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Gettin' Older, Dude ( The Blue Collar Way)
By Mick Polich - 08/26/2008 - 09:34 AM EDT

To quote an infamous by an equally infamous music group: you’re getting’ older, dude.

Your head might still think you’re 23 years old, but the body says OTHERWISE!!

Being an older musician, my perspective and outlook has changed quite a bit from that pie-eyed, incredulous dude of yore – the music marketplace, and how it accepts, or doesn’t accept me, has obviously changed defacto, also. Also, the TYPE of music I’m playing these days has changed slightly – I’ve refused any ‘classic rock’ band involvement as of late, on principal and time sense – do I want to practice “Hurts So Good” as opposed to figuring out how to write some jazz horn charts? I know, I know – a lot of my peers didn’t get that chance back in the day like I did to get paid playing the Music Of Our Yooth five nights a week – more power to those cats. But I’m a suburban dad in the same boat – time crunch – so I’m just re-regulating what I choose to play and when. Choosy mothers choose……Los Lobos!!!

Do I still FEEL like a musician at this point after 33 years? Most days. The work is still the same: X amount in, X amount out. The child-like discovery of new music, techniques, art forms, approaches, etc., will not leave –some days, it takes some digging into the situation. There is a certain group that I don’t wish or need to cover any more – louder, faster, harder, for the sake of louder, faster, harder: fun, but ultimately too shallow, stupid at this stage (“Hey? What’s that OLD guy doing on-stage trying to act like a younger, brainless hose - headed version of himself ??!!”). Not to say when I do play covers of current songs that suit what I do, that I can do tackle my own respectable version of said cover. It may not be pretty, but it may be ME! Advice to younger people: give yourself about 5 years to play the fool and get yer ya – yas out, then gear up for the next musical horizon (my own advice that’s taken me a hell of a lot longer to heed)

I realize that you, the readers, have been peering into my head this past year – I’m fully aware of that, and apologize to anyone who’s had to go a lot for the therapy ride, but hey, it’s CHEAPER, right? I believe, and you always have the option to STOP READING ! But then, given our propensity for full disclosure on the Internet these days, I suppose my little overt analyzing fits…..

Technique? Goals? Equipment lust? Check – still all there – just changes with getting older. I certainly don’t want to own or schlep the amount of equipment that I had 20 years ago – pointless because I’m not gigging 4 – 6 nights per week (a perfectly good 1,500 watt p.a. system going to waste in a garage – my, my!). Oh yea, ‘equipment lust’ is still there – ‘wow, look at the new Strats and Les Pauls’ – obvious. Older boys  – still want the toys.

I can say I wouldn’t trade the clarity and insight I’ve gotten over the years for a shot at youthful redemption – not just for the music, but for life. I GET it more now – ultimately, any money, recognition, status, whatever, ebbs and flows (and I’ll tell ya, gentle reader, I may understand and empathize with a ‘life lesson’, but now, when I get it, and need to stick to it, don’t worry, it’ll happen…..).

More to learn? Oh my yes. I’ve learned a lot just throwing my thoughts into this column, and just the past year, year and a half, in the Texas move. There have been ‘younger’ examples of myself – bits and pieces of the mosaic of a former life (that has a tendency to cling like moss – you pick it off bits at a time). A conversation with another writer, an example of a neighbor with an artistic bent but a different way to live in art and life and raise your family  - not my approach in the ‘lesson’; I’ve learned what NOT to do.

“That’s not my scene – I don’t understand it: I’m just a musician”: the sing - song axiom of long ago for me, but wait! Here’s a secret: it’s taken this long for it to sink in. Hey Junior, it’s YOUR name on the mortgage, checking account, water bill, stock statement, TOO!! It’s YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!!!! Responsibility? What self-respecting artist wants to hear THAT b.s.??!  Look at the truth, kids, and live up to it. And you know what? You can make it work – both sides of the brain, come on now, balance that check book! I write songs while mowing and cleaning –you just make it happen. Ain’t gonna be no moment where the stars line up for you to work out your creative side.

It can be done, people – our brains can be split to do more than one task, and do them fine, if not well! As an older musician, that’s another concept that I’m learning….

