By Paul Nern, News Editor
[Photo courtesy of Julia Weber]
My dad wouldn’t call himself much of a musician. He is a 62 year old semi-retired English professor who has heavily dabbled in poetry. But he is a musician because he chiefed OU’s tenured professor program that allows you to take a sabbatical to study your field, or whatever. And what he did was write songs and record his music over the course of an academic semester.
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On this sabbatical, he jammed with some really talented musicians who were down to play some music with a cool old dude in an old schoolhouse out in the country in Zanesville, Ohio. They’re in Nashville now, trying to make it as they say; although side note to my sister Mary, I wouldn’t date one of them. I can still remember some of the songs, like “I Think I’m an Old White Guy,” a parody of “Alright Guy” by Todd Snider.
That was a fun song poking fun at how he saw himself in the world, and as a child in middle school, it was largely of great importance for me starting to play music myself. It was really cool to see my dad use his university position to have fun playing music for a semester. We all have to be able to make fun of our place in the world or else it would be a horrible time. He’s a musician, of that I am sure.
Almost five years ago, my father started to experience my brother and I suck at playing music in the basement. Then one day, we sucked just enough that he wanted our neighbor who had a studio in his house to record us playing instruments and singing songs how we liked to do and whatnot. We were thrilled and wanted to do it, so I asked my dad “That sounds awesome, when can we do it?” And my dad said “On musician’s time, son.”
Musician’s time? What in the hell is that? Turns out, I wasn’t ready to learn that information yet, because I was not yet a musician. I was just a kid who played an instrument. Then one day I was in a band, sucking at instruments with my brother still, but our friend Michael joined the band and all of a sudden we sucked less.
It’s when Michael joined the band that I learned what musician’s time is. It is the process of communicating with your bandmates or other musicians that you might interact with along the way. Musicians love to say things like “hey, man, that was an awesome set” and then it turns into a full conversation and it’s quite unavoidable because we like to ramble a lot about what we have going on. Not that it’s anything special – it’s similar to two athletes on opposing teams discussing how their respective seasons are going after a good old sports game. You see? Musicians talk and then all of a sudden towards the end of the conversation, someone inevitably says, “we should totally jam sometime.”
And that’s it, that’s my case in point: no one ever knows when that is. In the case of the guy who was going to record me and my brother in his music studio, it was never. In the case of getting Michael to jam with our band, it was a few months after we became good friends and would hang out all the time. We knew he played bass, he knew we played guitar and drums, and we all wanted to be in a band, but it took an entire semester of college to finally get around to it. And then we were off!
Musician’s time applies to the day to day operations of a musician’s life as well. Out of every practice we’ve ever had with Michael, we’ve probably started early twice. At the time of writing this we’ve been playing music together for a year and a half. That’s the same amount as a beta fish’s entire lifespan, for scale. We might start practice anywhere between five minutes early to one hour late, and then there’s the old reschedule. It’s never personal, if you’re hanging out with chill musicians. Musicians are just like regular people, see? A lot are chill, some are not.
I’m good buddies with a man named Harper, we jam on musician’s time all the time. It’s because we’re in separate bands, and do have our life paths which overlap every now and then. When our paths do cross, it’s because musician’s time has allowed it. With musician’s time, it is never the circumstance that doesn’t let you jam, it’ll just come over time, naturally. It is in the musician’s blood, and I doubt I’ll ever meet one who doesn’t operate on the same principles.
But as I finally come to terms with the harrowing reality that comes with self-identifying as a musician, and what that might mean down the line for my happiness, checkbook and vocation, I know that I’ll never escape the reality that I have accepted. I am a musician, and I might be late, early, or right on time with no predictability whatsoever.
I am sorry if by reading this you expected some grand reveal, but that is just the case. Musician’s time is similar to that of the average person’s experience with a Wafflehouse. You don’t know when you might end up in one next, but be damned if you don’t. I am sure that I’ll jam with all my friends soon. When will that be? I don’t know, probably this week or something I’ll have to see what my schedule looks like. Bluegrass G chord song ending riff.