I never took no for an answer.
Why? Beats me. Maybe my tough upbringing. Maybe it was ignorance. Sometimes if you don’t know what the risks are it makes you incredibly brave. Orson Welles was once asked how, at the age of 25, he could direct his first movie “Citizen Kane” and it go down in history as the greatest film ever made. His answer was, “I was ignorant. I didn’t know what the rules were so I broke them all. In fact, I was using John Ford’s cameraman, the great Gregg Toland, and one day the great old master film director John Ford came to the set and asked Gregg how I was doing. Greg replied, “Jack, the kid knows nothing about making a film. He’s doing everything wrong and breaking all the rules. And if you tell him what the rules are, I’ll kill ya, because he is doing some of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen.”
That’s my theory about the Beatles too. They didn’t know what the rules were, so they broke them. And music, and the world, would never be the same.
Well, maybe my breaking of the rules wasn’t anywhere near the level of the masters I have just mentioned, but the result was the same. Most times when people told me I was mad and that there was no way I’d achieve what I wanted – that’s when I had my biggest successes.
Let’s face it, if we all followed the formula. then every outcome would be the same. Predictable, safe, boring.
I knew from an early age that I wasn’t going to university. So my only other chance in life, it seemed to me, was to think outside the box. Go for the big gamble. Bite the bullet. Roll the dice.
I would be lying if I said every time I followed that advice I won. No sir. Many times I failed and failed magnificently. Losing my money, home and family in some cases. But what is a life if it isn’t to be lived? You certainly can’t win if you don’t place the best, take the risk.
Like a lot of kids who weren’t great at school I sought refuge in music. At a young age I saw the Beatles on TV and it changed my life forever. They exuded such joy it was contagious. They seemed to be having such fun that you desperately wanted to be in that band with them. I know I did. So I picked up a cheap guitar and started practicing in my room. I dreamed of fame, girls, money and, most of all, experiencing the joy that I saw on the faces of John, Paul, George and Ringo when they played together.
Music and theatre would earn me a living in Australia and take me around the world. But as the great Stevie Wright once sang, “…It’s a hard road” but for those who go the distance it will bring you a joy that can’t be experienced in any other profession. The joy of reaching an audience, touching their spirit and knowing that you’ve shared a magic moment that may not come again. As I’ve said, my life has been one of ups and downs but I would not change it for a minute. Even the most despairing periods have taught me valuable life lessons.
Do we choose music or does it choose us? I believe in destiny and a calling. And I think we know, deep down inside, what we’ve been made for. Sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes the noise of other well meaning people’s advice drowns out our own instincts. Sometimes we get scared of taking the leap of faith. But I firmly believe if you were born for it, you will know. And if you know, trust your heart. Your head is full of worries and numbers and doubts. I believe it is through your instinct that the universe, or God, or whatever you want to call it, talks to you. “Be brave and mighty forces will join you”.
Life is a long time to live with regret. I may’ve made mistakes in my life but I have few regrets. Looking back now from the vantage point of maturity I realise that everything that happened to me, both good and bad, happened for a specific reason. A lesson. If you get knocked to the canvas, instead of wasting years whining about it, stop and think about why it happened – and what it has taught you. Once you’ve learnt the lesson, there will be no need to repeat it.
I remember watching, along with the rest of the world, the great Muhammad Ali make his comeback for the World Heavyweight Championship against Joe Frazier. Ali had been stripped of his championship title the U.S government because he’d refused to be drafted and go to Vietnam. After sitting out of the ring for several years, years in which he would’ve been in his prime, the case finally went to court and he was dismissed. The judge lifted the ban and Ali was allowed to fight again. Unfortunately they couldn’t give him back his championship title because Joe Frazier now retained it. So, the Fight of the Century was announced and the world waited to see the outcome.
During the fight, Ali, for the first time in his career in the U.S was knocked to the canvas and the whole world gasped. But what moved me, was not that he’d been knocked down, but how quickly he got up. It showed the pride of the man. The great dignity. The courage. The heart.
It is called the music business for a good reason. Music Business. One word does not outweigh the other. Both are equally as important. It’s strange the memories that stick with you of your youth. I’ve always remembered being a young music crazed kid and standing in the middle of the large and impressive Sutton’s Music store in the heart of Melbourne city looking around in awe at all the beautiful music instruments proudly displayed. Then gazing at the massive catalogue of sheet music of the latest Top 40 hits of the time. It was one of those defining moments in one’s life. I was completely lost in my thoughts imagining how wonderful it would be to work in the music business. I was suddenly jolted back from my daydream when a salesman asked me if he could help me choose the best musical instrument for me. Sadly, I told him I was just looking and he smiled and told me to let him know if I needed any advice and then walked away leaving me with my dreams.
