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Blue Collar Rockin' #4 - CONFIDENCE!!
By Mick Polich - 07/17/2007 - 09:53 AM EDT


Is this the title of a new , unearthed , posthumous James Brown release? Nope, new column.

And what are we talking about this month? Well,it’s about self-confidence – not only in music, but in life also. It’s also the tale of two people, which are myself and my lovely wife, Mary. Hang with me here because this will start out as a study in relationships and then a study in music,and how confidence in life and music affects both.

Confidence – there are hoards and hoards of books, DVD’s, CD’s on the matter ( just check out the overflow in the “ Self-Help ” section Borders or Barnes and Noble – jeez, you would think we’re a nation of helpless, underachieving wallflowers……). People talk and talk on confidence everyday – ‘ net, radio, t.v., I - Phone, yadda, blah, yadda, blah. First off, why are we thinking as a people that we even NEED to yap about being assertive, self-fulfilled, and overly ripe with a brimming odor that says, ” Hey world, LOOKIE HERE!!!I AM HAPPENIN’, BABY!!!”? Confidence is a people THANG – not exclusively an American thing, or a Brit thing, but a human thing (in this country, we just happen to burst our buttons more because we’re bad-ass…no, just kidding.. uh, no, REALLY, we are….um,yeah right…).

At this point in our intersected lives, both my wife and I are musicians – singers and players, pro and amateur. I’m the one who’s got the ‘ pro ’ label, and it’s just because people have happened to like what I write and record, play in public, or teach themselves or their kids. So, they hand me $5,pat me on the  head, say, ” Good job, sonny, thanks! ” and shuffle off, mumbling things to myself and cursing (yes, it does sound out there, but this is literature, and there is license involved. By the way, that has happened at least ONCE, but the mumbling and cursing part maybe more than once…). Where as, my lovely bride just started singing in public with some band and church projects a few years ago – this doesn’t count her illustrious high school career in the performing arts and orchestra.

The singing in public part with a band is something Mary has wanted to do for a lifetime, but unfortunately, it took several boyfriends and an ex - husband to get to me, who gave her the encouragement and an opportunity to git ‘ er done. Before you say, ” Yoko ” or “ Linda ” (God, Allah, Buddha bless her and rest her soul ), realize that we both agreed upon said venture, and wanted to play music that we both like and that would benefit our talents. This takes skill, adventure, and an awareness not just have either spouse just ‘ be there ’ singing some out-of-tune harmony and playing a shaker – it takes arrangements and material that makes sense. When you’ve got that,and can perform the material ,well ,you get CONFIDENCE (let’s all say that again,boys and girls – oh,SHADDAP,HOSER!). A personal note on the aforementioned Beatle spouses: I found the avant garde stuff that John and Yoko did to be interesting, and Linda Macca to be non-offensive – far be it from me anyway to tell Sir Paul how to arrange his band, post-Fab.

I do remember clearly the day after Lennon died, and Yoko was clearly an audio part of it: standing around with John the record guy at an old Co-op Tapes and Records store in Des Moines,drinking shots of peach snapps( you can’t do that at Virgin Records, kids!) ,listening to “ Plastic Ono Band Live Peace ” , mourning our numbness about our collective fallen idol. Yoko’s little ‘ music concrete ’ piece comes on,she’s screaming against guitar feedback, and how eerily fitting - still creeps me out……

Well,now that the spouse part is established ,how does this all play out for our article?

