bring back the jam

I was reading a recent post by Austin Kleon, in praise of mediocrity, when I felt a chord struck hard, deep inside. He was quoting author Tim Wu who was bemoaning the  lack of hobbies in modern times due to our dogged pursuit of excellence and how "It steals from us one of life’s greatest rewards — the simple pleasure of doing something you merely, but truly, enjoy." Which is something Jamie and I talk about a lot. People just don't seem to want to jam anymore.

I grew up in northeast Florida in the 70's - not exactly the mecca of arts and culture. But all of my memories of parties and barbecues included people whipping out guitars or some other portable, relatively simple instrument and joining together in an enthusiastic - if perhaps not quite technically proficient - rendering of a song that we all knew. Usually a few Beatles tune made an appearance. I was young and fumbling, trying to keep up with new chord changes and rhythmic patterns but, really, nobody cared. All that mattered was that we played together and it was fun. Which was an extension of the time people spent in the privacy of their own homes, noodling around and figuring out their favorite songs after work just for the joy of playing. Nobody was trying to be a rock star or go on American Idol. It was just...fun.

But these days, so many people who used to pick up an instrument out of love when they were younger stay far away from it. They're not good enough, they're not trying to be professional musicians, so why bother? And even some of our friends who are musicians and gig out regularly are kinda reluctant to just jam on the spur of the moment. Because they're afraid they'll make a mistake. Because it won't be as good as an episode of Austin City Limits.

It's so sad. Generating music is one of our birthrights as human beings, one of our most fundamental ways of communicating as a group. Society makes us think that only the special, the Talented, the paid should get to sing. And that is bullshit.

We should all be singing like birds. And if we think we're alone and nobody's listening, we just might do that. But we also need to sing and play TOGETHER. To communicate, share, vent. In harmony, through call and response, around the campfire, while we march or during church, we need to raise our voices in music. And it doesn't matter if a note breaks or we have a very loose relationship with key, who cares? We just need to get together every now and then and become one big, shambolic, lovely instrument. 

I just saw An Evening with Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman (which doesn't happen often as a live show but if you ever get a chance - GO!) and that is definitely one of Amanda's exhortations - many of her songs are pleas to stop worrying about your imperfections, let your freak flag fly and that we all are called to sing..or play your ukelele (that most entry-level "painfully simple" gateway drug to stringed instruments).

So I'll leave you with her anthem and my own wish that if there was ever anything you used to love doing that you stopped doing because it "wasn't good enough" - start doing it again!! And then do it with friends!!

"So play your favorite Beatles' song 
And make the subway fall in love 
They're only $19.95, that's not a lot of money 
Play until the sun comes up 
And play until your fingers suffer 
Play LCD Soundsystem songs on your ukulele 
Quit the bitching on your blog 
And stop pretending art is hard 
Just limit yourself to three chords 
And do not practice daily 
You'll minimize some stranger's sadness 
With a piece of wood and plastic 
Holy fuck it's so fantastic, playing ukulele!"

  

 

UKELELE ANTHEM

by Amanda Palmer

Sid vicious played a four-string fender bass guitar and couldn't sing 
And everybody hated him except the ones who loved him 
A ukulele has four strings, but Sid did not play ukulele 
He did smack and probably killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen 

If only sid had had a ukulele, maybe he could have been happy 
Maybe he would not have suffered such a sad end 
He maybe would have not done all that heroin instead 
He maybe would've sat around just singing nice songs to his girlfriend 

So play your favorite cover song, especially if the words are wrong 
'cos even if your grades are bad, it doesn't mean you're failing 
Do your homework with a fork 
And eat your fruit loops in the dark 
And bring your etch-a-sketch to work 
And play your ukulele 

Ukulele small and forceful 
Brave and peaceful 
You can play the ukulele too it is painfully simple 
Play your ukulele badly, play your ukulele loudly 
Ukulele banish evil 
Ukulele save the people 
Ukulele gleaming golden on the top of every steeple 

Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her father thirty whacks 
Then gave her mother thirty-one, and left a tragic puzzle 
If only they had given her an instrument, those Puritans 
Had lost the plot completely 
See what happens when you muzzle 
A person's creativity 
And do not let them sing and scream 
And nowadays it's worse 'cause kids have automatic handguns 
It takes about an hour to teach someone to play the ukulele 
About same to teach someone to build a standard pipe bomb 
YOU DO THE MATH 

So play your favorite cover song 
Especially if the words are wrong 
'cos even if your grades are bad, it doesn't mean you're failing 
Do your homework with a fork 
And eat your fruit loops in the dark 
And bring your flask of jack to work 
And play your ukulele 

Ukulele, thing of wonder 
Ukulele, wand of thunder 
You can play the ukulele, too 
In London and down under 
Play Joan Jett, and play Jacques Brel 
And Eminem and Neutral Milk Hotel 
The children crush the hatred 
Play your ukulele naked 
And if anybody tries to steal your ukulele, let them take it 

Imagine there's no music, imagine there are no songs 
Imagine that John Lennon wasn't shot in front of his apartment 
Imagine if John Lennon had composed "imagine" on the ukulele 
Maybe folks would have more clearly got the message 

You may think my approach is simple-minded and naïve 
Like if you want to save the world then why not quit and feed the hungry 
But people for millennia have needed music to survive 
And that's why I've promised John that i will not feel guilty 

So play your favorite Beatles' song 
And make the subway fall in love 
They're only $19.95, that's not a lot of money 
Play until the sun comes up 
And play until your fingers suffer 
Play LCD Soundsystem songs on your ukulele 
Quit the bitching on your blog 
And stop pretending art is hard 
Just limit yourself to three chords 
And do not practice daily 
You'll minimize some stranger's sadness 
With a piece of wood and plastic 
Holy fuck it's so fantastic, playing ukulele 

Eat your homework with a fork 
And do your fruit loops in the dark 
Bring your etch-a-sketch to work 
Your flask of jack 
Your vibrator 
Your fear of heights 
Your Nikon lens 
Your mom and dad 
Your disco stick 
Your soundtrack from "Karate Kid" 
Your ginsu knives 
Your rosary 
Your new Rebecca Black CD 
Your favorite room 
Your bowie knife 
Your stuffed giraffe 
Your new glass eye 
Your sousaphone 
Your breakfast tea 
Your nick drake tapes 
Your Giving Tree 
Your ice cream truck 
Your missing wife 
Your will to live 
Your urge to cry 
Remember we're all going to die 
So PLAY YOUR UKULELE

 

Photo by TCDavis

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