Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Keith's Secret Wisdom




I just finished reading Keith Richards memoir, "Life".  It's a surprisingly well-written, coherent and charming book, considering our perception of Keith as the groggy, stumbling bag of chemistry experiments that he often seems to be.  But I've always loved the ol' rascal, and this book just confirmed that adoration.

One thing Keith went on about (I mean, besides the drugs and what a d-bag Mick can sometimes be) is his approach to the guitar.  One particular passage struck me, and while I couldn't lay my fingers on the paragraph again, I think I can recapture the essence of it here.

Keith said the secret to most of the Stones' great riffs, and something many musicians don't get when they cover his licks, is in the silences.  If you listen to the unmistakeable intros to "Brown Sugar", "Start Me Up", "Jumpin' Jack Flash", "Street Fightin' Man", or his solo hit "Take It So Hard", as a handful of examples, you'll here that it's the silence between the strums that constitute the energy of the song.  He makes you wait for the resolve, or takes you down a different path with a chord change, but only after you've lunged forward in anticipation of what is to come.  He catches you off balance, and therein lies the answers.  For a moment, you're suspended in nothingness, and then released back into his crashing, plunging world of rhythm and blues.

As someone who spends most of my day surrounded by noise, mostly the self-imposed sounds of my I-pod on a run, I-Tunes at my desk, my Blackberry 24/7, and the occasional TV background blathering at night, Keith's insight was a stark reminder that sometimes the first step toward creating a masterpiece - be it as a writer or a parent - is to let the silence work its magic.

So far, it's working.  I have been trying to get my runner's mojo back, and for the first time since I bought the thing a few years ago, I opted to leave my I-Pod at  home.  The difference has been transcendent.  I'm more focused, more consistent, and more engaged with every step of my run, and I love it.

When we went to Orlando last week as a family, I accidentally left two things at home - my phone charger and my I-Pod headphones.  It was like the technology gods were telling me to give 'em a rest.  And I have to admit, it was nice to not check email, Facebook, and Twitter every few minutes, as well as to wind down without the support of an audiobook that I'd usually drift off to anyway.

So, thanks, Keith.  You're a pretty smart fella, and like you guys told us, if we try sometimes, we just might find, we get what we need.  Even if what we need is nothing more than the space between the noise.

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