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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

C Sharp Minor Seventh

I'll never forget what Cliff told me one fine Wednesday afternoon:

"C sharp minor seventh - if ever a chord could heal the sick, it would be C sharp minor seventh."

I took some guitar lessons from Cliff, whose last name escapes me, a few years ago at the Music Castle in Royal Oak, MI. It didn't work, I'm still lousy at it. This is not for any lack of effort or ability on Cliff's part, but because I didn't practice much between our weekly lessons. It was during a particularly busy period of my life, and I wasn't exactly thinking ahead when I signed up for lessons. I did learn quite a few things from Cliff, some about music theory and the operation of the guitar, and some about life in general.

Cliff didn't make a whole lot of money teaching guitar lessons, not at $15 per half hour, a non-trivial chunk of which went to the Music Castle for room rental. Even if he worked a full schedule, which he certainly didn't, this wouldn't put him anywhere near the front cover of Forbes magazine. He also played in four or five blues/jazz bands, but again, if his near-nightly gigs paid at all, they didn't exactly put him in this year's Cadillac, or last year's for that matter.

But he did what he loved, and he's probably still doing it today. To me, that's real wealth, true prosperity, a successful life. Maybe I'm projecting a little here; I don't actually know how well he has lived, whether he's got a large collection of loving friends and family or a decades-long trail of destruction in his wake, but he was a pretty simple, straightforward guy, so I suspect the former is a more apt depiction. When he dies, his next of kin will probably have a guitar, or some musical notes etched on his gravestone.

I've met quite a number of people during my slow roll toward mature adulthood, and I do make a practice of trying to really get to know them, insofar as circumstances permit. In my observation, what the guidance counselors you ignored in high school said is true - the people who are really happy in life are those who are doing what they love. Granted, as members of civilized society we all have responsibilities, obligations, and expectations to satisfy, and I'm not suggesting that we simply shirk the ones we find objectionable. Likewise, there may be situations where doing what you love comes at someone else's expense; I'm not talking about these either. What I am talking about is, we have choices on how we occupy ourselves, short term and long term, and regardless of our motivation or rewards, happiness follows doing what we love.

You may notice that I've not said anything about getting what you love. Doing what you don't love in order to get what you love is a fool's game, a short-term strategy at best. Think about it - when was the last time you worked and strived to obtain a thing, and then discovered that it satisfies you as much as you anticipated, and was worth the sacrifice you made to obtain it? I had the good fortune to spend a summer during college working as a lifeguard at a very exclusive country club in the northern suburbs of Detroit. This place was swanky. In addition to free golf every Monday, I enjoyed the singularly undemanding job of lifeguarding at a pool in which nearly nobody swam. This afforded me the opportunity to do some serious people-watching, providing ample data for my conclusion that money and possessions do not make you happy. Among the members, I can recall meeting two non-miserable people there. They were an elderly couple, the husband in which kept keeling over due to nerve damage from a recent stroke. The wife would just pick him back up and they'd laugh it off and keep going, bless their unencumbered souls. But aside from this comical pair, pretty much everyone I met at that club was as gloomy as the day is long, even after paying their $35,000.00 membership fee (in 1980s dollars).

So anyway, can the right chord, strummed cleanly on a mellow, resonant, tuned guitar heal the sick? Well, if the sickness you're suffering from is malaise and despair resulting from (1) doing things you don't love, (2) not doing things you do love, (3) doing all kinds of things for reasons other than loving them, or (4) being so far down that road that you can't even remember what you love doing, then I think we'd all agree, the answer is: Yes.

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