Thursday, June 28, 2007

Coming Back from Deadman's Curve

For the last seven years, I've been recording songs that I write on multi-track software. I've got about 50 songs that are more or less done. I do this not because people want to hear it (they don't) or because I'm such a great songwriter (I'm not) but because I just enjoy the shear creation of playing all the instruments, laying on vocals and singing harmony with myself. It keeps me well-practiced and picky about what I play, in a good way. It helps me work out other problems through my expression of those problems through song. Music=good.

My son, an extremely musical four year old, was listening to a mixdown of one of those songs this morning, and said, "You make good music, Dad." It almost brought a tear to the guitar-playing nerve center of my mind. Did I mention that my son can also keep an actual, solid beat on the drums? Did I mention that the song he was listening to was pretty heavy, and that he likes pretty loud, heavy music? Did I mention that I really like this kid?

I was reading an article recently that talked about why people are so passionate about music. Music fills an entirely different space in the brain than verbal skills, and that the music we so love is engrained into our gray matter like a veteran's memorial plaque in front of a county courthouse. It's no wonder that when I've had pain from people, I turn to music. When I've given pain to people, I do the same. The music that we love is a port in a tempest, a rock in the middle of chaos.

When I was in grade school, I saw a movie about surf music legends Jan and Dean called "Deadman's Curve". The title itself is a spoiler, and the movie fascinated me. Even then the whole recording process, the lifestyle of musicians and creating music enthralled me. This above-average made for TV film told the story of Jan and Dean's rise to the top of the charts with surf music, even predating the Beach Boys. They had big hits including "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" and "Surf City".

They were on the downswing in 1966, releasing weird albums like "Filet of Soul" and "Jan and Dean meet Batman" when Jan took Deadman's curve too fast, and skidded, out of control and suffered serious brain injury and partial paralysis. Eerily revisiting their hit of the same name, gives this story a sense of great irony, with Jan and Dean singing the refrain "You won't come back from Deadman's Curve", except for the fact that Jan Berry did come back from it. It was arduous and difficult, but he did it.

In the film, Jan is seen in a recording studio after the accident. He can't talk very well; he stutters and stammers while talking to the recording engineers. But, then he sings. No longer is his speech stilted, but fluid. Watching this movie on our monster white, 1970's Zenith amazed me. I remember thinking, "music can do that? Music must be a big deal, then." To which I still concur. Much like Homer Simpson musing on the power of donuts, I say, "Is there anything music can't do?"

The Jan and Dean story is a good one that ends well. Although Jan battled drug addiction, he toured with Dean up until his death in 2004. Night after night, at county fairs and oldies shows, he spoke the recitation part of "Deadman's Curve":

Well, the last thing I remember, Doc, I started to swerve
And then I saw the Jag slide into the curve
I know I'll never forget that horrible sight
I found out for myself that everyone was right:
And then the vocals kick in:
Won't come back from Deadman's Curve!

Part of the Jan Berry story is that he was musical genius behind the duo. He wrote the songs, and before the accident, was a very in-demand producer. Music was a big deal to him. It wasn't just another career move, like it is for so many famous-for-being-famous people that sing because they have a hit movie or a rich daddy.

Music is important, so important that, among God's chosen people, God chose to have musicians. Given the fact that the Israelites had to work hard for their food, couldn't those musicians just have worked, and play on their own time? No, no, says God. I want them to play because that's why they're here, that's why I made them.

I know that if my son decides to become a musician, he will no doubt feel the sting of working hard for something that other people don't always understand. He'll probably play gigs where no one shows up, make CD's that nobody buys, and write songs that nobody hears. That's where I'm hoping he doesn't end up like his dad. But, again like his dad, he might get the experience of being the lead worshipper for God's people. He might get to feel those moments when music transcends the situation or the written or spoken word. He might get to wonder quietly, "music can do this?" I would not mind that at all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I think country great Mel Tillis had a stutter except when he sang?

I know that current singer/songwriter Jason Gray does too.

I know the "physical" is not your main point, but these physical facts point out the true Healing power of music.