By Jim Powers
My wife and I both love music, but we come to music from a very different place. I will sit down and stream an entire album while doing nothing but listening to the album. She listens to music as a background to whatever else she is doing. The different approaches derive from the way each of us came to music. It’s not so much the style of music that highlights that difference as it is a fundamental distinction in the source of that love for the art.
I’ve noted before that I started learning to play guitar when I was 10. It was the dawn of the 1960s. Blues and Rock were quickly replacing other genres of music, so all the cool kids wanted to play guitar. I decided that if I just learned guitar, I could play all that soulful Blues that I loved to listen to. So, I spent way too many hours each day listening to records (yeah, when vinyl was all we had, not the $30 cult object vinyl albums of today), figuring out the best I could what chords the artists were playing, and producing some semblance of the same sound. Played in a couple of teenage garage bands, the usual thing at the time.
Over 60 years later, I still play guitar. Technically I would be considered an intermediate level player, which is a pretty low bar in the guitar player pantheon. It means that the average person could hear me playing and would comment that I was a pretty good player, but a more sophisticated listener would be kind and not point out that I suck at guitar.
My wife came at music from a different perspective of simply a love of singing. She studied voice and ultimately performed as a soprano with a choral group that toured Europe for a month when she was in college. She sang from the time she was a small child and ultimately could have pursued it professionally had she chosen to.
So, what’s the difference that finds me sitting and listening exclusively to music and it being the background of her life? It’s simple, really. I love music. She is music.
I studied guitar because I believed if I did so, I could internalize the music I loved. She studied singing to let the out music already inside her.
So many of us spend our lives chasing what our society tells us is most important. It is, after all, the pervasive myth of the American dream promoted by giant corporations that we should spend our lives working to acquire progressively more expensive stuff, only to grow old, die and leave it to family members who don’t want it.
You may be surprised (or not) to learn that this country is littered with abandoned homes, full of furniture and a lifetime of personal memories, that the families cared so little about that they never returned and simply didn’t want the hassle of selling and stopped paying taxes on them.
Now, I’m a realist. Because capitalism is the religion of the U.S., we all must make a living. If a robot or AI hasn’t taken your job yet, then by all means keep the electricity on as long as possible. We are all part of the money game.
But as we face a very uncertain future, every one of us has something unique to offer the rest of us. My thing is writing. My wife ultimately pursued her dream of educating deaf children. We are incredibly fortunate that we could keep a roof over our heads doing things we wanted most to do.
But even if you are just marking time to retirement (something I would suggest you reconsider), you know inside your head what it is that the world needs from you to add real value to all our lives. Perhaps if we combine all our talents, we can overcome the existential threat of the technological monster we have unleashed upon ourselves. Even if we fail, we will have given our best and not been just a participant in our own destruction.
Jim Powers writes opinion columns. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarliy reflect those of this publication.