Being an artist has its challenges; believing in the value of creating to start; having the discipline to bring oneself to the practice room, for the sculptor to bring her iron to the fire, for the writer to bring his pen to the page. One must have the self-discipline to make oneself available to one’s muse, day after day: “Here…take me. Use me as your instrument. Inspire in me what you must.” An added layer of patience exists for artists who require other artists to create their art, to collaborate in a given medium. This would be true of filmmakers, dance troupes and actors, to name a few. For instance, solo musicians can simply play their instrument, just as many songwriters can play and or sing their songs. But then there are those of us who must rely on a group of committed musicians to faithfully execute the delivery of each composition, performance after performance; rehearsal after rehearsal. There is a delicate balance that must be found in the ‘selection’ of each contributing musician. A songwriter must be confident that each collaborator invited into the fold will contribute a complimentary musical quality that is unique to their respective experience; what each musician grew up listening to undoubtedly influences how they play and what their unique experience will bring to the table. It is a delicate dance of sensibilities. The artist, in this case songwriter, hopes that each carefully selected musician will bring their creativity while maintaining the ‘integrity’ of the song(s).
Indeed birds of a feather flock together. Like-minded musicians tend to find one another, and oftentimes, quick chemistry creates a bond. We create subtle disturbances in air pressure together, alternately creating harmonies and dissonance. It can be likened to an orgasm in the sense that two separate entities together create a third energy. Now imagine adding three and four other musicians into this delicate mix, or an orchestra.
It is about balance. It is also about having a vision. One must recognize how many musicians and precisely what instrumentation is required to execute the symphony that only lives in your head. Your fellow collaborators cannot hear the cacophony of sounds that exist simultaneously to create ‘the song’, as the songwriter ‘received’ it from the ether, or whatever muse. Ideally, the invited musicians must trust the songwriter’s ‘vision’ of or for the particular song. Meanwhile, the songwriter must have faith that the collaborators will execute that vision without changing it too much, thus making it sound like something other than it was when it was ‘received’. At the same time, the songwriter has invited trusted colleagues to add their respective technique, approach, subtle nuances, and ultimately feel to the ‘mix’. And so it is a dance, much like Love, wherein small sacrifices have to be negotiated because no matter how much you have in common, your lover is ultimately not you.
The next layer in this terrine is leadership. I believe the foremost role of true leadership is inspiration. Those being led must feel inspired to act accordingly or human nature will not willingly follow. In my estimation, effective leadership requires ‘loving backbone’; knowing when to be steadfast and when to acquiesce.
So first, a songwriter must carefully choose appropriate collaborators, much like the ingredients in an exquisite meal. But then, the songwriter must surrender control over the trusted musicians to add their particular dash of ‘flavours’ or ‘colours’ to the concoction. The steward must gently guide the ensemble with words and music and sometimes gestures to a place where its conspirators feel free to play with their emotions; where they also feel taken care of, in a protected space where they feel respected to focus and create, adding their respective feelings through various techniques.
I have been very fortunate over the course of my career. I have endeavoured to be a respectful and communicative leader. In large part I have managed to play with many brilliant and celebrated musicians through my willingness to take risks, by ‘putting myself out there’. In truth I believe that it is about Love. Love is about trust and requires vulnerability. We must be prepared to fail, to have our respective hearts broken, for things not to work out, and to look and/or feel out of our comfort zone from time to time. Indeed sometimes I’ve landed on my ass but I have always got back up and dusted myself off, just as Peter Tosh used to sing. I have had the great fortune to play with many incredible, skilled and talented musicians over the years, and I never stop being grateful, even amidst my awe. I have been truly blessed with opportunities of a lifetime to play music with these afore mentioned singers and players of instruments, and to be able to listen back to both studio and live performances captured ‘on tape’ for eternity.
I wrote this song some time around 2005. I had been playing regularly with the great Jamaican bass player Brian Atkinson who I found living in Halifax. We had convinced each other to “quit our day jobs” and drive down to Florida to reunite with Brian’s Studio One colleague, drummer Joe Isaacs from the Soul Vendors. Accompanied by trumpeter Matt Myer and trombonist Eric Landry, we spent a couple of weeks rehearsing a set of Studio One material in Miami before we flew to Jamaica to embark on a Soul Vendors reunion ‘tour’. Our debut New Year’s Eve gig was cancelled and things degenerated quickly after that. The horns pulled out and quickly flew back to Canada, leaving me to make the best of a sticky situation with Brian and Joe. I didn’t last long under uncertain conditions, what with rent due back home and my then girlfriend left holding the bag.
Upon my return the horn section was enthusiastic about reviving the Halfway Tree band back in Halifax. The only man for the job of filling Brian’s shoes was a young Alec Frith. An already accomplished bass player and reggae enthusiast, we spent significant hours studying the Halfway Tree repertoire together. We re-assembled the band with Alec leading the groove and pressed on.
Eventually, several months later, Brian returned to his home in Nova Scotia, understandably deflated. I however, was elated to have my great friend back and motioned for him to resume his post with the group. This did not go over well with the band. It didn’t seem fair to uproot Alec from his position. I did my best to act reasonably and respectfully but it was a difficult predicament that challenged my leadership.
Written from the heart at some dreadful point during this transition, “Pure Love In Your Heart” is certainly a reflection of much of what I have learned over the years:
You have got to be the best you that you can be
Or you’ll never be satisfied
I try so hard each and every day
No love in their heart
I & I defend righteousness
And I & I depend on your love
So won’t you hear me?
Where must I find the path of least resistance?
It’s somewhere along the road less travelled
The way of the peaceful warrior
Guide I & I in I travels
You’ve got to have
Pure love in your heart
We are all a part
Of this massive ball of energy
Hurling though space at a million miles an hour
We’re on a crash course, oh can’t you see?
Having the time of our life
You’ve got to have
Pure Love in your heart.