Monday, October 20, 2014

Discipline & Listening: “The Ben Taylor Experience”

In December of 2013 I attended a house concert, my very first, at the Oak Mountain Hideaway House, which is actually just over the river and through the woods from my home.  This was a delightful and highly meaningful experience for me, one that I will (God willing) always remember that has taught me a valid life lesson, in all actuality, maybe a few of them.  The atmosphere was chill, the hosts were warm and accepting, the house was lovely, and the talent was AMAZING!  My first house concert experience was with Mr. Ben Taylor, son of musical legends James Taylor and Carly Simon.  YES!! Conceived of the sperm of JAMES TAYLOR and birthed out of the vagina of CARLY SIMON!!  I watched him perform in a living room, in front of a grand fireplace complete with Christmas décor.  I also was fortunate enough to meet him afterward and perform a song for the man on the guitar that he played that night, which blew me away and almost brought on a panic attack all at the same time.  It was like meeting the son of gods; it was like having a conversation with Hercules??!  Okay, I am well aware that he is just a man, but aside from his amazing music, he’s my type of people.  As it were, it was a night of music, listening and lessons. 

Upon arriving at that house concert I had never heard any of Ben Taylor’s songs, so I had a completely open mind and blank canvas to accept the strokes of his brushing artistry, or finger picking, beep booping sound box wizardry, what have you.  His music is an interesting mix of impressive finger picking with a touch of pop and some beat box mashing sprinkled on it.  He performed mixes, including his mash up song "Fire and Vain" created using two of his parents' most popular songs.  He did a cover of his father’s, but more importantly he thoroughly introduced you to his style of music in a very intimate way.  Declaring himself an honorary member of the “S.S.S.” club, meaning the sensitive singer/songwriters, he told stories and explained himself in a very personal and down to earth way.  His music is inviting and thought provoking.  This man’s a thinker, that is obvious right away.  His newest album “Listening” had recently been released and we heard tracks from it.  I sat on the stairs in this magnificent living room, with a perfect view of him at work.  It was like being on the set of Storytellers.  After his sets I was left with the feeling that I actually got to know the man, although this was nothing compared to my experience later on in the evening. 

After enjoying snacks and wine while mingling around the place, we ended up approaching Ben once he had settled onto a bright red futon in the basement after giving autographs upstairs for awhile.  At the time, Ben was in the midst of a conversation with a woman I will refer to as E.  E and Ben were talking about a dream that she had at some point in her life about a light house and being somewhere lost in time, one in which she felt held significance and a connection to Ben for some reason. Ben now wore a huge, mesmerizing ring on his right hand that he fiddled with. His report with the woman was open and frank, reflective and not dismissive at all. She was explaining that she sensed a connection between the two of them, something to do with the lighthouse dream. I was sitting right beside him on the futon now, following their conversation, just listening and waiting to continue speaking to him. We had introduced ourselves already but E trailed on and I don’t like to interrupt a good conversation, hell, even a bad one. He described life as a series of “harmonic blips”. So many songs [lives], he said, were similar with the same harmonic blips. And sometimes it recognizes a harmonic blip in another song [life]. Can a blip of oneness create or clone itself or something like that, he mused. Can it?  He said to E to recognize it for what it was---a harmonic blip in time in these bubbles of oneness that we are. Profound. Even more profound hearing the actual conversation, I'm afraid my memory isn’t the best of story tellers. At the end of their conversation I remember him saying “What do you want me to do about it? Should I write a song about it?”  He also referenced an episode of South Park.  “That reminds me of that one episode of South Park...write a poem, mmkay??  Make you feel better, mmkay?? Harmonic blips, bubbles of Oneness and South Park.  Oh, yeah.  My kind of people. When speaking of life and the soul, and how we all hailed from Oneness he said "I don't know what seduced me out of Oneness and into form...[but] I’m not afraid to die because I know that I will go back to that Oneness. My only fear is that I won’t be able to feel or create or write or express [in that state]...” Sitting around musing how linear time is just a created illusion and discussing life after kind of people.
At some point while we were all sitting around him my father mentioned that I play the guitar, which mildly embarrassed me but I’m grateful that he did it now.  When asked, I replied that I dabble.  I mean, seriously, this is James fucking Taylor’s son. I dabble, I dabble! I basically am a monkey playing with a coconut and a string compared to this man, his father and his mother. He jumped up eagerly and retrieved his guitar out of the case, the guitar he played that night that appeared to be ancient and well loved, worn in, abused, even.  Like it had grown into Ben somehow at that point, it was THAT well used.  Most of the time I honestly held that thing gawking at it in awe, clutching it to me like the bouquet awarded to the queen of the prom!  It was beautifully scratched and dinged, like an ancient musical artifact.  I remember sitting there wondering in the moment if James Taylor had ever possibly picked up this guitar of Ben’s while jamming at his parent’s house or something?  It was a little overwhelming to think about. The whole thing still remains somewhat surreal to me, while also being one of the realest moments of my life.  But there I was, sitting there holding this artifact guitar in front of Ben Taylor and a handful of strangers. I wasn’t prepared for this, I was trying not to fall into a panic attack right there. Luckily there was wine! I had my sister grab me another drink. Ben pretty much demanded that I play him a song. So I did. 

