How to Be You in Time: Notes on “Originality”

Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy
— Lennon & McCartney

I.

I don’t write music. Other than a few things I composed in music school because I had to, I have no original music to my name and never had the interest. My discipline on the guitar has always been learning songs. There are already so many great ones, worthy of close study — who needs mine?

II.

I recently stopped playing with a pick. At this point the exceptions are few, one of them being Def Leppard’s “Photograph,” which has to be played with a pick, there’s no other way and it just sounds better. Anyway, the point goes beyond picking or any other matter of interest to guitar geeks. What happened is I finally figured out I was “doing it wrong,” and while that realization could have been completely deflating, it turned out to be a long-overdue liberation.

III.

Attending the New School as I did in the late ’80s, there was a stark duality among the students. There were jazz virtuosos like Peter, Jesse Davis, Larry Goldings and Spike Wilner, who championed a renewed straightahead jazz ideal at a time of “Young Lions” ascendancy. Rubbing elbows with them were John Popper and Brendan Hill of Blues Traveler, Eric Schenkman and Aaron Comess of the Spin Doctors, and Simone and Amadeo Pace of Blonde Redhead, among others. Keyboardist Russ Irwin, who later joined Aerosmith, was there too. About 10 years later, Robert Glasper and a new cohort equally rooted in jazz and hip-hop walked the New School corridors (in a much nicer new building). And shortly before Glasper’s Blue Note breakthrough in 2005 came that of Norah Jones. The idea of jazz and other genres not only coexisting but cross-pollinating gained fuller acceptance, to the point where it’s now a given. In the ’80s, not as much.

Writer, guitarist and music educator based in Athens, GA.

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