In one of the great lines from E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, the affable minister makes a comment about one of his young parishioners as she passionately plays a piece on the piano: “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.” Spoiler alert: Miss Honeychurch does, in a buttoned-down, Victorian England sort of way, go on to live as she plays, making for a wonderful end of the story.
It doesn’t hurt my premise here that in the Merchant-Ivory film, Miss Honeychurch is played by Helena Bonham Carter, who has definitely gone on to live as she plays.
I love, love, love live music. Not arena concerts, but smaller venues. A few years back, I heard a song on the greatest radio station in all the land, The University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN. It was pretty cool. I looked up the musician, Tash Sultana, online. A Youtube video shows this kid, a young Australian woman in her living room or wherever, playing this elaborate, layered song all by herself. She records the various instruments, gets them going on her computer-machine contraption, and out comes [Welcome to the] Jungle. Freak me out, man!
So when Tash Sultana came to Philadelphia, I dragged my daughter to see her. Amazing, amazing show. A whole concert with those layers of sound and just one young hippie Australian on stage.
The other night, my wife and I enjoyed a concert with singer-songwriter Jeffrey Gaines. This time it was one guy and one guitar, but he brought it. Fantastic show. Gaines played at a local winery where they have a big-ish stage and cabaret seating. Perfect.
I am in awe and gratitude for musicians like Tash Sultana and Jeffrey Gaines who make their living this way as traveling troubadours. But also, even more so, you musicians who fill the weekend slots at the coffeehouses, pubs, and honkey tonks of the world. You get out there and you do your thing, not to make a living, but because it makes you alive.
Think about it: in every little town, there are people willing to do this, just get out there and show the world what they’ve got. I love walking into the local bar on a Friday night and hearing somebody playing their hearts out.
I am honored to know a few of these brave souls. Rob and Anna Lisa, I’m looking at you! And then there’s a guy named Chuck Hearne (he’s the guy in the photo above). Another vocation ago, I sold Chuck and his wife a house. I learned that he was a local musician, filling in on bass or whatever instrument needed to be played. He’s awesome. He was recently able to retire from his day job, and do this thing he loves as often as he likes, which from his Facebook feed, is pretty often. My wife and I saw him again last week, and it was spectacular. Chuck is living like he jams.
Are you? Up until recently, I was like Lucy Honeychurch in the beginning of the book. Unsure of my place in the world; Worried about what others would think if I didn’t follow a certain path; Worried about screwing up and looking stupid. I needed to get over that. Like most things in life, it is a work in progress. For instance, I dance like I just don’t care. My wife says the same thing about me that the parson said about Miss Honeychurch, “Live that dance-your-heiney-off truth, buddy!” (or words to that effect.)
My guess is that most musicians, from bazillionaire rock stars to the kids playing for the first time at the local coffee house, face some of those same fears. But you overcome them, get on stage, and do your thing. Do you throw up before or after the show? Maybe, but you get out there.
So whether you are a musician, a writer, an engineer, or whatever you do to make a living, live like you jam. Right now, I am able to make a living doing what I love, but even if your passion is something you do as a hobby or literal or figurative side-gig, live like you jam. If you have let that thing fall by the wayside because of fear or whatever, find your way back to that. Find a way to do that thing that makes you feel the most free.
Live like you jam. Let your freak flag fly. Believe me, when you are living that way, it’s exciting for you, and for the rest of us too!