But, yes, like the aging athlete, the older musician think he/she can still handle the hours on the gigs (and the travel, too). You know, though, that’s not always true – some people are just born for that stuff – looking at Willie Nelson; he’ll tour until he just plain can’t make it up on that stage. Others are content with being “weekend warriors” – I look to the people who are still gigging back home; kids, family life, and just plain getting older come into play.

Musically, my tastes have broadened a bit, too. A couple articles back, I talked about some guitar influences with my old buddy, Dave Powell. Back in the day, I was heavily into jazz / fusion. And I must say, I did do a slight disservice to my old teacher, Don Archer, in mentioning him getting on me about liking the rock-edged fusion guys back then such as John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola. Back then, I was so scared of ‘towing the line’ musically - that it wasn’t cool to like fusion cats if you want to study jazz. As time went on, I just realized some truths about what I liked and didn’t like in players and music, and just decided to be truth to myself and like who I was going to like, musically. But without Don’s help (and another great teacher, Doug Miers), I probably wouldn’t have seen the light on players such as Pat Martino (more on Pat down the road), Kenny Burrell, George Van Epps, and Grant Green. So, props to you both, Don and Doug!

I think being true to yourself, musically, ethically, and spiritually, plays a big part of the pie for me. Being older means you start to not give a rats rear end about what other people think of what you like in music – you know you like, and all you need to answer to is yourself. I have stuff in my music collection guaranteed to drive other people out of the house, but I like it for what it is, and I think I’ve got a line on what I need to get from music to sustain me. I mean, and I’ve said this before, Jimi Hendrix is as important to me as John Coltrane – Van Halen works the same room for me as Joni Mitchell, LL Cool J, Miles Davis, and AC/DC. Throw the new music hybrids from around the globe that captivate my interest, and I’ve got some good mixes to draw from. I don’t need the validation from anyone any more to say, ”Why the hell are you listening to THAT??! You should be listening to THIS instead!” Nope, not on the agenda, no sir…..

As I explained in an earlier column, I like different music for different reasons, and different parts of music – not always as a whole entity, but bits and pieces. I used to worry more about being part of a club – ‘the rock club’, ‘the metal club’, ‘the jazz club’.

Doesn’t matter that much any more – I think that’s part of the wisdom of getting older and playing music. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I’m suspicious of any club that would have me as a member.

Also, there are different journeys to head down – right now, I’m playing in a jazz duo: old ballads, soul jazz, show tunes. But the scary part for me to trying to cover two or three parts behind a sax player –good chord voicings, solo break, and bass lines. Now all you seasoned (and new) cats who are great chord melody players are probably chuckling to yourselves, but in any ‘jazz situation’, I’ve always played bass, or another guitar part with a guitarist, pianist, or bigger band. You’re out there trying to make everything fit and fly right –yikes! It’s equally exciting and scary…..

I’ve been delving into the digital recording world with my Roland VS2480CD work station – now, I hear and see what the fuss is about. Digital opens up so much if done right (nothing can fix a poor performance, sloppy mixdown, or overload track recording). I’ve been working on my own line of music instruction CD’s, too – a long-time dream for a small cottage industry: who knows? 

As I expressed to one of my guitar students, I’ve always loved how people slag older musicians as ‘out-of-touch’, ‘whiney’, ‘mellow’, or just a ‘pissed-off-old-fart’. Can’t win on any of those accounts, can you? Metallica is slated to release one of the best albums this fall of their careers, and I’ve heard the Greek chorus: “they’ve mellowed, they’re older”. Mellowed – debatable, perhaps, but older? What did you expect? They haven’t invented a ‘wayback’ machine yet. Good Lord, step away from the bong and think about it, will ya? My motto going into my next decade is that, if people want to slag you on age, let ‘em, because it’s the dumbest question next to ‘ what’s your favorite color’?

Freddie Hubbard comes out with a killer all-star ‘70th birthday’ album this year – sure, Freddie’s older, chops might have slowed, but the spirit - man, the spirit is THERE. Check out the DVD “Chasing Sound: The Les Paul Story” for inspiration at ANY age. Les is going on all cylinders towards 100 – hearing loss, check, bum arm from an auto accident, check, arthritis, check – but what does he care? You can’t – you just keep chooglin’…..

That’s the thing – the older you get, the more you either want to cool out or keep going. Personally, I want to keep going! 

Older doesn’t have to be ‘older’ – you can still have the same child – like enthusiasm for discovery and change in your art and playing for as long as you like!

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