The Bargain We Strike Up


Over the summer I began to notice a few differences between me, the 30-something musician and me, the 60-something musician. I’d be lying if I told you that my appearance doesn’t factor into it, because, let’s face it, there’s a definite double standard at work in the performance arts. Paul McCartney is still touted as one of the kings of rock and roll and told to “keep it up” at the age of 73 while Cher, who’s 69, is often asked if she thinks she’s too old to still be performing. When once asked this question she replied, “You’d better check with Mick Jagger.”  But I’m not on a soap box here, I’m simply telling you about what I’m lately noticing about myself. Let’s get right to the bottom, which actually is the top of my list.

My Arse.

From the time I sang my first gig in 1966 to my very last one in 1985, I’ve sat on a wooden four-legged stool. These work great for folk guitarists-singers, because the right foot can perch itself on a lower rung, thus lifting the guitar up to a comfortable position while the left foot provides support by planting itself firmly on the floor. Also, the flat, wood seat provides excellent  support for singing. There is no chair invented (that I’ve seen or used) that does all of this better. Period. I used to sit on my stool for hours not only on stage, but during recording sessions and rehearsals. I was never without my wooden four-legged stool. These days, however, my arse has lost a bit of its padding and a four-hour session sends me hobbling to the Ibuprofen bottle as well as my wing back reading chair for two full days. I thought that maybe just sitting there day after day, my arse might “buck up” sort of like my fingers did, but I don’t want calluses on me bum. I like my arse, thank you very much. It’s still pretty nice! So what to do? I’m playing with the idea of simply padding the seat with something soft yet supportive, but what I’ll probably do is just suffer.

My Voice.

I used to sing all the time, and at the top of my lungs. In the shower, the car, everywhere I could and not get arrested. I had a BIG voice, with a huge range, flexibility, and the ability to hold a difficult sustain without wavering or petering out. My voice had momentum; I could build up to a long, complex melisma and carry it through without even working at it. Man, I could do it while playing my guitar, drinking a beer, and hitting a ball into the corner pocket at the same time! Well… that may be stretching it a little… Fortunately, I retained a lot of that, because I didn’t sing—really sing—for 30 years. If I’d continued with my career back in 1985, I’d probably have no singing voice to speak of today. And if I did it wouldn’t still sound so young. The downside is that it tires easily. After a two-day recording session, Lynette put me on voice rest for a full week. I’m not too thrilled about this limitation, but she did buy two cartons of ice cream, so there’s that. So what to do? I’ll just space my vocal sessions a little more wisely and eat more ice cream!

My Fingers.

Everyone knows that if you play a stringed instrument, you’re going to have calluses. You can’t avoid it and once you build them via years of playing, they never really go away. They’ll soften up and they’ll quit the building-peeling-rebuilding routine, but they’re still there somewhere. Rebuilding my calluses was something I really dreaded last spring when I decided to get back to my music, but rebuilding them was far less painful than maintaining them. Steve Stewart, lead guitarist with Cast of a Thousand, told me that because our skin gets thinner as we age, the skin over the calluses is subject to more pain. Eric Clapton’s remedy is to keep them smooth with an emery board and bathe them in rubbing alcohol before and after playing. I’m OK with the emery board and the pre-session dose, Clapper, but that ablution afterward would be way too painful! So what to do? I use an emery board, and then a small slick of superglue on each fingertip to avoid pain altogether.

My Energy.

On those mornings that I get up knowing I’ll be spending the day in the studio, I get all excited and my energy level rises to the occasion. Because of the Hashimoto’s Disease, these adrenaline spikes play hell with me 24 hours later when I’m riddled with death-like fatigue and dynamite can’t blast me out of the chair. I hate this. I used to have unlimited energy. I used to work days on end and then party all night. ROCK AND ROLL! I used to drive people crazy with my energy. So what to do? Sod it. Between my arse aching, my fingers throbbing, my voice croaking, and my energy obliterated, I’ll just have to admit that I’m older now, and take every other day off to recuperate.

Let’s face it. We get old. We die. It’s the bargain we strike up when we come here. Things aren’t perfect and life is messy, but hey, there’s always ice cream.

Continue Reading