The lines are getting clear,at least for the music part: husband, musician, old music dog/vet and wife, fairly a novice for the music gig. Now, let’s set up another puzzle piece –insert general living,and wife is now Big –Time Assertive Player,and husband becomes Mr. Mom,usually three steps behind daily decisions, thoughts, and general brew-ha-ha. Now,I will toot mah horn regarding certain things: I am an early-riser-part metabolism,part because my wife needs to get off to work and during the school year, we have an 8-year old that needs schoolin’, or the Truancy Feds get mighty angry, Jethro. Plus, there are two Labs that look at me each morning and say, ” What? If we had opposable thumbs, we wouldn’t need yer stinkin’ help! ” And ya know, you get into that stuff, then there’s more stuff that kinda naturally comes along with daily living, and we all know (or should get a clue) what needs to be looked at there. My wife in her UPS gig has dealt with,and deals with daily,situations that involved big numbers in money, time, and production. Being a business major, I still find it fascinating on how much goes on around the globe to move a box from Point A to Point B, so give me another half-point for being interested in my spouse’s work. In my mind, where the baby carriage careens down the hill, is that my mind is not naturally geared towards the stuff like the power bill and how to deal with the remodeling contractors. I really,really try,but I usually lose the details (and believe it,kids,there are details), thus just getting half of the task right. Hey,how can I revoice that B minor 7th, flat 5 chord - sure, let me get that for you,but can you get the best deal on a vet for the dogs(well,I can get a vet), or buy a car (make sure it’s the RIGHT deal for the RIGHT car). Before I make this scene sound too anal, let me say this: you want a lot of things to go right in the details the FIRST time it happens – the plane you’re riding in to Denver ,open-heart surgery, or diffusing a car bomb. So,that I’m cool with-I’m just not the guy you would want in those situations!! But for most of life,I’m a firm believer on giving second chances,and working on something (if you can,and desire) at a comfortable pace to get it done to the best of your ability(so,my family,hold me accountable).

In music and life, sometimes ‘ your best ’ ain’t gonna cut it (witness “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent” – yay,Sharon Osbourne,but would somebody give David Hasselhoff another gig other than parading around Being David Hasselhoff ? Sorry,but UGH…). At times, I think the majority of people who really dive into the drive of positive thinking live the “Amway” mentality,  meaning if you work hard enough, think positive thoughts,and believe, things will happen,money will flow like hot coffee, everything aligns itself with nature and the Great Spirit, etc.(thus, the secret behind “The Secret”). For twenty years, I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read on the subject to help prop me up or get me thru a problem – this is not all bad; if you can’t talk to someone about it, read what Dr. Phil says! Seriously, it’s o.k.,to a point. There isn’t gonna be enough karma in the world for magic somedays, but I DO believe you get what you need to get you thru (thank you,Keef,thank you,Mick!). The problem is, if everyone were trying their best everyday, it still wouldn’t be enough for a lot of situations. Is this bad? Has my pessimism just throw the wet towel in? I dunno, I’m just keepin’ it real, Tupac, then I work up from there. It’s all real to not keep your head in the sand – for most it’s a fear of facing certain emotions, situations (for me,I’ve always been lifting towards a balance regarding confrontation – something I still struggle with). And it’s all very real to ‘ know thy self ’ - I mean,that alone could take the rest of your dance card here on the planet!

O.k.,so my wife is type A, I am type AB – forward-moving, take charge yesterday v.s. those things with a retreat to passivity(years ago, someone told me that I was passive /aggressive, so I decided, well, let’s just work on the aggressive part! But your nature is your nature, and it takes awhile to re-shift…). Due to respect, I won’t delve into what we love to talk about, or what we argue about domestically,and besides, it’s a MUSIC website, and that’s why we’re here! First,here’s an old saying that I believe rings true – sometimes, you just gotta act like you’re confident even when you’re not! This is me, true believers, most days! And our species being higher primates, we can sniff and sense most people when they lack the fortitude to look you in the eye,shake your hand,and say,”Howdy doo dah!” And,thusly,we’re led to the ‘ cult of personality ’ – so,we get Gandhi, then we get Stalin. In my younger days, I will state that 90 percent of what got me thru my music skills development was keeping my nose to the grindstone even when I felt really scared about where I was headed. I played tackle football, as we ESPN watchers like to call it,in junior high and high school. A lot of my idols were slow, white-guy receivers that worked themselves into great receivers – Raymond Berry, Steve Largent. In fact, I had to have number 82, Raymond’s number with the BALTIMORE Colts, f or my jersey number in high school. Well,our team was the smallest school in our conference, regular muggings by the rest of the schools were  consistent. I wanted to be an All-State player - hell, I wasn’t even the All State waterboy, but I started because we needed the bodies out there and I worked my tail off. This time period in my life was the first time I heard the word ” over achiever ” - a few years later, our head coach told me that I did things I wasn’t suppose to do on the field. Well, isn’t that great, Skippy, I thought – again, it took me years to get thru the message: I went beyond good for ME, my personal best, and to help the team, but not good enough to get to where I wanted to be in my mind. Anyway, to wrap up that era, I walked away with a pretty good 9th grade season (our whole team did in 1974), and a heck of a last game in my senior year against Perry High. In fact, it was so much fun, we dosed each other in the locker room with Seven-Up (close to bubbly), throwing up one finger (the index finger-git yer mind outta there!) for the Number One salute. Probably Joe Montana has more collective achievements and memories,but as I grow older, that one year,and the last game, is a very warm,and comfortable, room to sit in.....

