every volunteer was sufficiently motivated, but there was no magic, I'd be emptying my desk right about now.

So I give the magic because that's what I was trained to do, and I'm pretty good at it if I do say so myself, but I want some back and that's where the problem is. There are shortcuts to get there, but oh there's a price to pay, and I felt entitled enough that I didn't really care who paid it.

I know I'm not supposed to say it but the drugs and the porn, they had the magic. And it was immediate and dependable, and I can't even begin to describe the places I've been and the shit I've seen when I let them take the wheel. You don't find that kind of magic in the real world, at least not in this life.

But you know the story – it all comes crashing down, and there's the screaming and the crying and that knot in your stomach because if you'd just stopped yesterday, none of this would have happened. But you never do stop, because just-one-more-time is all the magic you need and then you'll be good, I promise promise promise.

I'm ready to find the magic in real life now. I know it's there because if it's not, why the hell did I choose to be a composer/musician? I could have done something useful, like build stuff, or fix stuff, or haul stuff around. Instead I chose to pour my life into something that logically has no purpose. And I never even doubt for a second that it was the right decision, because if I had every material thing I ever needed, but there was no magic, then it's not even worth getting out of bed in the morning.

Thanks, James, for no-light-bulbs night.