The pursuit of fun

cartoon strip

Whenever I talk to people about my previous creative endeavours I always say to them the one thing I would have liked to have done professionally was music, even though I had no natural abilities as a musician and I had to work extremely hard to write a song. I imagined I would have had the most glorious fun touring the world and singing my songs.

Then recently I found myself chatting to a friend whose young son had just enlisted in a band that had a six week tour schedule. She described to me his immediate chaotic lifestyle as he was due to be picked up by the band in Southampton at 2.00 pm that day and they needed to be in Manchester for 5.00 pm, a distance of some two hundred and forty miles. This piece of information brought back to me memories of my own typical rock ‘n roll existence.

We too were required to travel hundreds of miles to a venue. Sometimes the club was open, sometimes not in which case we might have to wait an hour or two for someone to unlock the doors. We would then carry all the heavy equipment into the room and rig the stage. After that we would sound check, iron out any problems, then either leave the venue to find something to eat or remain in the venue just waiting to go on stage in several hours time. In the meantime I had to stay sober as I was the only driver.

At the allotted time, we would take the stage, perform for forty minutes then leave the stage. Then, depending on the venue, we would either have to wait a couple of hours again before we could de-rig or we could de-rig immediately and start to load the van. A drive home could vary from several minutes to several hours depending on where we were.

At the other end we would have to unload the van again (a loaded van left overnight was simply asking to be stolen) then I would drop the other band members off before I could go home to bed. Thousands of unsigned bands still do this today because it is ‘fun’.

I compared this routine with a typical caricature gig where I would turn up half an hour before the event with a briefcase, perform (okay, the performance lasts from two to three hours) then pack up my briefcase and drive home for a fee that can be up to four times what a band gets at some pubs.

With these memories, I had to ask myself how often did I have fun when I was a musician.

I had to think hard. The actual performances themselves were not always fun; we used a drum machine so in every song I had to count the bars – getting lost was a catastrophe. You still have to count with a live drummer but at least with a live drummer you can all readjust or signal to each other to repeat an ending if everyone is enjoying themselves.

I could only think of one live performance that I actually enjoyed with abandon. We were on a Czech tour and the Prague gig had accommodation that was within walking distance of the venue so I could have a drink. With a couple of beers inside me I felt pretty good and we stormed through our set.

Interestingly the only other occasions I remember having fun was in the writing process. I would have a roughly structured song or at least an idea for one with a riff and maybe some lyrics. I would bring this idea to the band who would kick it around until the thing started to come alive or it became obvious it was premature and still born. If it lived, we would try to breathe more life into it by injecting it with promising ideas and varying the dosage. We would get visibly excited when we noticed the foetus twitching and jerking with more life of its own. Eventually we would fashion something that hadn’t existed before and which now danced before us in a whirligig of joy. And like any parents we recognised that our progeny had an identity of its own, greater than the sum of its parts.

The apotheosis of creative enjoyment occurred when everyone knew what part they played in the making of the song and it was just a case of fine tuning the timing – the building of the baby was complete and now it was a case of imbuing it with emotion and passion, giving it that final surge of adrenaline. That was a fabulous moment; over the improving repetitions you could hear the song tighten like a guitar string and suddenly stretch into a sweet note, in tune with our own song of life. That was the best I would ever feel about a song. From there on in it was downhill. There would be a couple of months of performing the song to a live audience and seeing their reaction to it but once we had decided to record it in a studio, that would be the death. Once in the recording studio, it was take after take after take. By the end of the session you were sick of the thing and the joy it had originally brought you was now gone.

Ironically, our loss was another’s gain, for the joy was simply passed on like a ripple on a pond. Someone hearing the recorded version of it for the first time could relive the joy you had when you first wrote it.

I think it was the potential of music to transport me into another world that I found intoxicating and those moments were enough to see me through the tedium of the practicalities of rock ‘n roll.

So what is fun? We seem to know when we are having fun, or rather we ‘don’t know‘ because we tend to forget ourselves during those moments and the passage of time speeds up until it disappears altogether.

We were obviously prepared to put up with a lot to experience those ego-less moments.

Hey, have I discovered something more valuable than money?

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