So, take all those thought processes, and apply them to music skills. Drive, too dumb to know your limits, wanting to be somebody thru music – the sports mental method training to better guitar playing. Well, I must say, it worked for awhile with me, and you could draw a lot of parallels between sports and music. Hendrix, Van Halen, John Coltrane – idols, the stuff of inspiration, and hey, chicks would dig me then, and I could be…. FAMOUS! Again, a pretty good quote from guitarist Ronnie Montrose, ” I wanted to be the best guitarist in the world until I realized it was a pretty big world.” Yeah, but what do you know,or care, when you’re 15, 18, 21 years old? So, damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead, Engine Room, where’s my drink? I dug into music not only because I liked it, but it MADE me feel that I had a purpose, a sense of accomplishment, a place, and CONFIDENT. I had been drawing since I was five, writing my own comic books at seven, now this thing with the guitar, a mystery, a puzzle. I really hung my self-esteem hat on that musical hook (and still do) - only now do I realize the path to be a more ‘ complete ’ person.

What works for me probably doesn’t work for my wife in the fact that her approach and experiences aren’t the same. By her own words, Mary is naturally confident regarding most things, ” to the point of arrogance at different points in my life ”. But, you could never find a bigger heart anywhere (if she likes you, she’s Dr. Love, bestowing accolades, hugs, and thousand - mile smiles…..if she doesn’t like you, well,woe be to thee…actually,we're both the same on that point ). She’s the one that usually handles the big deals – buying houses, remodeling , booking flights, etc. The exchange of  Big Amounts Of Money usually doesn’t faze her - it’s something she deals with at work everyday. On our best days,together,we’re probably one of the best people I know! But here’s a gal who acted and sang in high school plays, played french horn in band, then proceeded to build grain elevators with a crew across the U.S., and follow the Grateful Dead around, got into nursing and worked in ER for years before hooking up with one of the largest companies in the world, UPS. Through it all,she’s lived vicariously thru musician boyfriends and one ex - husband – wanting to sing and play an instrument, good god, even with a BAND! So, we get to her late 40’s, my mid-40’s, and I say, ” Hey, let’s explore this music thing together.”  Thusly, it’s been that way for a few years now, and since we’ve moved to Texas, playing music at church has been one thing we’ve done together (besides one killer reunion gig at the Grapevine Residence Inn with my old buddy Don Myers ).

Well, by now, most of you can see this Mac truck heading towards the proverbial “ Hole Big Enough To Drive A…” - how does this all work in, gaining enough confidence on both sides with the music thing, to make music that WORKS? I usually find you look to people strengths first and exploit them. I’ve been pretty good at gathering groups of people to play music, then arranging songs to fit the collective musical abilities of the group. So, I look to what we want to play COLLECTIVELY – this won’t work if I want to adapt Bartok to electric guitar, using screaming feedback ala Sonic Youth (hey,whaddya think of that for the ol’ town gazebo on a Saturday afternoon?), so, I’ll save that idea for later! So, who do we like – Steve Earle, Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Dar Williams – yeah,that’s a good start. Now, do we arrange for a group or a duo? Duo-check! Harmony vocals? Yeah - Mary has great pitch, in fact, too good - I always tell her she needs to slur and rock it up a bit, basically a little Mick Jagger mush - mouthin’ won’t hurt . Now, the music - acoustic guitar, maybe a conga or hand-held percussion . This is a tricky part, because one of my pet peeves are duos or trios that basically sound like duos or trios due to the lack of expansiveness in song arrangements. But boo-hoo,Mr. Polich, we can’t do that! Oh, you weenies, sure ya can!!! Of all the duo concerts I’ve seen, two spring up with this mentality of arrangements that expand the group sound: Karen Savoca/Pete Heitzman, Akron,Ohio, mid-1990’s, and Terra Moto, Fort Worth Botanical Gardens, June, 2007. I’m talking not just good here, kids, but AMAZING. And really, talent plays a part, but anybody with average musical talent with this sense of awareness can get started on this path.

