Middle age is confusing. As years go by I care less about other people judging me and at the same time seem to have developed a severe case of self-consciousness. It’s like arriving at the point on the graph where acquired wisdom collides with declining relevance. I’m bold! I’m old! It’s an inconvenient truth, especially when you’re trying to do something new, something that requires openness and spontaneity. Something like collaborating on a song.
The plan was this: Gary and I would put our guitars in the car, drive to a lake with a beach and a snack bar, and write a tune. People do this sort of thing all the time. It seemed doable. We swam for a while and then sat in the sand talking about ideas for song titles. There were families barbecuing on the lawn and some rowdy Italian guys hauling kayaks into the water and a couple of teenage girls in gold bikinis whipping their hair around to get the water out. Gary said, “How about ‘Skin’?” We were surrounded by it. I said yes. The guitars came out and I sat on top of a picnic table holding the Danelectro. Gary tuned his low E string down to D and started pacing and picking out drony little riffs. He came up with a cool one and tried to teach it to me but I couldn’t play it, so he dumbed it down until I could.
The rest of the story is humiliating so I’ll make it brief: things that were supposed to happen next — the coming up with a melody and the calling out of lyrics and the choosing of chords — didn’t. I choked. Mojo, it turns out, is a finicky friend. It demands a small room with a closed door. After a strained hour of nothingness I told Gary I was too insecure to work with him and that I would take his riff and write the thing by myself.
Fact: Playing with others is instructive, illuminating, fruitful, and fun.
Fact: Playing alone feels safe.
Here’s a sketch of a song that sounds like failure.
Skin by Middlemojo