I ended up chicken shit, and all I could muster up was the most nervous rendition of a cover that I could do. Honestly, it was more a severe case of Swiss cheese brain. I couldn't even remember my own songs in that moment, at least not enough to make it through an entire song. So I went with an automatic cover, which turned out fine. Everyone sang along, including Ben, so that was fabulous, but it was rather embarrassing that I just couldn’t recall one of my original songs to play for him, especially when he specifically asked me to play something that I wrote after I played the song that I did. (KNOW THYSELF!!) "Discipline!" Ben Taylor said. This is when I realized I needed a much more intimate relationship with my own work...and also to grow a big dangly set of balls. It was pretty pathetic in a way, but in the end, I’m glad I didn’t play anymore, because the true theme of the evening was his last album’s title...”Listening.” There were many magical words of wisdom spoken that night, and to think I would have missed out on them had I broke into a song, had I been cocky about myself, or overly eager to impress the man.  Instead, I mostly listened.  At this point, I held his guitar like it was a newborn.  I fondled it and fiddled around on the strings, but didn’t start into song.  I was listening to everyone else. We had a good conversation going, why interrupt it with Ego? My Spirit was drawn to listen. 

It was while holding that guitar that Ben Taylor bestowed some of the best advice onto me. He critiqued my playing, which was awesome. He told me that my pocket was good and was apparently impressed because for being a man that seemed rather in touch with his feminine side (in the sense of spiritual balance) he explained that was ONE thing he was sexist about; he thinks that men are better with their strumming hands, better at holding the rhythm. But he wasn’t mentioning this in a derogatory way, he was complimenting me. He said my left hand was good also, but my right was notably better. So that was pretty sweet, having Ben Taylor basically tell me I have good rhythm, even for a girl. We then listened as another girl that was there cradled the guitar as she crooned out an a Capella song that she had wrote herself. We all tried to convince her to just learn to play. "A little DISCIPLINE!" Ben said this a couple of times that night. Indeed.

This experience has taught me about the value of listening, to others as well as to myself. It has given me the drive to listen to my own story, my own music. It helped me to see that I should take myself more seriously as a singer/songwriter, even if it is just for fun because it is expression. Simply because I am a bubble of oneness expressing itself with my own harmonic blips. I have so many songs because I am simply compelled to compose them. So then I write these things out as I am compelled and I won't revisit them enough to actually hear what I am even saying. I have since this experience started to have my songs recorded, the songs that I couldn't remember in that anxious moment with Ben. In recording my own music, I have been able to revisit each song and get to know it in an intimate way again. I get the chance to actually LISTEN to myself. I learned a wonderful lesson from Ben about the value of being an artist, the discipline it takes, and the art of listening. So, thank you, Ben Taylor, for the wonderful experience, thank you for your impromptu critique, and more importantly...thank you for listening.

Me playing for Ben Taylor at the Oak Mountain Hideaway

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