Now, if you’re reading to this point and think, ” Yeah, I can see where the confidence factor can grow,even doing this type of music and arrangement.”, then, this is a good thing. One thing I try to instill in my music students is a sense of  having fun and feeling good about playing music thru every step of the journey (or, to quote Spinal Tap keyboardist Viv Savage,” Have a good time ALL the time!” ). We have so many great musicians that set the bar impossibly high – hey, set your own bar, sport! Take your gifts, expand on that first, then work on shoring up your short comings. Take it from the Rock Codger here – you need to enjoy yo’sef ! I spent a lot of time and energy worrying if I was playing hip enough, or writing stuff that mattered with my music. Well,I figured I wasted about a half decade PER decade since 1975 just getting stuck in 2nd gear, although most people who grew up with me and know me say, ” Damn,son,you have done so much, and under some pretty weird circumstances.” But to me, especially at this point, it’s about refinement, exploration, not kicking back on your heels but moving forward in art, creativity, music. Although I swear I was done playing “ Sweet Home Alabama ” five years ago for good, along with several other pop classics that have been beaten like a rug, I will probably be in situations (some of my own creation) where I get to talk about missin’ ol’ Bamy once again -that’s o.k.! And remember - you’ve always got an audience SOMEWHERE! Aunts and mothers are usually the most sympathetic:  " Oh, that’s such a nice song, honey, you sing it so WELL! Who’s that by? Slayer? Cannibal Corpse? Oh, that’s sweet, dear - you keep doing what you’re doing, you hear? ”.

I think no matter how serious or lax you take yourself at composing, performing, teaching, or running a music business, you’ve got have a level of confidence that’s balanced. Some people think they’re God’s gift 24-7, and some people just wilt at bad vibes. The hard part is the balance, because you’re basing your own bias’ and opinions on what YOU think. Time to take a poll with friends, family, co-workers? Maybe - just be prepared for anything ( most of us,even though we say we really don’t give a rat’s hiney, really do give a rat’s hiney…). Many people are even afraid to explore how they think, feel ( hey, there’s this new thing called ‘ existentialism ‘, you should check it out…). Probably one reason where people got to extremes in exploring our weaknesses is a conglomerate of stuff: pride ( “ Don’t need it! Don’t wanna know!” ), Dionysus - like exsistences(we’re ALL perpetual counter-culture rebels and wanna keep it gonna FOREVER!), or just feeling the need to go to therapy for 50 years without any end in sight ( “ My mother STILL controls me at age 65! "). This is all armchair stuff, and in no way do I want to slag anyone with very serious problems, BUT if everybody could move at their own pace that feels comfortable to them in life, well, wouldn’t that be a big cure?

Personally, I’m kind of screaming for a time-out myself now, but I’ve got dogs, a wife, a  child, and there are a lot of folks in worse shape all over the globe, so fuggit,I keep going.

Part Deux will explore getting my lovely wife and I ’ in sync’ (nope,didn’t join ‘em - not enough money up front) with our musical explorations. Can ya believe it - blah, blah, blah once again, and it’s the end of the column. Just remember - start with doing small stuff that you can accomplish quickly, effectively, efficiently to build a head of steam in your musical endeavors, and that will get the train moving for the bigger stuff!


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