I thought how blessed he must feel to work in such a great store, to hear music all day, and to play a part in helping people choose the right guitar or keyboard or trumpet or whatever to set them on the right path.
These salesmen become like Gods to me and I hung on every word of advice they gave. Perhaps it was the power of attraction that I set in place that day with these constant dreams. Who knows? All I knew was I wanted to be a part of the music biz and perform and write songs that maybe other people would record.
There is a quote I once read that I love. It’s rumoured to have been written the great Robert Louis Stevenson author of Treasure Island”, “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” etc.) . The passage reads “….Down through the ages I have walked with men, yet none have ever fathomed me, with the prince and the beggar I roam the earth and all men love me, for I am the spirit of the very best that is in them, and they praise and strive for the best that is within me. I am the soul of the arts. I am music.”
I firmly believe that music, as Mr. Stevenson so eloquently wrote about, is indeed magical and that it lives within our heart and soul, and is indeed the very best of us.
It has been researched in recent years psychologists that music plays a huge part in influencing our mood. They have sometimes instructed their depressed patients to compile a collection of the happiest songs they can find and to play it while they work out or go for a long walk and report back after a week as to its effect. The majority of people confirmed that their depression was eased and replaced a much more positive and optimistic outlook. It’s ironic that when we go through a relationship break-up we tend to gravitate to listening to songs Leonard Cohen or other experts in grief and despair and what happens? We get more and more depressed.
Many people listen to various classical music pieces for relaxation and meditation, and swear its beneficial effects to calm their inner stress. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for factories and business offices to have upbeat background music or “muzak” played to increase productivity.
I don’t think it’s chance that for many hundreds of years, just before battle, generals have had soul stirring music played to their soldiers, either on bagpipes, violin, trumpet or drums depending on the culture.
Many people have unfairly blamed Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer, for contributing to the Second World War. Of course that’s a laughable exaggeration but it does highlight the potential power of music and how it can be contrived and manipulated for a required effect on the psyche of man.
President Roosevelt personally awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to George M. Cohan for the positive impact his songs had on the morale of U.S. soldiers and citizens alike during wartime. Also, take into account the joyful sounds of the Beatles’ early hits. There’s an old Indian wisdom that states, “The smile you send out returns to you.”
The Fab Four sent a huge one out into the world and the outpouring of love and joy that came back at them was a staggering phenomenon we may not witness again. It is fitting that the last line of the last song of the last recorded Beatles album is, “…And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
This leads me to believe that the Beatles were smart enough to be well aware of what they were doing. Just as the Rolling Stones savvy manager Andrew Loog Oldham realised it was useless for his band to attempt to compete with the Beatles, so they deliberately went for the opposing market. They contrived to be the antithesis of everything the Beatles represented. The Stones purposely dressed to look unkempt and dirty. No Carna Street or Saville Row tailored suits for them. They also grew their uncombed hair longer and looked surly in publicity photographs. This proved to be a stroke of genius and they claimed the counter culture. The rebel kids who couldn’t identify with the joyfulness of the Beatles music or their lovable image. Of course as time went on and the Vietnam War escalated my idol, Mr. Lennon, steered his boys into more rebellious and revolutionary waters. The icing on the cake was a modern minstrel that called himself Bob Dylan who, as Don McLean described him in his symbol-laden smash hit “American Pie,” Dylan dressed in “…a coat he borrowed from James Dean and a voice that came from me and you.” There is no doubt that Dylan sang and played the battle call for a generation of young kids who rejected the authority of their war-mongering leaders and prophetically warned them that the times were indeed a-changing and that they’d “…better start swimming or you you’ll sink like a stone.”
It is well documented that the protest movement undertaken teenagers in the late 60s was the cause of President Nixon’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam. In a war that the U.S still can’t believe they didn’t win, ironically, they hadn’t been beaten the Viet Cong but their own children who had shown the world that they had a voice and it wouldn’t be silenced again.
Again, just another example of the power of music.
How many people have fallen in love while certain romantic songs have played and these remain “their” song forevermore? If there is a God perhaps it makes perfect sense that He or She invented music and through it is how He/She speaks to our heart.
I can certainly attest to the power of music to change lives. It changed mine. The famous Joseph Campbell who studied the mythologies of all known cultures since the beginning of time and wrote the brilliant book “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” stated, in one of his last TV interviews, that when he was a young man he felt his life was in turmoil and everything that happened to him made no sense. But, looking back at his life from the vantage point of being an old man, he wondered “Who conceived this brilliant scenario?” because it all made perfect sense – “This led to that which led to this” and so on.
(c) Frank Howson 2014